What’s your favorite musical?
When casting a musical, directors search out the Broadway triple threat: actors that can act, sing and dance. If there’s one actor who holds the title on the triple threat, it’s film legend Gene Kelly.
Kelly co-directed and starred in Singin’ in the Rain, which is now celebrating its 60th anniversary. It was a jukebox film in every sense of the word. Instead of adding music to a story, the plot merely served as a coating to songs that were already out. However, the film still stands on it’s own thanks to Kelly’s genius dance numbers, some self-serving artistic routines (with ballet dancer Cyd Charisse), comedy from Donald O’Connor (as Cosmo Brown) and one of the darkest, unsung endings in musical history – sorry Ms. Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen).
Comparing another musical to Singin’ in the Rain is like comparing vintage wine to grape juice. Forget asking the question, what’s your favorite musical. Instead, try asking what is your favorite scene from Singin’ in the Rain? Most people may immediately remember Kelly doing just what the 1929 song suggested. It was a simple scene with endless puddles of nuance. Not only did Kelly modify the song lyrics to call attention to his “dancing”, but he also broke from the traditional confines of a dance routine. Instead of elaborate steps, the most unforgettable moment in that scene (in my opinion) is when Kelly starts to kick up water like a little child. In that singular moment, he did more to advance his character than any lines of dialogue could have captured.
But, forget the song the movie was named after. What’s my favorite song?
Not only do I love the song, but to this day I can’t for the life of me figure out how Kelly, O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds (Kathy Selden) magically danced up and down the staircase without so much as a flinch. If you watch the scene closely, it literally looks as though they are floating up and down the stairs. The three actors dance with a harmony that is unheard of in today’s musicals. Long camera takes capture flawless routines that could never be repeated. In today’s musicals, you typically see the camera editing to fill in for the mistakes. But in Singin’ in the Rain, the dances dictate what the camera does instead of the other way around.
Warner Bros follows up its 70th Anniversary release of Casablanca with another great Collector’s Edition Box set for Gene Kelly’s masterpiece. The rectangular packaging is a nice shelf piece, much like the Ben Hur release. The numbered collector’s edition comes in a plastic sleeve, which is adorned with rain drops. Once you open the box, you’ll be able to slip it back into the plastic sleeve so that you can display it standing up. Unfortunately, with the Casablanca release, there was no sleeve to help it to stand up without being propped up.
The collection comes with three discs, one Blu-Ray and two DVDs. The Blu-ray features the original picture, processed through Warner Bros 4K scan and presented in 1080P. There is a bit of a trade off to the process. The colors pop more and the graininess is lost. However, some of the scenes feel a little too glossy and artificial. Also defects are obviously more apparent. I could see the spit bubbles on the mouth of an extra in the closing scene, something I never noticed before. Still, the overall quality is beautiful and a significant upgrade from the DVD version. More importantly, the upgraded DTS-HD 5.1 sound captures the heart of this film, without taking away the quality of each singer’s voice. Perhaps, it also makes Lina Lamont’s screeching voice a little too piercing.
The Blu-ray comes with two important special features. The first is a nod to the jukebox musical. You can assemble a playlist of songs from the movie and have “jukebox” play the scenes in the order selected. There is also a new documentary with the cast and choreographers of Glee, High School Musical, Chicago, Rock of Ages and other films and TV series. Usher and Paula Abdul are also on the documentary. One thing that the documentary points out is the difficulty level of “Flowing Scarf” dream sequence. In an era before CG and special effects, it’s good to recognize the technical accomplishments of scenes such as this one.
The documentary also points out some interesting editing snafus that you may have missed. For instance, in the scene where Kathy jumps out of the birthday cake, pink streamers start to fly overhead during the dance routine. Then the camera cuts to a close up with a white streamer landing squarely on Kathy’s head. Reynolds simply continues to dance, blowing the streamer away and subtly rolling her eyes. It’s a great moment because Reynolds doesn’t miss a beat in her dance when it happens.