in the Rain
Edition - 1951 (2002) - MGM (Warner Bros.)
by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
Disc One - The Film
103 mins, G, full frame (1.33:1), Digipack packaging with slipcase,
single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), audio
commentary (with actors Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor, Cyd
Charisse and Kathleen Freeman, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph
Green, co-director Stanley Donen, film historian Rudy Behlmer, and
filmmaker Baz Luhrmann),
viewing option, Reel Sound
text history, cast and crew bios, awards listing, theatrical
trailer, film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (38
chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and original mono) and French
(mono), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned
Two - Special Features
NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no layer
switch), Musicals Great Musicals
documentary (20 chapters), What a
Glorious Feeling documentary, original movie excerpts of
Arthur Freed/Nancio Herb Brown's songs, You
Are My Lucky Star outtake, photo gallery, 26 scoring
session music cues, film-themed menu screens with sound, languages:
English (DD 2.0 Surround)
There are very few films I've approached with as much stubborn
determinedness to hate as Singin' in the
Rain. There are even fewer where I've failed so
spectacularly. You see, back before my taste in film became more
encompassing, I was a very genre-biased movie-goer. I suppose this
is true of most film buffs in their early years. Up until I entered
high school, I had very set notions of what I would and would not
enjoy. I'd happily plunk down money to sit through any horror,
science fiction or fantasy picture. But god forbid you should ask me
to watch a western or a musical. These genres were dead, buried, and
forgotten and good riddance to 'em. I'd have rather gouged out my
own eyeballs and stuffed them in my ears to block out the sound
(which, come to think of it, was the rough equivalent of sitting
through many of those horror, science fiction, and fantasy
But in high school, my tastes changed. My dad introduced me to some
of the great westerns, while my mom began to slowly indoctrinate me
into the classic Hollywood musicals. Wisely, she began my education
with the great Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers pictures from the
1930's. I quickly fell in love with movies like Top
Hat and The Gay Divorcee
and it's not hard to see why. Between the Irving Berlin and Cole
Porter songs, the art deco sets, the impossibly high level of wealth
and sophistication, and the breathtaking ease of Astaire and Rogers'
incredible dance moves, there was as much fantasy in these movies as
anything in the Star Wars
With my new tolerance for musicals, I realized that sooner or later
I was going to have to confront what is widely considered to be the
greatest movie musical Hollywood ever produced, Gene Kelly's Singin'
in the Rain. I sat down to watch it bound and determined
to not be won over. After all, musicals from the 30's were one
thing. Musicals from the 50's are an entirely different technicolor
animal. The few I'd seen had failed to win me over. They were great
big sugar pills of a motion picture. Bright, exuberant, and so
gosh-darned ready to please that I inevitably succumbed to an
exhaustion headache before the end of the first hour. And Gene Kelly
was the poster boy for all that was wrong with them. As far as I was
concerned, his toothy grin and regular guy attitude was no match for
the otherworldly suavity of Fred Astaire.
After about half an hour, I realized a strange thing had happened.
Against all odds, my head didn't hurt. My eyes, which I had trained
to roll cynically back in my head during such films, were riveted to
the screen. And my practiced scowl had been transformed into a smile
as wide as Kelly's own. What the hell went wrong? Was it somehow
possible that Singin' in the Rain
was every bit as good as everybody said it was?
Yeah, as a matter of fact it was and is just that good. For one
thing, Singin' in the Rain is,
unlike many of its contemporaries, genuinely funny. The story takes
place during Hollywood's transition from silent films to talking
pictures. Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a swashbuckling matinee idol
saddled with a shrewish on-screen partner, Lina Lamont (played to
perfection by Jean Hagen). When The Jazz Singer hits it big,
Lockwood and Lamont's studio attempts to shoehorn sound into their
latest costume drama. The result is a disaster, thanks to problems
with the new technology and Lamont's nails-on-a-chalkboard voice.
Just when things look their darkest, Lockwood and his musician pal
Cosmo (Donald O'Connor) come up with a brilliant "hey-let's-put-on-a-show"
idea. They'll turn the movie into Hollywood's first big musical,
with Lamont's vocals dubbed by Lockwood's new girlfriend, Kathy
Selden (Debbie Reynolds). Why, it's so crazy, it just might work!
Obviously, we're not talking about a labyrinthine plot here. But the
focus on Hollywood means that screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph
Green were able to poke fun at a subject they knew very well. This
isn't a scathing satire by any means, but laughs are had at the
expense of the stars, the studio heads, the directors, the gossip
columnists, the fans, even the process of movie making itself. When
hired, Comden and Green were given one mandate: write a script
around the songs of producer Arthur Freed and his songwriting
partner Nancio Herb Brown. Remarkably, the songs feel organic to
this story, rising naturally out of the situations and characters.
And great songs they are, too, given their most memorable renditions
here by the spirited cast. O'Connor and Reynolds are terrific,
bringing the screen to life whenever they're around. As for Kelly...
as I said, I didn't have much use for him before I saw this movie.
Afterwards, I had to go back and reassess my opinion. He's great
here, bringing to Don Lockwood the perfect mixture of earnestness
and canned ham. It goes without saying that "Singin' In The
Rain" is one of the greatest musical numbers ever filmed and
virtually all of the credit for that goes straight to Kelly. It's
one of the most perfect embodiments of being head over heels in love
you'll ever see.
Still, I can understand if some of you are still a bit resistant to
the charms of Singin' in the Rain.
For some, it's like having birthday cake and orange soda for two
hours straight. The movie starts with the three stars singing
directly to the camera at the top of their lungs and doesn't let up
for a second. By the time you get to the dizzying "Broadway
Melody" finale, you might be longing for a bit of a breather.
But most people, I think, are won over by the movie's charm and
spirit within the first ten minutes. If you're already a fan of
Hollywood musicals, you probably already adore this one. If you're
not, it might just win over even the most jaded viewer.
As for the DVD, the short answer is that this is one of Warner's
best special editions to date. Period.
The long answer? The picture has been restored using Warner's
patented "Ultra-Resolution" technique, used notably on
last year's Adventures of Robin Hood
release. The original negative of Singin'
in the Rain is long gone, so I honestly didn't expect
great results from this restoration. Remarkably, the picture is
dazzling. This is an incredible, jaw-dropping image without a single
flaw I could detect. If you know any older people who still don't
really appreciate the technical aspects of DVD, this is the disc to
show them. I promise you they have never seen this movie look this
good. I was impressed by the colors on the soundstage during Kelly's
"You Were Meant For Me" number, but I was absolutely blown
away by them in the finale. It's fair to say that if you haven't
seen this disc, you haven't really seen Singin'
in the Rain yet.
The soundtrack has been remastered to a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
track, a dangerous proposition when dealing with classic mono films.
Fortunately, the results are very good. You're not immersed in
artificial surrounds but the music pops to life with brilliant
clarity. Dialogue sounds clear and natural without any annoying hiss
or echo. For purists, the original (albeit cleaned-up) mono track is
available as well. Both choices are top notch.
Disc One contains a few worthwhile extras, something of a rarity for
Warner's special editions. First off is a commentary by a number of
the movie's cast and crew, plus historian and commentary-track
regular Rudy Behlmer and musical aficionado Baz Luhrmann. In fact,
this isn't so much a scene-by-scene commentary as it is a skillful
editing together of a number of individual interviews. The track
isn't bad, though I would have preferred a more direct commentary by
co-director Stanley Donen to some of the anecdotes heard here.
Debbie Reynolds is an affable hostess for the track but oddly, her
participation doesn't extend much beyond that. Cyd Charisse and
others talk about her but Reynolds rarely offers up her own
perspective. Still, it's worth it to hear her say the name "Rudy
Behlmer", though you might not think the commentary is quite as
"fabulous" as Reynolds promises it will be. An
extended-branching option called Singin'
Inspirations allows you to leave the feature for
additional background information whenever a movie reel pops up on
screen (which actually isn't all that often). Reel
Sound is a brief but informative text-based history of
the transition from silents to talkies, with film clips illustrating
the key points. Finally, Disc One provides the original trailer and
the usual Warner cast, crew and awards summaries.
The real goodies (besides the movie itself, of course) can be found
on Disc Two. The big draw here is an 85-minute documentary entitled
Musicals Great Musicals,
detailing the history of the Arthur Freed unit at MGM. Produced for
PBS' Great Performances, this
is a lively and information packed feature, sprinkled with excellent
interviews and clips from Freed's movies (including his other
masterpiece, the Fred Astaire vehicle The
Band Wagon, a movie crying out for a comparable DVD
restoration and release). By comparison, the documentary devoted to
the making of Singin' in the Rain,
What a Glorious Feeling, comes
up a little bit short. Just over half an hour in length, it doesn't
tread much ground that wasn't already covered in either the
commentary or the other documentary. But if you don't want to devote
that kind of time to either of those features, this is a decent
Only one of two deleted musical numbers from the picture has
survived, Debbie Reynolds' performance of You
Are My Lucky Star, and it's presented here on the second
disc. Compared to the rest of the movie, it's something of a yawn
but it's wonderful that it's included here for the curious. Apart
from a small photo gallery, the rest of the extras are musical in
nature. No less than 26 alternate and extended music cues are
provided from the original scoring stage sessions. Most fascinating
to me was the inclusion of excerpts from the original films where
Freed and Brown's songs came from. The films date from 1929 to 1939
and the songs are performed by the likes of Bing Crosby, Judy
Garland and Mickey Rooney. Sure, Cliff Edwards' performance of Singin'
in the Rain from The Hollywood
Revue of 1929 can't hold a candle to Gene Kelly's
rendition. But most of us know these songs from Kelly and Donen's
movie. To see and hear the transformation they underwent is nothing
short of extraordinary.
Warner's two-disc Singin' in the Rain
is the pinnacle of what they can achieve with this new line of
special editions. All classic films should be treated with such
reverence and care when they arrive on disc. Where once I was
dead-set against enjoying a single second of this movie, I am now
delighted to have it on my shelf, ready to bring down whenever I'm
in need of a guaranteed smile. This is Hollywood musical making at
its peak and happily, it's also Hollywood DVD production at a pretty
darn high level, as well.