On this Day in Movie History March 27, 1952: Singing In the Rain Debuts

Singin’ in the Rain is a 1952 American comedy musical film starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, with Kelly also providing the choreography, it offers a comic depiction of Hollywood, and its transition from silent films to “talkies.”

Started as a vanity project, Arthur Freed, the producer who spearheaded MGM’s musicals from late 40s to the 50s, wanted people to remember his musical talents as well as producing prowess. Throughout the 1920s, Freed had written lyrics for composer Nacio Herb Brown, their most famous work being a ditty called “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Taking a cue from An American in Paris, in which Freed cobbled together a story around classic Gershwin songs, Freed hired Betty Comden and Adolph Green to write a comedy to showcase his and Brown’s musical legacy. The story involves a film studio caught in the panic over the transition form silent to sound in 20s. Not only set the right period for the Brown/Freed melodies, Singing in the Rain added a highly resonant plot line dealing with voices, recording and the power of music.

In the famous dance routine in which Gene Kelly sings the title song while twirling an umbrella, splashing through puddles and getting soaked to the skin, Kelly was sick with a 103 °F (39 °C) fever at the time. The rain in the scene was a mixture of milk and water that caused Kelly’s wool suit to shrink during filming. A common myth is that Kelly managed to perform the entire song in one take, thanks to cameras placed at predetermined locations. However this was not the case as the filming of the sequence took place over 2–3 days.

Debbie Reynolds was not a dancer at the time she made Singin’ in the Rain — her background was as a gymnast. Kelly apparently insulted her for her lack of dance experience, upsetting her. Fred Astaire was hanging around the studio and found Reynolds crying under a piano. Hearing what had happened, Astaire volunteered to help her with her dancing. Kelly later admitted that he had not been kind to Reynolds and was surprised that she was still willing to talk to him afterwards. After shooting the “Good Morning” routine, Reynolds’ feet were bleeding. Years later, she was quoted as saying that “Singin’ in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I ever had to do in my life.”

Donald O’Connor had to be hospitalized after filming the “Make ’em Laugh” sequence. He smoked up to four packs of cigarettes a day.

Most of the costumes from this film were eventually acquired by Ms. Reynolds and housed in her massive collection of original film costumes, sets and props. Many of these items were sold at a 2011 auction in Hollywood. While most items were sold to private collectors, Donald O’Connor’s green check “Fit As a Fiddle” suit and shoes were purchased by Costume World, Inc. and are now on permanent display at the Costume World Broadway Collection Museum in Pompano Beach, Florida.

Although not a big hit when it was first released, Singing in the Rain was accorded its legendary status by contemporary critics. It is now frequently described as one of the best musicals ever made, topping the AFI’s 100 Years of Musicals list, and ranking fifth in its updated list of the greatest American films in 2007.

For her role as Lina Lamont, Jean Hagen was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The film was also nominated for a Best Original Music Score.

Donald O’Connor won a Golden Globe for this film.[14] Betty Comden and Adolph Green received the Writers Guild of America for the best written American musical.[15]

Singin’ in the Rain has appeared twice on Sight and Sound’s list of the ten best films of all time, in 1982 and 2002. Its position in 1982 was at number 4 on the critics list; on the 2002 critics’ list it was listed as number 10 and it tied for 19 on the directors’ list.[16] The film has a rare 100% positive reviews on RottenTomatoes.com, based on 43 sources.[17]

In 1989, Singin’ in the Rain was among the first 25 films chosen for the newly established National Film Registry for films that are deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation.

1899 – Gloria Swanson (Gloria May Josephine Svensson) (actress: Airport 75, Sadie Thompson, Sunset Boulevard, Teddy at the Throttle; author: Swanson on Swanson; died Apr 4, 1983)

1914 – Richard Denning (Denninger) (actor: Mr. & Mrs. North, Hawaii Five-O, Alice Through the Looking Glass, An Affair to Remember, Black Beauty, Creature from the Black Lagoon; died Oct 11, 1998)

1931 – David Janssen (David Harold Meyer) (actor: The Fugitive, The Green Berets, Two Minute Warning, Francis Goes to West Point, Once is Not Enough; died Feb 13, 1980)

1940 – Austin Pendleton (actor: Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, Guarding Tess, My Cousin Vinny, What’s Up Doc?, Petulia)

1942 – Michael York (York-Johnson) (actor: Cabaret, The Three Musketeers, Murder on the Orient Express, Logan’s Run, The Heat of the Day, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Wrongfully Accused, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me)

1952 – Maria Schneider (actress: Last Tango in Paris, Les Nuits Fauves; died Feb 3, 2011)

1963 – Quentin Tarantino (Academy Award-winning screenwriter: Pulp Fiction [1994]; writer, director: From Dusk Till Dawn, Four Rooms, Pulp Fiction, True Romance, Reservoir Dogs)


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