Song 253: Gene Kelly, “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952)

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If you’ll allow yet another flight of hyperbole: Is there a happier scene in all of film than the title sequence of Singin’ In the Rain? Furthermore, is there a more honest depiction of romantic happiness in movies? Not that we’ve all stomped through puddles and done unsafe things with streetlamps, but most of us have had the feeling of serene contentment that Gene Kelly sings about here. It’s not so much a burst of joy as it is an emerging sense of complete well-being (not that bursts of joy aren’t part of the deal; they just take a backseat to the serenity). It’s happy, but it’s also happy-go-lucky.

But enough about that: let’s talk about the amazing, peerless Gene Kelly. He doesn’t have the best voice in musical film, but it’s rich, expressive, and full of emotion. His charisma is never brighter than in Singin’ in the Rain, a film that has him mocking an elocution expert, playing an imaginary ukulele in a raincoat, and, of course, parading down a rainy street as if under a cloudless sky. His persona is the type that usually wears out its welcome very fast, but Kelly’s never does. I think it’s because his let’s-put-on-a-show corniness always has a drop of self-awareness, a knowledge that he’s kind of ridiculous. He never seems afraid to look silly, so he never does.

The song “Singin’ in the Rain” first appeared in the film Hollywood Revue of 1929 as a generic musical number. Like all the other numbers in Singin’ in the Rain, the song was crammed into the narrative because Warner Brothers was about to lose their copyrights. On some songs, this makes for an awkward fit (the delightful but out-of-leftfield “Good Morning,” for example); with “Singin’ in the Rain,” it’s perfect. The look on Kelly’s face before he bursts into song, along with his sublime “doo doo doo doo”s, lets us know how happy this guy is. The song, and Kelly’s effortless but acrobatic dance in the rain, proves it.

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