Few films evoke a sense of joy and wonder as readily as Singin’ in the Rain. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen co-directed the picture, which tells a fictionalized but smart version of the history of cinema as the movies embraced “The Talkies.” Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Jean Hagan star alongside Kelly in one of the greatest (if not the greatest) musicals ever put to film. Our review of the deluxe 60th Anniversary edition of the film on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Cut to the quick, if you have the previous special edition and didn’t sell it off in anticipation of this set, you can buy the single disc version, as it contains all the new supplements. The big box set does also comes with a booklet, a reproduction of the lobby-sized posters, and an umbrella, but all the previous supplements are in standard def on the set’s third disc.
As for Singin’ in the Rain, the film starts at a film premiere where star Don Lockwood (Kelly) walks through his history, and points out that his public persona is made up of lies. Don came up in dance halls and hustled with his friend Cosmo (O’Connor), but the face he puts on is that of class and sophistication. It also reveals that on-screen costar Lena Lamont (Hagan) had no interest in him until he became a leading man, so he’s never been interested in her. Don does all the talking, and it becomes obvious why later on: Lina sounds like a talking mouse.
After the premiere, Don is accosted by fans, and so he ends up in the car of Kathy Selden (Reynolds), who says she doesn’t know his film work. She says believes in serious theater, so Don is shocked when she shows up as a dancing girl at the premiere party. There the studio head R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell) shows them a professor who’s married picture to sound, and everyone laughs at the idea of The Jazz Singer. What little do they know… Don falls immediately for Kathy, but there’s problems ahead. In adapting for sound, everyone is used to the larger acting thought required of silent pictures, Lina’s voice is Lina’s voice, and Lina can’t stand Kathy being around at all because she thinks she’s engaged to Don, even though he won’t give her the time of day. All that and musical numbers too.
Though the soundtrack was mostly made up of old standards (hence the setting and gimmick), that’s something modern audiences wouldn’t know unless they were told. The music is perfectly light and fluffy and the story is engaging – Singin’ in the Rain represents the zenith of the musical form in the 1950’s. Though the genre would persevere, Rain came as the standard Hollywood musical (along the lines of Swing Time and The Band Wagon) was being replaced by the more Rogers and Hammerstein-centric larger productions, many of which didn’t have great dance numbers in them. The standard non-Broadway-based musical would focus on entertainers, which gave them the excuse to break out into song and dance more often, and it also invested people like Kelly and Fred Astaire with less of a boundary as performers. They might go through emotional journeys, but they were far from playing method.
These films, this genre was by and large ephemeral; films meant to distract and give pleasure as chipper people gave it their all. But when the genre was at its best, those pleasures become transcendent. And the pure joy and skill on display in a number like “Moses” or “Make ‘em Laugh” or “Singin in the Rain” is such that it seems impossible to watch the film and not be swept up in those pleasures. Perhaps if you have no appreciation for choreography, Singin’ in the Rain might be a little boring, but it’s also funny and charming – one of the best backstage movies about movies ever made, with so many knowing jokes that play whether you know the references or not.
Warner Brothers Deluxe Blu-ray edition includes the film on Blu-ray on one disc, and the two-disc special edition is also packaged alongside it. The film is presented in a 4K remaster with the film in full frame (1.37:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio. The film looks absolutely stunning in this new version, and it looks to be the definitive home video release (for now). Extras on the disc kick off with a commentary by stars Reynolds, O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, co-director Stanley Donen, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, The Great Gatsby director Baz Luhrmann and historian Rudy Belhmer. This commentary comes from the previous DVD release, and is very entertaining. New is the documentary “Singin’ in the Rain: Raining on a New Generation” (51 min.), which features comments from modern dancers and choreographers, directors Lurmann, Rob Marshall and Adam Shankman and more. The best part may be Paula Abdul revealing her longstanding relationship with Kelly, a friendship that lasted until his passing. There’s a “Jukebox” function that lets you watch all the songs in the film, and the film’s theatrical trailer.
Disc two offers the film on DVD, with the commentary, new making of and theatrical trailer. On disc three there’s the feature-length documentary “Musicals Great Musicals” (86 min.) that walks through the great Arthur Freed-produced MGM musicals. ‘What a Glorious Feeling” (36 min.) as hosted by Debbie Reynolds, and she walks through the making of the picture with interviews featuring Donen, Comden and Green, O’Connor Cyd Charisse and more. Twelve of the songs from the film are shown in the context of the period movies in which they originally appeared, and that’s followed by an outtake of the performance of “You are My Lucky Star” (4 min.). There’s a still gallery (2 min.), and “Scoring Stage Session” (76 min.), which offers twenty six different versions of songs in the film. A pretty definitive set.