By Dan Skip Allen
Starting in the '40s and going through the '60s was the age of the big Hollywood musical. Sure, musicals trickled on through the rest of the decades, but not like the golden age of musicals. One of the era's biggest stars was Gene Kelly. Arguably his most famous and most important role was as Don Lockwood in Singin' in the Rain. It's a very influential film on many levels, some even considering it the best movie musical of all time.
Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lamonte (Lina Hagan) are a very popular duo in Hollywood. They bring the crowds in by the droves for their silent pictures. While attending a party, the host shows them and the studio head a talking picture reel. The studio head gets the idea that talkies are the new-fangled thing that will bring the movie industry to the next level. When the picture he is making, The Dueling Cavalier, doesn't sound right, he doesn't know what to do.
Singin' in the Rain has a great cast in addition to Kelly and Hagon. Debbie Reynolds, the mother of Carrie Fisher, is Kathy Seldon, an entertainer in her own right. She dances and sings at various parties. When Kelley's character's car breaks down, he gets a ride from her. This is the beginning of an on-again-off-again friendship between the two. Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) is the best friend of Kelly's character. He is always there when he needs a friend to talk to or an idea. They work very well together on screen.
Singin' in the Rain is an excellent film for many reasons, and one of them is that it has a great story of the transitioning of silent films into talking pictures. This was a story at the time that depicted something that actually went on in Hollywood a couple of decades before. Some people just couldn't cut it in talking pictures because they didn't have the proper accent or couldn't speak the English language, or have some other talent they needed. Dancing and singing were prerequisites now at this time in Hollywood. It's a big change.
Another thing that makes Singin' in the Rain so great is its great musical numbers. "Good Morning," "Make Me Laugh," the title track, "Singin' in the Rain," and so many more vibrant, entertaining songs kept this movie going from beginning to end. The songs are the heartbeat of this wonderful film about change in Hollywood. With Kelly, Reynolds, and O'Connor singing these songs, it was destined to be a success. They are easy to sing along with while watching the film. That's a key to why this was such a success.
Singin' in the Rain also had technical aspects that made it look and sound so good. Technicolor was a relatively new thing at the time that was used to bring this film to life. The various dance numbers are very vibrant. Colorful costumes and sets jumped off the screen. The remastering for the 70th Anniversary didn't hurt the film — it made it better. This film has never looked better than it does now, 70 years later. That's saying a lot for a movie this old to still stand up this far from when it came out originally.
Gene Kelly was a massive star when Singin' in the Rain came out. He'd done An American in Paris, Brigadoon, and Hello Dolly, but his biggest and most famous role ever was as Don Lockwood. Kelly danced and sang his way to stardom. He had a charisma and personality that made him a star. Kelly was a talent that has rarely been seen before or since.
One of my influences as a film critic is Roger Ebert. His favorite film of all time was Singin' in the Rain. I understand why he loves this film so much. "Singin' in the Rain pulses with life; in a movie about making movies, you can sense the joy they had making this one." This says it all. Once I saw it, I instantly loved it. Seventy years later, it holds up as one of the great musicals and films in general of all time. MGM made a film that will probably influence filmmakers and be enjoyed by film fans like me for decades to come.
The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1120): THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT -- A Seminal Moment in Music and Film History
Review by Sean Boelman
One of the great things about the Criterion Collection is that they re-release films that aren’t as widely available. Their new high-definition transfer of The Girl Can’t Help It, a genre-defining jukebox musical from 1956, is a welcome addition to the collection that will help prevent this seminal movie from fading into obscurity.
In the film, a gangster hires a down-and-out press agent to turn his girlfriend into a singing star, but issues arise when they realize she isn’t as talented as they had thought. It’s a movie that plays a lot of delicate balancing acts — wholesome yet edgy, progressive but familiar — but it’s a wonderful comedy that went underappreciated at the time and has this second chance to be discovered.
The film stars Tom Ewell, who was in some of the most acclaimed comedies of the era (such as The Seven Year Itch and Adam’s Rib), and Jayne Mansfield, who Hollywood tried their best to make their next Marilyn Monroe. Upon release, Ewell and Mansfield were criticized for their lack of chemistry in the movie compared to its contemporary comedies, but it works given that this isn’t like the charming screwball comedies that came decades before it.
Yes, the plot of the film is absurd and ridiculous, but it is also edgy and satirical in an almost mean-spirited way. It’s reminiscent of The Producers, even though this movie predates Mel Brooks’s musical comedy by over a decade. It’s ahead of its time in terms of the plot and tone, but it was also very progressive as a jukebox musical.
Ewell opens the film with a monologue that breaks the fourth wall and brings the audience into this “story of music” in “lifelike color by DeLuxe” (which looks absolutely gorgeous in this transfer, by the way). It’s a gimmick that we can look back at today and observe with amused admiration, but was likely a hoot back in the day.
The movie features several rock and roll performances throughout, making it a celebration of some of the most iconic music stars of all time. Cameo performances by Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, and Fats Domino, among others, give the film an undeniable and infectious energy and would come to make it one of the most influential movies in all of music history.
The bonus content that has been released as part of this Criterion Collection edition is fantastic, including new essays, interviews, and commentaries on the film. The insert is also great, with an essay by Rachel Syme and excerpts from director Frank Tashlin’s book How to Create Cartoons, offering a glimpse into the mind of its creator.
The Girl Can’t Help It is an important moment in music and film history, and is an important addition to the library of any cinephile. The Criterion Collection has outdone themselves with this wonderful transfer and release of a movie that is dying to be rediscovered.
The Criterion Collection edition of The Girl Can’t Help It is now available.
The Snake Hole
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