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A classic 1952 film from Metro Goldwyn Mayer, considered by many to be the greatest Hollywood musical ever made -- certainly, containing one of the most iconic production numbers in live-action cinema history.
In a nutshell, what happened when legendary screenwriters Adolph Green & Betty Comden were given the keys to the MGM music vaults and told to write a script around what they found inside. (The only totally original song in the film is the novelty number "Moses Supposes". "Make 'em Laugh" is generally considered a rip-off of Cole Porter's "Be a Clown", though he never complained.)
The result is a light, bright, but deadly-accurate comedy set during the transition from silent film to sound in the 1920s -- a period of major upheaval in the movie industry, as stars learned to cope with the novel concept of acting and all its attendant requirements. Chief among them being, of course, that now they had to talk...
Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a star in silent Hollywood, one-half of the A-list team Lockwood & Lamont. His partner is Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), a bottle-blonde, bubble-brained diva whose ego has long since turned Don off any idea of carrying the romance offscreen. Lina, however, is completely unable to believe that their on-screen love isn't real, no matter how few syllables Don uses to spell it out:
Lina: [after a take] Oh, Donnie...you couldn't kiss me like that and not mean it!
Don: Behold the world's greatest actor. I'd rather kiss a tarantula.
Lina: Oh...you don't mean that!
Don: I don't...? Hey, Joe, get me a tarantula!
On the whole, though, Don's got not much to complain about. He's the George Clooney of his day, gorgeous, debonair, enjoying the celebrity life to the hilt. At his side is his good buddy, wisecracking studio musician Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor), whose tact fortunately extends at least as far as keeping quiet about their days as a failed vaudeville dance team.
Then, fleeing a mob of fans one night, Don is rescued by self-described "serious actress" Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). She not only proves immune to his advances but accuses him of having no artistic substance at all -- "Just a lot of dumb show!" Don is piqued enough to want to continue the conversation... especially when he spots Kathy trying to make ends meet as a showgirl at the very party he was headed for.
Shortly, though, his self-respect has even bigger problems: Reacting to the unexpected success of the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, his studio abruptly (as in mid-take) decides to make the current Lockwood & Lamont picture a "talkie" too. Cue frantic -- and hilarious -- attempts on everyone's part to come to grips with the new technology. Unfortunately, there's no way anyone can fix Lina's voice, a shrill Brooklyn screech completely at odds with her silent image as a refined, elegant leading lady.
Faced with Don's utter ruin when the now-wildly anachronistic The Dueling Cavalier is hooted down at a test screening, he, Cosmo and Kathy come up with a plan so wild it just might work: convert the whole mess into a musical fantasy. "The new Don Lockwood! He yells! He jumps about to music!"
Of course, his co-star still can't sing any better than she can speak. Thus, inspired by a synchronization accident during the screening, Cosmo invents dubbing, and arranges for Kathy to secretly record all of Lina's songs and dialogue. Inevitably Lina discovers the ruse and is furious, using her clout to insist that Kathy continue dubbing for her -- anonymously. Meanwhile, also inevitably, Don and Kathy have fallen hopelessly in love.
Will Kathy be forced to give up her dreams? Or will the power of True Love win out over corporate greed? And will Cosmo ever get to "stop suffering and write that symphony"?
- Added Alliterative Appeal: "Well, here comes our lovely leading lady now!"
- In the musical: "...lovely leading lady Lina!"
- Affectionate Parody: Of the early Hollywood musicals. And like the best affectionate parodies, it pokes fun by being a great example of an old school Hollywood musical.
- All Musicals Are Adaptations: The Musical of the film exists, and has been on Broadway at least once.
- Bait and Switch:
Cosmo: Short people have long faces,
And long people have short faces,
Big people have little humor,
And little people have no humor at all.
- The Beautiful Elite
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Lina.
- Blatant Lies: "Dignity. Always dignity."
- Captain Obvious: The man in the first "Talking Picture:"
Hello. This is a demonstration of a talking picture. Notice: it is a picture of me, and I am talking. Note how my lips and the sound issuing from them are synchronized together in perfect unison."
- The Charmer: Cosmo at the party:
Girl: Mr. Brown, can you really get me into the movies?
Cosmo: I should think so -
- In the musical, the conversation continues, mixed with Innocent Innuendo dialogue for humorous effect.
Cosmo: There are ways...
Girl: Oh, what would I have to do?
Cosmo: Well, it's simple. Meet me Saturday night in front of the Loew's Theatre. I'll take you in - unless there's something playing I've seen already, in which case you're on your own!
- Chekhov's Gun: Lina wants to give a speech.
- Comically Missing the Point: Lina at the ill-fated preview of The Dueling Cavalier. "Sounds good an' loud, doesn't it?"
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Inverted. R.F. is actually very supportive of Don and Cosmo's plan for The Dueling Cavalier and helps however he can, plans to push Kathy into the spotlight once The Dueling Cavalier is released, and helps Don and Cosmo reveal Lina's voice as a fraud.
- Crazy Enough to Work: The idea to turn The Dueling Cavalier into a musical.
- Crowd Song: Cleverly lampshaded during both "You Were Meant For Me", in which Don deliberately uses studio effects to set up the perfect romantic backdrop; and the title song's sequence, which ends abruptly when he runs into a policeman.
- Cute and Psycho: Lina.
- Cute but Cacophonic: Lina.
- Deadpan Snarker: Don and Cosmo, generally in reference to Lina.
- Description Cut: Don and Cosmo's flashbacks at the beginning of the movie (see Unreliable Voiceover).
- Disney Acid Sequence: The "Broadway Melody" and "Beautiful Girls" numbers, both of which come from waaaaaaay out in left field stylistically. Though as Roger Ebert pointed out, setpieces like Broadway Melody were pretty common in movie musicals of that era.
- The Ditz: Lina. Oh, Lina.
- Doomed New Clothes: Don and Lina don new outfits for their big premiere. Before the end of the night both are ruined.
- Driving a Desk: The scenes in Kathy's car when Don first meets her.
- Everything Has Rhythm:
- In "Good Morning", Don, Kathy, and Cosmo dance with their raincoats and hats.
- In "Make 'Em Laugh", Cosmo dances with a wall and a dummy.
- Everything Sounds Smarter In Italian: Cosmo's "Ridi, Pagliacci, Ridi!" before Make 'Em Laugh.
- Translation: "Laugh, clown, laugh!"
- Fan Girl: A crowd of them rip apart Don's clothing at the beginning of the movie. The fans at the red carpet are also hilariously overenthusiastic.
- Fun Personified: Cosmo.
- (Fictional) Executive Meddling: In-universe example: A large part of the reason why The Dueling Cavalier ended up turning out badly was due to a last minute change in production to make it a talkie due to the unanticipated runaway success of The Jazz Singer. And a large part of the reason for The Dancing Cavalier was to make up for the initial results of the above.
- Get Thee to a Nunnery: "Lemme guess: she's a simple girl of the people, you're a dashing aristocrat, and she won't even give you a tumbril. Hah!"
- Groupie Brigade: Kathy rescues Don from a textbook example of one of these. Honourable mention to the audiences at the various previews: "She's so refined... I think I'll kill myself."
- Happy Rain: Goes without saying.
- Have a Gay Old Time: When Lina complains of having to speak into a hidden mic during a garden scene: "I can't make love to a bush!"
- Inherently Funny Words: Samuel J. Snodgrass.
- It Was All Just a Dream: The framing device used to switch The Dueling Cavalier from campy to intentionally campy.
- It Will Never Catch On: What the studio executives believe about sound in films when talking about the upcoming release of The Jazz Singer. Lampshaded by Cosmo, with "That's what they said about the Horseless Carriage."
- Jumping Out of a Cake: Kathy comes out of a cake at a Hollywood party. This after she gave Don a lot of grief about how she was a stage actress, as opposed to making "just a lot of dumb show" on film, and claiming she was "in a more dignified profession".
- Large Ham: Cosmo and Don (Don even admits it to Kathy), both humorously and charmingly; Lina, not so much on either count.
- Love Makes You Crazy: In this case, it makes formerly cynical Hollywood stars (currently wearing expensive suits) toss their umbrellas aside to go dancing and swinging and splashing ecstatically through torrential downpours, all the while singing about how they don't care! because they're just that happy to be in love.
- Jukebox Musical: As was the style for original movie musicals at the time, the songs were all written before the movie was made. There are, if you listen to the score, absolutely no proper nouns in any of the songs.
- The Musical averts this by adding Lina's song, written specifically for her.
- Love Triangle
- Love Makes You Evil: Lina, oh so very, very much.
- Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "Broadway Rhythm," the finale version of "Singin' in the Rain" in the musical.
- Meaningful Echo: "If you've seen one, you've seen them all."
- Meet Cute
- Minor Character, Major Song: "Beautiful Girls." Jimmy Thompson isn't even credited.
- Mood Motif: Cosmo's job is to play these.
- Movie Within A Movie: Both fictional and real ones (The Jazz Singer) are referenced. Played with at the end of the movie. The final shot is of a billboard advertising Don Lockwood and Kathy Seldon, in a picture called...wait for it...Singin' in the Rain.
- The Name Is Bond, James Bond: Kathy introduces herself as "Selden. Kathy Selden."
- Narm: An in-universe example: The Dueling Cavalier is supposed to be a serious romantic drama, but the introduction of sound and the technical limitations that it imposes unintentionally turn it into a hilarious disaster. A bit of Truth in Television too, as many films did suffer artistically when sound was first introduced.
- No Song for the Wicked: Lina has no singing number. Justified since her voice is really awful.
- Old Shame: Don would much prefer to forget his days hoofing it as a vaudevillian with Cosmo and his big break as a stuntman.
- One-Scene Wonder: Cyd Charisse in the "Broadway Melody" sequence.
- Pie in the Face: Kathy tries to whack Don with one...and gets Lina instead, unfortunately for her. Lampshaded in Kathy's comment as she does it: "Here's one thing I've learned from the movies!"
- Pimped-Out Dress: Quite a few, this being the era in which this trend reached full flower. One of the dresses in the opening red carpet scene is covered in ermine tails as though it was fringe. Later, we see a montage of the very latest Jazz Age fashions as part of the "Beautiful Girls" production number.
- Not to mention Lina's dress in The Dueling Cavalier.
- Pungeon Master: Cosmo. Begged by Don to help him by calling him a cab: "OK -- you're a cab."
- Pretty in Mink: Especially in the opening scene.
- The Prima Donna: Lina.
- Quit Your Whining: Cosmo does this to Don by singing "Make 'Em Laugh."
- Retool: The Dueling Cavalier becomes a musical after terrible previews.
- The Roaring Twenties: Covering both the Silent and Golden Ages.
- Rubber Face: Cosmo
- Rule of Cool: Why do Don and Cosmo break into dance during "Moses Supposes"? Or ever? Because it's cool and fun to watch, that's why!
- Same Language Dub: The entire plot is an in-story example.
- Gets confusing (and funnier) when you find out that Jean Hagen (who played Lina) actually does some dubbing for Debbie Reynolds (who played Kathy). So Jean Hagen dubs Debbie Reynolds dubbing Jean Hagen.
- Not only that, but in the song "You Are My Lucky Star" Reynolds is actually dubbed by Betty Noyes (although not because Reynolds' voice was no good), which is ironic, considering the premise of the movie.
- Second Face Smoke: In the "Broadway Ballet" sequence.
- She's Got Legs: In the ending extravaganza, Cyd Charisse's entrance is marked by her slowly handing Gene Kelley his hat back after he drops it... using one of her very long, very beautiful legs to do it.
- The Show Must Go On: Verbatum from Cosmo, getting Don to stop thinking about Kathy.
- Sidekick Song: "Make 'em Laugh", Cosmo's attempt to cheer Don up by hurling himself around a living-room set until he resembles a one-man Looney Tune.
- Smoking Is Glamorous: Lina at the release party.
- So Bad It's Good: In-Universe. The audience considers the sneak preview of The Dueling Cavalier this. The actors and executives don't take it half so well. Probably one of the only cases of this being invoked intentionally and actually working.
- Stage Names: Some viewers believe Cosmo Brown is one.
- Star-Making Role: For Debbie Reynolds, who was 19 when this movie was made. Invoked by the studio, who felt she was ready to be pushed to the next level of stardom. As Singin lore reveals, it was a bumpy ride for her.
- Stylistic Suck: Justified, since the sneak preview is supposed to be awful.
- Troubled Production: The Dueling Cavalier has this In-Universe.
- Took the Bad Film Seriously: In-universe, Lina is the only one of the production staff for The Dueling Cavalier to actually enjoy the initial result of the film.
- Tsundere: Kathy.
- Unreliable Voiceover: A combination of this and Unreliable Narrator. The film opens with Don on the red carpet, narrating his rise to fame in flashback, citing such things as his elegant, well-heeled parents and the fine arts academies he attended. His personal mantra throughout:
"Dignity... always dignity."
- Meanwhile, what we're actually seeing is -- for starters -- Cosmo and himself as kids tapdancing in poolhalls for nickels before being tossed out.
- Visual Pun: "I must tear myself from your side," followed by Don's jacket tearing in half as he walks away.
- Lampshaded by Kathy's unsympathetic laughter.
- Vocal Dissonance: Lina, in the worst way.
- The Voiceless: Implemented (briefly) at the beginning of the film: the viewer doesn't hear Lina speak for the first time until the funniest possible moment.