In April of this year, I was very fortunate to be able to attend the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, my second time at this event. One of the films screened during this festival at Grauman’s Chinese Theater was SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, which included a presentation before the film from Patricia Ward Kelly, Gene Kelly’s widow.
(Trailer for the 50th Anniversary release)
I was really excited to be able to see this film on the big screen. I had already had the pleasure of seeing another Gene Kelly film, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, on the same big screen last year at the festival, and could not wait for the day of the screening. Growing up in Central New Jersey, I watched classic movies when they were on the local channels (and when my parents were watching, naturally, since I watched what they watched). My mom and I always loved watching Gene Kelly dance and act, and it was something we enjoyed together.
I settled in to my seat, and as I did, Mrs. Kelly passed by on her way up to the stage to make her presentation. She greeted the other fans in the audience as she made her way, and I stopped her, and thanked her for keeping Gene’s memory and talents alive with all of her presentations that she does. She thanked me but said she does it for the fans, both old and new, and loves keeping his image out there, and she gets as much pleasure from it as we do.
Just seeing the opening credits gave me a thrill, as it does whenever I watch a classic in a theater. One of my favorite parts of watching classic films in a modern theater, on the big screen, is enjoying it with the other classic movie fans. I love that we all applaud by unspoken agreement at certain moments of the movie, whether it be the opening credits or when the star makes their first appearance. It really is a unbelievable experience.
One of the first things that garnered applause was the opening scene of the movie premiere in the film that’s being held at Grauman’s. There was a loud smattering of chuckles and laughs in the theater followed by applause when the theater we were in appeared. It was definitely a surreal moment for me (and I’m sure many others as well) for sure.
The basic premise of the movie is a silent film production company has to make the transition from silents to films with sound. It proves to be a difficult transition due to the off-key and crass-sounding voice of Lina Lamont (portrayed beautifully by Jean Hagen). Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), his former Vaudeville partner Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) and the studio executives are really in a bind when they realize they have to make it work with Lina’s voice…somehow. Enter Kathy Selden, played by newcomer (at the time) Debbie Reynolds. Kathy is an aspiring actress who meets Don Lockwood by chance, and since they argue and fight right off the bat, you know they are destined to fall in love!
There are no doubt many other bloggers who are going to write about SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN during the 2012 Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, and I am absolutely sure that they will be able to discuss the film, the cinematography, the dancing in well-written detail. I decided to take a different tack in writing about one of my all-time favorite movies.
There are several moments in the film that I love, and one of those is the first time we hear Lina speak, and we find out why we haven’t heard her speak in the movie before this. Jean Hagen, who had a lovely speaking voice, did an unbelievable job of putting on the accent and voice. We also find out that Don and Lina are not an item, but she doesn’t know it. She believes all the gossip in the magazines, and try as he might, he can’t get her to understand that.
Another favorite moment for me is how Don and Kathy meet. He quite literally drops into her lap, or at least her car, as he’s escaping unruly fans. He scales a car, climbs onto a trolley, and jumps into her car. We find out that she is an aspiring stage actress, and has an opinion of screen actors that doesn’t agree with Don. It leads to them having a disagreement, because naturally, Don takes offense at the idea that he’s not “really” an actor because he doesn’t have to speak the lines, he just has to pantomime. But look at that sexual tension underneath!!
Of course, my favorite (and most likely everyone’s favorite) moment is the Singin’ in the Rain musical number. But what surprised me the most during the screening, was just how emotionally I reacted to this scene. It took me completely off-guard.
My mom passed away last year, totally unexpectedly, although she had a minor heart issue. As I said before, both my mom and I enjoyed Gene Kelly. I was sitting there, enjoying the movie, and getting excited because I knew the musical number was coming up. It’s ridiculous, really, and only a fellow classic film fan could appreciate the excitement. But there it was! On the big screen, and Gene starts to sing. My heart just flew, and I was mesmerized. Then something happened. I have no idea why, but all of a sudden, my mom popped into my head, and I remembered buying a Gene Kelly VHS for her, and the tears just came. It all happened in a split second, and as I reached down to my bag to inconspicuously get a handkerchief to dab my eyes with (I mean, come on, who cries and sobs during SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN???), I was in the midst of a flurry of emotions that I didn’t have a grip on. It isn’t as though my mom and I spent weekends watching nothing but Gene Kelly movies, or hours discussing his various dance moves, or wives, or good looks. (Well, okay, scratch the ‘good looks’ one, we might have done that.)
My friend, David, that I went with to the film with, leaned over to me and whispered, “Are you okay?” I nodded. I still don’t quite understand what or why that happened, but truthfully I welled up again just writing out this post. The last few years with my mom were pretty stressful due to my father having had late-stage Alzheimer’s and living in a nursing home. He passed away two days after my mom did, so needless to say it’s been a long year. It was so nice to get so emotional over a happy memory, and almost feeling like she was there with me, watching a movie starring a man who brought us so much happiness, something that we had in common that we could share. It really made the screening so much more than just one of ten or twelve movies seen at a film festival. It was an event for me. One that I’ll remember and look back on with fondness. It isn’t often you can say that about a movie. And somehow, I have a feeling that Gene Kelly would really appreciate that. I hope so, anyway.