'Singin' in the Rain': THR's 1952 Review

On March 27, 1952, MGM hosted the premiere for Singin’ in the Rain at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The film, starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, was nominated for two Oscars at the 25th Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below: 

Singin’ in the Rain, a gay, tuneful spoofing of the picture business in the late twenties, contains everything to make it a solid hit. With the names and versatile talents of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, supported by lilting melodies, wonderful dancing and some very funny comedy, the show just can’t miss being another MGM top-grosser. Arthur Freed’s production is a handsome one, with lavish but tasteful settings, enhanced by beautiful color by Technicolor which makes the film as pleasing to the eye as it is to the ear. Direction, by Kelly and Stanley Donen, is lively, maintaining a tongue-in-cheek quality that keeps the emphasis on laughs. 

The production numbers, also staged by Kelly and Donen, are spectacular, although possibly over-long, but even here is the same kidding quality that makes the film so delightful. Particularly impressive are Kelly’s “Broadway Melody” routine, beautifully danced with Cyd Charisse, and the “Beautiful Girls” number, a colorful and amusing satire of the old-time styles show. And for sheer joy there is the riotous “Make ‘Em Laugh” song-and-dance interlude by Donald O’Connor in which the likeable young performer almost slays himself and the audience with his nimble footwork. The only complaint about O’Connor is that the more you see of him the more you want. Kelly also pulls a show-stopper with the title song number, his hoofing ranging from the graceful to the spectacular. 

Light-hearted story is merely a framework for the songs and dances. Kelly and Jean Hagen are silent film stars, the sensations of motion pictures, when along comes sound. About to do another romantic film, the same type that has made them famous, they confidently make it a talky film. But disaster strikes at the preview when it is revealed that the female star has a voice reminiscent of a nail being scratched along a blackboard. Kelly saves the day by dubbing in Debbie Reynolds’ voice for Miss Hagen’s, and surrounding the film with song, thus converting the flop into a hit. Miss Hagen then tries some dirty work, attempting to keep Debbie confined to remaining as her behind-the-scenes voice, but Kelly thwarts the plan and Debbie soars toward stardom. 

Among the songs warbled are “All I Do Is Dream of You,” “You Were Meant For Me,” “Would You,” “You Are My Lucky Star,” all with lyrics by Arthur Freed and music by Nacio Herb Brown; “Fit as a Fiddle,” by Freed and Al Hoffman and Al Goodhart, and “Moses,” by Roger Edens with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

Performances all are outstanding. Miss Reynolds, besides singing in her own pleasurable style and doing some clever dancing, handles her first romantic lead appealingly and capably. Kelly and O’Connor each can be covered with one word: Great! Miss Hagen turns in a delicious comedy performance as the beautiful movie queen with the cracked voice, and Douglas Fowley is a revelation as a comic, getting howls with his portrayal of a film director slowly going nuts trying to get Miss Hagen to talk into the microphone.

Harold Rosson is responsible for the gorgeous photography, with Cedric Gibbons and Randall Duell taking bows for the impressive art work. Lennie Hayton’s musical direction is superb. Walter Plunkett’s costumes are typical of the period and still manage to be attractive.  — Originally published on March 12, 1952.

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