Hollywood had released a few jukebox musicals, such as “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942) and “Easter Parade” (1948) before “Singin’ in the Rain” hit the big screen in 1952. With songs written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, “Singin’ in the Rain” launched the jukebox genre in earnest, since it’s a movie that was completely structured around its tunes. And all but two of those songs were repurposed from other movies.
The CSO presents “Singin’ in the Rain,” which the American Film Institute has declared the “best movie musical ever,” in two live-to-picture concerts Jan. 19 and 21. Here are five of the movie’s most memorable moments:
“Make ‘Em Laugh”
One of two “original” songs composed for “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Laugh” is actually a retread of Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown” from “The Pirate” (1948). “Make ’em Laugh” features a tour de force turn by Donald O’Connor, as he climbs the walls and bounces off the ceiling. He manged to pull off his acrobatic performance, despite his nicotine habit. “I was smoking four packs of cigarettes a day then,” he admitted afterward, ‘and getting up those walls was murder.”
Originally from “Babes in Arms” (1939), where Judy Garland batted it out of the park, assisted by Mickey Rooney, the song became a signature number for Debbie Reynolds, who included it in her nightclub/concert appearances — and memorably reprised it during the original run of “Will & Grace,” when she guest starred as Grace’s mom in “The Unsinkable Mommy Adler.”
“You Are My Lucky Star”
Introduced in the MGM musical “The Broadway Melody of 1936,” the song was warbled throughout this movie by Frances Langford, Eleanor Powell (in her debut role) and Robert Taylor (!!), not known for his vocal prowess. For “Singin’ in the Rain,” Debbie Reynolds was dubbed by Betty Noyes on the soundtrack but her voice is heard here in this outtake.
“Gotta Dance!” from the “Broadway Rhythm Ballet”
Many film fans quibble with the movie’s elaborate set piece, a fantasy sequence in which Gene Kelly pursues the leggy Cyd Charisse. As film critic Roger Ebert once wrote: “It’s possible to enjoy ‘Broadway Ballet’ and still wonder if it’s really needed; it stops the headlong energy dead in its tracks for something more formal and considered.” It’s hard to argue, however, with the over-the-top exuberance that Kelly displays in “Gotta Dance!”
“Singin’ in the Rain”
The song had been used seven times in Hollywood movies, beginning with “The Broadway Melody” (1929), followed by “Speak Easily” (1932), “The Old Dark House” (1932), “Babes in Arms” (1939), “Little Nellie Kelly” (1940) and “The Babe Ruth Story (1948). As he runs through the raindrops, walking down the lane, “with a happy refrain,” Gene Kelly of course turned it into an instant classic.