(1952)5Bruce EderStanley Donen and Gene Kelly's Singin' In The Rain is usually lumped together with the other MGM "songbook" musicals of its era, An American In Paris and The Band Wagon. In contrast to those two outstanding works of music and motion, however, Singin' In The Rain had an additional layer of importance and appeal as one of Hollywood's relatively rare feature films about itself. The Arthur Freed/Nacio Herb Brown songbook is on one level the center of the movie, but it's also a backdrop for a humorous and delightfully stylized look back at the crisis that engulfed the movie mecca and its inhabitants once synchronized sound came to films. The musical was made in 1952, only 25 years after the beginning of the series of events depicted and satirized in the script, so recent in time that there were still plenty of old studio hands (including sound department head Douglas Shearer) who had firsthand memories of the actual events. The fit was natural for the music, too, since Freed and Brown had been on hand (and even onscreen) for the arrival of sound to MGM in 1929.
The film is full of delightful in-jokes about its subject and the people who lived through the era: Jean Hagen's Lina Lamont is a burlesque of silent-movie sex symbol Clara Bow, whose decidedly urban style of diction never really fit her image or what the public wanted, while Millard Mitchell's R.F. Simpson was a gently jocular satire of Freed himself, who could never quite visualize the elaborate musical numbers whose scripts and budgets he was approving as producer. Donald O'Connor's Cosmo Brown was an onscreen stand-in for men like Franz Waxman and dozens of other musicians, who moved from writing arrangements or conducting the major theater orchestras to heading the music departments of the studios. The resulting musical, in addition to offering a brace of memorable songs and performances (with a startlingly sultry featured spot for Cyd Charisse in the "Broadway Melody" sequence, as a bonus), gave audiences a short-course pop-history lesson about how the movies learned to talk, sing, and dance.