Singin’ in the Rain is a 1952 romantic comedy/musical directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly. The film is set in the 1920’s when Hollywood was transitioning from silent films to films with dialogue, “talkies”. The Hollywood stars Don Lockwood (played by Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (played by Jean Hagen) are often casted together in romantic films, and even have a fake relationship to please the public and sell more tickets. Before the premiere begins, Don Lockwood shares an elaborate story about his upbringing with his best friend Cosmo Brown. In this story Don Lockwood lies about his upbringing, stating that they had a refined upbringing and went to the best musical academies. However, the flashbacks tell a different story, they paint the picture of the truth and display their unfortunate and non lavish upbringing. As Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are being adored by fans, you notice that Don can not stand Lina Lamont. Later on, on the way to the movie premiere, Don Lockwood gets attacked by fans and jumps into Kathy Selden’s car. Long story short, Don Lockwood attempts to make a move on Kathy Selden, she is not interested and the two do not hit it off. At the movie premiere after party Kathy Selden is one of the dancers and she is madly embarrassed, because she lied saying she was an actress. Don Lockwood makes fun of Kathy Selden and as she tries to throw the cake at him she hits Lina Lamont, a fight begins and Kathy runs away. During the party R.F the studio’s producer shows the first talkie example and everyone is shocked and opposes it. After their new film was changed into a talkie/musical, Lina, already having an unbearable speaking voice, is also found to be talentless when required to use dialogue or sing. In fact, Don’s lifelong friend Cosmo Brown (played by Donald O’Connor), jokingly stated, Lina. She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. A triple threat. (Funny Singin). After diction lessons Lina isn’t any better, Kathy Selden (played by Debbie Reynolds) is hired to be Lina’s voice. Then, as you can imagine, Kathy and Don fall in love. This famous and iconic musical scenes paired with the excellent choreography creates the perfect film with a mix of genres for everyone to enjoy. In my essay I will focus on the camera movement, Mise-en-scene, and staging of actors and props.
Mise-en-scene and camera movement are integral parts of Singin’ in the Rain, and any film for that matter, because they give the viewer precise details about a film without the use or need for dialogue. The opening scene of Singin’ in the Rain, opens with a wide shot of a movie premiere, you see the large marquee and the large searchlights. As the stars arrive you get a close up shot of a woman announcing the stars and sort of narrating what is happening. The camera moves to a tight shot of the fans trying to break the police line to get a better view. Then the shot pans to a close up of a woman clutching a magazine with the faces and names of the stars of the film. As the stars continue to arrive the camera pans to different fans with a close up as they scream and cheer. If you notice the stars all seem similarly dressed, in the sense that they do not necessarily stand out. However, when Lina Lamont and Don Lockwood car pulls in, the car and camera shot, is immediately surrounded and covered by paparazzi and police. As the crowd of law enforcement and paparazzi part you see Don and Lina emerging from the car all dressed in white. This action makes the pair stand out more and pulls the focus of the camera and the viewer. The reaction to the main stars are also more drastic. The camera pans over to a woman fainting. As Don Lockwood recounts the long and false story of his and Cosmo Brown’s childhood, the camera angle is a tight shot of Cosmo Brown, the woman with the microphone, Don, and Lina. As Don Lockwood begins to speak the camera tightens the shot and begins a close up of his face before transitioning to the flashback. This shooting style is used so that the viewer sees that while Don Lockwood is recounting his (false) story, the flashback is him thinking about how it actually all happened.
The famous and definitely iconic, “Make em Laugh” musical number, was filmed with several long shots. Gene Kelly also uses a mix of full and medium shots for more of a comedic effect. This vaudeville style dance scene was especially unique because Cosmo Brown (played by Donald O’Connor), had to dance, sing, act, and stunt. In addition, he had very little room to do so. Which make the process of using a long shot even more difficult and special. If you look closely the camera will subtly zoom in and out depending on what trick or what prop must be used next. Upon further inspection, the only section that has any cuts is the last section with the couch and the dummy. It is very easy to miss, however there are about three strategically placed cuts in this section of the scene. Comso Brown/ Donald O’Connor, had to be conscious of the limit of space he had within the frame of the camera. When you watch the scene closely you can see that the camera follows him and his movements around the space however notice that he remains tightly within the frame at all times, even while moving. The camera often goes to a tight shot on Cosmo Brown/Donald O’Connor’s face after he hits his head, bumps into something, makes funny faces, etc. for comedic effect. In an article, Sean Braswell stated, “O’Connor uncorks a dazzling display of gimmicks and pratfalls in the scene: dancing, fighting with a dummy, running on the floor and up walls, along with old stand-bys like “gurning” — facial distortions named after the gurnard fish.” (Braswell). These “gimmicks” or movements pertain to a very old school style of film. If you look at Stanilo & Ollio, The Three Stooges, or Charlie Chaplin, the style of movement is very similar, excluding the singing and dancing of course, however the comedic style of acting is the same. The use of props is also very important in this scene. Every single prop or wall is staged purposefully for the actor’s use. From the staging of the wardrobe rack where Cosmo Brown/Donald O’Connor takes the hat, to the two men who go lift the plank up when he is above it, to the placement of the workers who bring the couch that he can crawl under, and so on. Everything is strategically set for the actor to use.
The general camera movements or cinematography for Singin’ in The Rain has remained quite iconic. The director and lead actor, Gene Kelly, used many long shots and wide angles to capture the film. I’d like to think it was done to give a sense of grandeur, to put it simply, he wanted this musical film to be as grand as possible. Due to the various musical numbers, long shots were more favorable. Long shots allowed the actors to fully finish the scene and let it carry out naturally, rather than having several cuts which lead to a musical number compiled from numerous different takes. To put it all simply, it rendered the film more natural and organic. This paired with the panning of the camera and the mix of eye level, high level, and birds eye angles, which if you notice is a constant technique used throughout the film, makes the viewer feel as if they are in the audience of the musical number or sitting behind the director during one of the scenes where they are filming. It adds a nice personal touch while also being a very strategic film technique.
The sheer genius of Singin’ in The Rain is recognized by the generations of filmmakers that succeeded Gene Kelly. The film is timeless, it is one of the few films that can be enjoyed by all ages. In fact, when I was a little girl this was my absolute favorite film, it holds a great deal of sentimental value to me. It is, in my opinion, one of – if not- THE greatest musical Hollywood has ever created. While the film is not deep and there is no lesson to be learned or other meaning to be uncovered, it simply brings joy. The catchy numbers and engaging choreography are more than enough to make this film every bit of incredible that it is. Gene Kelly really wanted to leave the audience with a sense of happiness and fun almost magic like, and well, he achieved just that.