Monday, June 29, 2020

Singing in the Rain

SINGING IN THE RAIN is considered the greatest movie musical of all-time. AFI lists it as the 5th greatest movie of all-time. The scene of Gene Kelly singing in the rain is iconic. Watching the film again recently, it remains delightful with a surprising number of original songs that have gone on to join the Great American Songbook.

Here’s what I didn’t know: It wasn’t a hit.

Not when it was released in 1952. The public’s reaction was meh. So was the critics’. It only got a couple of Oscar nominations and lost both of them. Was Gene Kelly nominated? Nope. Debbie Reynolds? Nope. Stanley Donen for directing? Nope. Art Direction? Cinematography? Best Song? Nada nada nada. The Best Picture that year: THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH.

When was the last time you watched that? Or these Best Picture nominees – IVANHOE, MOULIN ROUGE, THE QUIET MAN? The other nominee (that should have been SINGING IN THE RAIN’S main competition) was HIGH NOON.

Over time of course SINGING IN THE RAIN has been recognized for the classic it is.

But to me it’s fascinating how the exact same motion picture can elicit such different responses. Did theatergoers yawn during the “Singing In the Rain” scene in 1952? Did any of them say, “What’s wrong with you people? This is pretty dazzling?” THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is a terrible bloated unwatchable movie, by the way. It was also the boxoffice champ in 1952.  SINGING IN THE RAIN did a little better than break even. 

I just wonder what Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen and the rest of the cast and crew thought at the time? What could they have done differently?

Other movies that were originally flops:  THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, BARBARELLA (although I saw it three times when it came out), BLADE RUNNER, OFFICE SPACE, IRON GIANT (see this one if you haven't), and a little movie called IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. 

And now, turning to TV -- THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was essentially canceled after the first season. It was not on the CBS schedule. It was only when ad men Grant Tinker and Lee Rich went to Cincinnati and convinced Proctor & Gamble to sponsor it did they pull a Hail Mary. Almost 60 years later we are still marveling at how great THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was. You know what the big hit sitcom was the year THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW struggled in the ratings? THE REAL McCOYS. How often do you binge on that?

The song “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong was released originally in 1967. It topped out at 116 on the Billboard chart. In 1988 it received a Gold Record.

And then there’s the example I had a personal stake in: CHEERS. We were getting killed in the ratings that first year. David Isaacs, the Charles Brothers, and I would sit in the writers room and scratch our heads. This was our A material, folks. It’s not like we could stay an extra half hour a night and the show would be any better. Ten years earlier, Larry Gelbart & Gene Reynolds were in the same quandary over MASH, which was struggling its first season on CBS.

The point is that perception is as important as quality when it comes to recognizing art.

CHEERS was on the last place network when it premiered. Maybe SINGING IN THE RAIN played in lousy theaters. Maybe there were so many musicals at the time that it just felt like yet another one. I have no idea. I’m just speculating. There are quite a few painters and authors who passed away before their work received the recognition and praise it deserved.

I’ve seen SINGING IN THE RAIN many times. I’ve always loved it. But I always assumed it was smash from the time it was released. This time I looked up to see how many Oscars it snared only to learn it was largely ignored. So watching the movie again was a different experience. After every great number or scene I was that guy saying, “What’s wrong with you people?”

By the way, in AFI's Top 100 Movies of All-Time, only one of the Oscar nominees in 1952 made the list -- HIGH NOON at 27.   THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is nowhere to be found. 


Jon said...

From what I've read, it was Sheldon Leonard, not Grant Tinker, who went to Cincinnati w/ Lee Rich to save DVD SHOW from cancellation. As soon as he arrived back in LA from there he had to turn back and go to NYC to find another sponsor for half of the show, since P&G only took helf-sponsorship. Grant Tinker instead married Mrs. Petrie. :)

Tom Scarlett said...

SINGING IN THE RAIN came out one year after AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, a Gene Kelly musical that DID win the Best Picture Oscar. At the time, AMERICAN seemed like "high art" (it had a "dream ballet" and everything!) while RAIN was seen as just another Metro tuner. Today, the story of AMERICAN seems rather pompous (although the musical numbers are still great), while the humor and more casual approach of RAIN make it seem very contemporary.

Dave Wrighteous said...

Singing in the Rain is an absolute treasure.
Gene Kelly's opening scene is deservedly iconic, so much so that I believe Donald O'Connor's INCREDIBLE "Make 'Em Laugh" number has never gotten the credit it richly deserves, nor did it garner a Supporting Actor nomination either!!
O'Connor smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day, was hospitalized after filming, then had to film the scene AGAIN after a technical problem made the first take unusable!! WOW!

Barry Rivadue said...

Yes, Sheldon Leonard played the most crucial role in saving DVD Show.

Oliver Warren said...

i am completely agreed with TOM scarlet's point of view.... and opinion...everyone has their own taste... i like classical and orchestra so i have much knowledge of it.. while working on my project Torrent-MAC i used to listen songs... that's all so, i don't know any depth of it

Griff said...

All right -- SINGIN' IN THE RAIN didn't immediately receive the critical plaudits it deserved. Unlike the more lauded (though lesser) AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, it got no Oscar love. [It remains unimaginable that the incomparable Betty Comden & Adolph Green screenplay did not at least receive a nomination.] But SINGIN' IN THE RAIN was a pretty big hit for MGM; this was no flop.

" remains delightful with a surprising number of original songs that have gone on to join the Great American Songbook."

It does, of course, remain absolutely delightful, but most of the Freed & Brown tunes that make up the film's score were existing standards and already in the Great American Songbook. The only original (i.e., new) songs in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN are Freed & Brown's "Make 'Em Laugh" (the last song the team ever wrote together) and "Moses Supposes," by Roger Edens and Comden & Green. Yes, "Make 'Em Laugh" bears a striking resemblance to Porter's earlier "Be A Clown," but I still love it.

Paul Gottlieb said...

Did we list "The Princess Bride" and "A Christmas Story" among the movies that flopped out of the gate and became beloved classics? "The Greatest Show on Earth" was a perfectly entertaining film when I saw it as a kid, and my granddaughter enjoyed it years later, when she was nine, But Best Picture? Never. The "Fit as a Fiddle" number at the beginning of "Singing in the Rain" is about two minutes long, and it's worth more the the entire "Greatest Show . . ."

kent said...

It's a common tale, Citizen Kane didn't come out of the blocks well either. Parenthetically, The Quiet Man deserved it's nomination, it is arguably Wayne's best film.

Steve Bailey said...

TV history is rife with stories like this. "All in the Family" premiered in mid-season in 1971. CBS expected controversy because of the show's frank subject matter; instead, it barely got noticed. It was only when the AITF did a short sketch on that year's Emmy Awards show that people took notice and started watching the show's reruns that summer.

Bill O said...

None of Kelly's other '50's musical;s made money. He and Donen made the other weather related title IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER. Practically noir - and he doesn't even dance with his leading lady.

Daniel said...

This is exactly why I think the people who criticize Zack Snyder's DC super-hero movies (and simultaneously praise the Marvel super-hero movies) are likely going to look ridiculous in retrospect in 25 to 50 years. The Marvel films will likely be seen the same way that The Greatest Show on Earth is seen today: Popular in its time, but formulaic and forgettable to future audiences. While the Snyder films will likely be seen the opposite way: Divisive and ridiculed in their day, but seen as rich and layered and textured by future audiences not bound by contemporary biases.

Remember: Vertigo was similarly considered to be a critical and commercial under-performer and disappointment in its day, but in the latest Sight & Sound poll is now considered to be the greatest film of all time.

Pat Reeder said...

There's no accounting for public taste. "Duck Soup" was such a flop, it nearly killed the Marx Brothers' career, and now, many of us consider it the funniest movie of all time. Keaton's "The General" was shrugged off by critics and the public, and it later topped surveys for the greatest movie ever made. And would you believe that when William Shatner first released his "The Transformed Man" LP, some people thought it stank?

I was also going to mention that "An American In Paris" kind of sucked the air out of the room for "Singin' In The Rain," even though the latter is clearly the better movie. A few months ago, I saw "AAIP" in a theater (I mostly miss theaters because I go see old movies there.) The music and dancing are wonderful, and I did enjoy it more on the big screen than I ever have on TV, but it's still no "Singin' In The Rain."

I do think "The Quiet Man" definitely deserved its Oscar nomination. It's on TV quite often, especially around St. Patrick's Day, and it's still great.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

M*A*S*H was on the verge of cancelation after its first season for doing so poorly in the ratings, and very few viewers tuning in (there was even an alternate version of "Ceasefire" written in case they weren't renewed); it was only after people watched the summer reruns, and the wife of then-CBS President being a fan of the show that saved it.

THE ODD COUPLE was literally canceled after every season, but then renewed after the summer reruns would gain an audience . . . this went on until the fifth and final season, when Jack Klugman finally said if they're going to cancel the show, just cancel and leave it be. Tony Randall thought it could've gone on longer, but conceded to Jack's notion.

None of the American networks would touch THE MUPPET SHOW because they thought it would be a little kids show, which they didn't want in primetime. It took Lord Lew Grade over in the U.K. to give Jim Henson a chance, and once the show became such a smash in syndication in the U.S., all three networks were kicking themselves for passing up on the opportunity to buy the show.

After the SEINFELD pilot, NBC ordered only four additional episodes for a first season, which was, at the time, the lowest order in television history - no one thought it would catch on, with some feeling the show's humor was far too New York and far too Jewish to appeal to mass audiences across the country.

Russ DiBello said...

The perennial conflict between art and commerce is most often remedied only by TIME.

Studios are businesses. The same way, e.g., a decent record or radio station format that doesn't pop right away is relegated to the trash bin (how many timeless classics now originally charted real lousy... or didn't chart at all?), so has Hollywood always been subject to that famous first weekend. Which, in turn, will determine the trajectory of its release: if it was a flop on Weekend One, it by and large went back into the can.

"The Wizard Of Oz" is the best example of this. Hollywood's whitest of elephants (cost a fortune at the time, took six directors, tried desperately to murder its actors and did underwhelming b.o.), it wasn't until TV bought it and dropped it in front of a "theater audience" of millions of viewers that it became the film your great-great grandchildren will still love.

Cable TV accelerated this phenomenon. The next time you hear someone say "We're on a mission from God!" (and how long will it be before director John Landis gets universal recognition as an American original?), or talk about a red stapler, try to appreciate the improbability of a line from some movie literally passing into the language.

Business, especially in America, has no time to wait for the viability of art to catch up with quarterly P and L's. The best we can do as artists is to get all our projects made by any means necessary, so that the pool of film and TV is not restricted to slick, bombastic, big-budget crowd-pleasers, and that the creative stuff goes on the record as simply Being There (<--another work of genius, that was not a blockbuster!).

marka said...

With all the shows coming out on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc., I bet there are shows that get few views and get canceled before they suddenly take off five years later. Seems those services would be more able to resurrect a show five years down the road. I wonder if it's possible and if it would ever happen.

Buttermilk Sky said...

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS contains one of Gene Kelly's forays into blackface (the other is THE PIRATE). He's portraying "Chocolat," a black man from Spain who lived in Paris in the 1890s and was painted by Toulouse Lautrec. I'll be interested to see if this gets past the correctness police.

I agree, AMERICAN hasn't held up as well as SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. Filmmakers love it -- Cliff screens it for Hallie in CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS when he's trying to seduce her. In LEGAL EAGLES, the Robert Redford and Debra Winger characters are seen watching it on TV in their separate apartments, so we know they'll eventually get together. There are probably others.

McAlvie said...

It is surprising, and yet at the same time not. There have been recent movies that got loads of hype initially, and yet I doubt have gotten much play since. My bet is that movie goers were just as easily influenced by media hype as we are today. But once the hype is over, and it rarely lasts long because it isn't sustainable, people settle in to what it is they really like.

It's a lot like the rest of life, really.

Steve said...

A Best Picture win (or nomination) strikes me as a pretty faint recommendation for a film. The formula seems to be films that are well crafted but over-hyped, and tackle "serious" subjects in a way that make audiences feel good about themselves for thinking about them without being so challenging it makes them uncomfortable. That probably tends to give us movies that aren't going to hold up that well or influence the next generation of filmmakers hugely.

Powerhouse Salter said...

Most all of RAIN's songs, including the title song, were actually revivals of old material written by the movie's co-producer Arthur Freed and already owned by MGM.

Jeffrey Graebner said...

Among their many marketing skills, one of the most impressive things that Disney learned how to do is to recognize flops that still had potential and nurture them over time. Among the Disney movies that bombed on release were Pinocchio, Bambi, Fantasia, Sleeping Beauty, Tron and Hocus Pocus.

Newsies might be the most impressive recent example of this. It was one of the biggest bombs of the 1990s and was completely panned by critics, but it found on audience on TV and was eventually adapted into a very successful Broadway production. Alan Menken has mentioned in interviews that he has his "Worst Song" Razzie and "Best Score" Tony, both for Newsies, placed right next to each other.

Mike Doran said...

A correction for Joseph Scarborough:

That tale about The Odd Couple being canceled every year it was on is a TV Urban Legend.
Fact: in the early '70s, the three networks announced their schedules in early spring: the unofficial start date for the announcements was Washington's Birthday, February 22.
This was to give producers a head start on getting into production for 26-30 new episodes for the season
The notorious Upfronts came about years later, as schedules (and episode orders) shrunk.

In each of Odd Couple's five seasons ('70-'71 through '74-'75), perennial third-placer ABC went last, usually around mid-March.
Odd Couple was in every announced ABC fall schedule during this period.
Check any reference.

Jack Klugman also subscribed to another myth: that Odd Couple's time slot was constantly bounced around the schedule, from one night to another.
Again, check any reference: Odd Couple was always on ABC's Friday night slate for most of its five years on the air (except for two brief Thursday stints - one in the first year, one in the fifth).

Why did Jack Klugman apparently believe these myths?
By his own admission, Jack was never a student of TV business; his tendency was to believe whatever he was told.
My guess was that Jack got the "cancel/last-minute pickup" story whenever he was negotiating a pay raise for the next season; if he bought it, the raise would probably be not as much …

scottmc said...

I am surprised to learn that Singin In the Rain was not a box office. I wasn't surprised that it was ignored by the Academy Awards. In recent years movies about movies do very well at the Oscars. But earlier films like Sunset Blvd, In a Lonely Place and The Bad and the Beautiful were passed over. Roger Ebert placed it in his original group of Great Movies. He mentions that 'Moses Supposes'was the only new song written for the movie. He wonders if the big Broadway Ballet number is necessary. For me, the biggest oversight is that Jean Hagen (Luna Lamont) lost to Gloria Graham for Best Supporting Actress. Graham is fine in 'Bad/Beautiful but she is on screen for only about 10-12 minutes. Hagen gives one of the greatest performances,comic or otherwise, ever.

Unknown said...

So what you are saying, movies that get Oscar nominations, aren't always the best? Is that why there is so much noise about 'over looked' after the nominations??? Inconceivable!

We need more awards shows.

Mister Charlie said...

Sorry, but I like The Quiet Man far more than Singing In The Rain. The Quiet Man is a stone classic.

Mark said...

Considering how well it has held up, I was floored when I learned that most of the songs in SITR were old when the movie was made. Only two were written for it. The rest were from the MGM back catalog circa 1929-1939.

sanford said...

Skip down to 1952 to the list of movie musicals. None of the match singing in the rain. There seem to be a number of movie musicals that come out every year. or are considered musicals. I am in with the few who thought the Quiet Man was a good movie. The few critics they mentioned here liked the movie. Wikipedia said it was a modest hit.

Mike Martin said...

Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a recent example.
It didn't make back its cost at the box office, but it speaks to a generation and will be popular for years to come.

VincentS said...

My all-time favorite movie is The Right Stuff, which was an outright bomb. I didn't even go see it when it came out. Even if you haven't seen it, everyone knows the expression that originated from it: Pushing the envelope.

Michael said...

My wife's parents, who were well to the left, refused ever to watch John Wayne movies because they knew what a bigoted right-wing nut he was. So I told her, the one exception they should have made was for "The Quiet Man." As good and important as "Singin' in the Rain"? No. But certainly it would have been a better choice than "The Greatest Ego Massage on Earth."

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

When Gene Kelly died in 1996, rather than deliver a standard obituary, Peter Jennings devoted the final minutes of that night's ABC newscast to simply showing in its entirety Kelly's title number from "Singing in the Rain."

There could not have been a more fitting tribute.

Anonymous said...

Singing in the Rain is a great movie.
Best musical? Maybe - but Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, West Side Story and a couple of others including the Wizard all might have something to say about it.
Best movie of 1952 - not close.
High Noon.
Iconic, even if Grace Kelly is a little weak. The people who worked on that movie were alll at their peak.Foreman, Tiomkin, Zinnemann, Kramer and Cooper. There aren't that many movies in history that had such an assemblage of talent working together all at their best.
It is by the way a movie that was a favorite of both Nikita Khruschev and Dwight Eisenhower, such is the message that can be read from it.

Ted. said...

There are a variety of reasons why these movies weren't big hits when they were first released:

"The Shawshank Redemption": A fantastic movie, but very long at nearly 2-1/2 hours (which is probably why it found its audience on TV and video).

"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory": It's cheesy and kind of creepy if taken as the kids' movie it was intended to be -- which is why it eventually found its audience among adults who appreciated its near-psychedelic weirdness.

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show": An intentional cult classic that could never have been successful with a mainstream moviegoing audience.

"Barbarella": It's basically a cheesy porn satire of sci-fi movies, even if it's now fondly viewed as a nostalgic curiosity from the late-'60s glam era.

"Blade Runner": Stunningly great, but the original release was marred by studio interference (and an unnecessary voiceover narration).

"Office Space": Like so much of Mike Judge's work, it's brilliant but kind of falls apart at some point. (The second half depends on a poorly thought-out digital-caper story and a "Three's Company"-style misunderstanding over Jennifer Aniston's sexual history.)

"The Iron Giant": Unfortunately, the audience for serious animated movies is still a specialized (if highly enthusiastic) one.

"It's a Wonderful Life": Let's face it, this is a weird movie -- it pretends to be a joyous and optimistic look at small-town American life, but most of the story is bitter, scary and sad (in a way that the super-happy ending can't quite make up for).

And, yes, "Singin' in the Rain": As a musical comedy, it's so, so great. But were 1952 audiences really interested in an inside-Hollywood look at technical changes to the movie business that had occurred two decades earlier? Apparently not so much.

D McEwan said...

Well, actually, I have watched The Greatest Show on Earth fairly recently. I have a DVD of it. Oh, I'm not disputing that it's a lousy movie, and it is always my go-to example of a Best Picture Oscar going to a crap movie. But I would be lying if I said it was unwatchable.

I have a weakness for circus movies, and TGSOE preserves onscreen, in gorgeous, over-saturated, three-strip, 1950s Paramount, Technicolor that is such eye candy, Ringling Brothers - Barnum & Bailey's circus under canvas at its height. (Only a year or two later Ringling Brothers retired the canvas big tops.)

Sure, the script is an embarrassing mess of cliched melodrama with laughable dialogue. Jimmy Stewart, as Buttons the Clown, speaking wryly and without humor or irony, of his refusal to discuss his past (Because he's hiding from the police for having mercy-murdered his wife, so he wears his clown make-up 24 hours a day. Yeah, like that wouldn't make anyone suspicious), says "Well, you know, clowns are funny people." Demille had a tin ear for dialogue, and all of his movies are stuffed full of unintentionally hilarious dialogue, like this classic from The Ten Commmandments, "Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool," which Anne Baxter must deliver with a straight face. Barré Lyndon worked on the screenplay for both this and Pal's War of the Worlds, and his bone-headed dialogue makes laughing stocks of both movies.

And, of course, the big train wreck scene is so obviously model work, that it looks like it was staged with someone's O-Gauge electric train set. It seems to have been staged by John Astin's Gomez Addams, who played with electric trains by making them crash.

Sure, some of the acting is dreadful. Heston never could act, and Betty Hutton's naked neediness is really tiresome, though her performances of the musical numbers are terrific.

But Gloria Grahame and Jimmy Stewart (Doing his idiotic role as though it were Hitchcock and not Super-Hack DeMille making the movie) are good. Cornel Wilde is as good as he got, and is to-die-for sexy as well, even after he gets his twisted arm. Dorothy Lamour is given little to do, but she gets to sing. And it has Emmett Kelly, in and out of make-up. The first time I ever went to the circus, only 4 years after this movie was made, I saw Emmett Kelly perform live. The movie takes me right back to being the excited 7 year old I was the first time I saw the Ringling Brothers circus in person, not under canvas.

So while it is absurd that it beat the great Singin' In The Rain and even High Noon, as a camp experience of BIG budget movie excess, and as a time-capsule of that great circus at its pinnacle, it is very watchable indeed. I'm tempted to slip it into the Blu-Ray player today, only today is the 100th birthday of Ray Harryhausen, so I plan to watch a few of his movies.

As for Singin' In The Rain, I seldom look at it anymore, but only because I've seen it so MANY times that I know every frame by heart. When I do watch it, I usually pair it in a double feature, either with The Artist, which is a slightly more serious look at the exact same subject: how a silent film star makes the tricky transition from silent movies to talkies, with wonderful Jean Dujardin even looking like Gene Kelly (And, as Dujardin has proved in several movies, he can dance like Kelly also), or with What's The Matter With Helen, which is set, it always seems, just down the block from Singin' in the Rain, about five years into talkies, giving a look at the dark side of that era in Hollywood, with Debbie Reynolds from SITR playing what might have been her SITR character a few years later if she'd failed in the movies.

For my next lecture, I plan to explain why another oft-maligned Best Picture winner, Mike Todd's Around the World in 80 Days is still great fun to watch, and is a movie I still love.

Barry Traylor said...

THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is really the pits awful movie.

Anonymous said...

Let's start another discussion on another day. Which is better? SINGING IN THE RAIN or WEST SIDE STORY? Pauline Kael always loved the former, hated the later.


D McEwan said...

"Dave Wrighteous said...
I believe Donald O'Connor's INCREDIBLE "Make 'Em Laugh" number has never gotten the credit it richly deserves.

Well, partly that was Arthur Freed's shame over "Make 'Em Laugh." It was a blatant steal of Cole Porter's "Be a Clown," from The Pirate, also with Gene Kelly. Porter called Freed on the obvious theft, and Freed sort of sideways admitted the steal.

"O'Connor smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day, was hospitalized after filming."

Amazing, given that I saw O'Conner perform live on stage in the early 1990s, and he did the entire "Moses Supposes" dance (His half of it) absolutely perfectly. Sure, he was so winded afterwards that he was like, "[Pant] Thank you. [Pant] For my [Pant] next number I [Pant, pant] I would [Pant] like to [Pant] perform..." etc. But once he got his wind back, he did another amazing number.

" Michael said...
My wife's parents, who were well to the left, refused ever to watch John Wayne movies because they knew what a bigoted right-wing nut he was. So I told her, the one exception they should have made was for 'The Quiet Man.'"

I'm with your in-laws on this. The Quiet Man may well be a great movie, except for having a man who could not act in the lead, but I have not and never will see it. I read the story it was based on, because I could take it in that way without enduring a John Wayne "acting" performance.

Because, along with being a bigoted, HYPOCRITICAL, far-right-wing nut, he also could not act at all. Heston was generally a terrible actor, but in the two Musketeers movies he was terrific as the evil Cardinal Richelieu. (Turned out he'd been miscast as heroes. He should have been playing villains. He was convincing being evil.) Wayne could not act at all, ever. He couldn't even deliver a single line of dialogue and sound like a human being talking. His winning the Best Actor Oscar was that category's equivalent of The Greatest Show on Earth winning Best Picture.

Michael said...

The songs from "Singin' in the Rain" aren't original to the movie; they are in fact songs from MGM's back catalogue that happened to be co-written by the film's producer Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown. Comden and Green were tasked with writing a script that would use said songs, creating income for MGM (and, coincidentally, Arthur Freed) out of what had previously been non-performing assets.

I love this story, because it's an example of how talent can make art out of even the most venal situations. Freed was basically trying to recycle pre-existing material for a buck. What was created is a movie I've watched, oh, twenty times.

D McEwan said...

"Anonymous said...
Let's start another discussion on another day. Which is better? SINGING IN THE RAIN or WEST SIDE STORY?"

Well, given one is a musical comedy and the other a musical tragedy, that's a little like asking, "Which is better, Hamlet or The Importance of Being Earnest?"

Both are very, very good. SITR's screenplay holds up better, and it does not try to pass off Natalie Wood as a Puerto Rican, or as a singer. (On the other hand, there mere presence of Natalie wood in the movie tells us which film Ken prefers.) Comparing Bernstein's score to Freed & Brown's score is like asking, "Who was a better composer, Irving Berlin or Beethoven?" Both scores are perfect scores of their respective types, except for the aforementioned plagiarism of "Be a Clown" into "Make 'Em Laugh."

Don't get me started on comparing the choreography: Gene Kelly vs Jerome Robbins.

Why don't you ask Rita Moreno which movie is better? She's still alive, and she's in both of them.

Jim said...

IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER - If you want to see just how kick ass incredible Cyd Charisse was then just watch the Baby You Knock Me Out number from this film. At one point there's a guy standing on the apron of a boxing ring, about three feet above the ground. Cyd dances over towards him and xcasually lifts her arms in the air for him to grab her hands. He takes hold of her then swings her up horizontally, over the ropes and in to the ring. Most of us would struggle to do that with a sack of potatoes, and would belly flop over if it was done to us. Cyd looks graceful and completely poised and in control of her body in every single shot of that sequence. She doesn't just roll over the ropes but does a controlled twist, then ends in a pirouette.

And the Kelly in blackface as Chocolat is absolute pish. The sketch Chocolat Dansant by Lautrec wa so well known at the time that according to assistant choreographer Alex Romero (there's a great biography of him - his dad was a Mexican general who was killed in the siege of Monterrey along with thirteen of his twenty-three sons. Alex's mum escaped to the US) that was one of the first sequences of the big ballet that was decided upon, and they were unanimous. Kelly wears a costume like that of Chocolat but remains visibly white.

Tudor Queen said...

I actually have seen "The Quiet Man" a number of times. It was the only John Wayne movie my mother could even stand and, in fact, she liked it a lot. One of our local stations ran it just about every year around St. Patrick's Day and she always watched it. When I was around I'd watch it with her.

Also, one of "Singin' in the Rain"s Oscar nominations was for Jean Hagen as Supporting Actress. IMHO she should have won, as her Lina Lamont is a delicious comic masterpiece.

Michael said...

"It's a common tale, Citizen Kane didn't come out of the blocks well either. Parenthetically, The Quiet Man deserved it's nomination, it is arguably Wayne's best film."

I believe you misspelled The Searchers.

Jim said...

And if you're looking for something from Singin in the Rain that hasn't aged well, look no further than producer and composer Arthur Freed. Shirley Temple describes in her autobiography how he exposed himself to her once. At the time she was eleven years old and had never seen a penis before, so she reacted in the way any sensible woman would. By giggling. He wasn't, apparently very impressed.

Barrie Chase tells a similar story “Suddenly, he picks up my hand and puts it on his cock, which was half erect" (I'm not sure whether the Debra Levine of that blog is related to the Ken of this).

tavm said...

The two Oscars SITR was nominated for but didn't win: Best Supporting Actress-Jean Hagan
Best Scoring of a Musical Picture-Lennie Hayton

The two Oscars The Greatest Show on Earth won on: Best Picture, Cecil B. DeMille, producer
Best Original Story

PS-It's a shame SITR didn't get nominated in either category that TGSOE won for but Donald O'Connor did get a Golden Globe nom.

tavm said...

I should that O'Connor won the GG for Best Actor-Comedy or Musical

Travis said...


The Quiet Man is just as good, if not better than Singin' in the Rain.

Edward said...

"The Quiet Man" was traditionally run on or near St. Patricks Day in New York City on Channel 11 WPIX-TV during the 1970s-1980s.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Using the examples you've listed...
I have never seen "Singing in the Rain." Although, I've seen Gene Kelly's dance countless times on television. I'm one of those that's not really into musicals and "SITR" is just one among many.

"...Shawshank..." I can't understand why so many people think this movie is so great. I was very disappointed by it. In fact, with the exception of "Carrie" I can't think of a Steven King movie that I've truly enjoyed. I've never read one of S.K.'s novels. Maybe they're better.

Never seen "Willy Wonka" or "Office Space" so I can't comment.

I've only seen "Barbarella" on TV, so all the good stuff was cut out.

I liked "The Iron Giant." In fact I have it on DVD. It's easy to see why Brad Bird would become so successful later in his career. I own "High Noon," too.

I can see why "It's a Wonderful Life" was a flop. It's really not that great of a movie. I watch it mostly out of habit rather than for enjoyment.

"Rocky Horror" is another movie that I Just don't get. I've seen it many times. Usually as part of a midnight double feature with a movie I really wanted to see. I also saw it BEFORE people started dressing up, talking back and throwing things at the screen. It could possibly be more about the group activities than about the movie itself.

I used to watch "The Dick Van Dyke Show" with my parents during its original run and then later in syndication. I've always liked it. However, I'm less into it today than I was when I was younger.
But, I also liked "The Real McCoys" when I was a kid.

Finally, I liked both "M*A*S*H" and "Cheers" from the very beginning. I didn't have to warn up to them.

As I've said before on Ken's blog, my tastes may not be mainstream, but I know what I like and what I don't.


Tony.T said...

Several of those movies, including Singing in the rain, feature in Danny Peary's Cult Movies , which is a must-read for anyone interested in why so many films we love now were not loved on their release.

Tony.T said...

Speaking of which, I've always disliked The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which features in Cult Movies 1. Coincidentally, I saw it on a double bill in 1976 with another musical which I've always loved: The Phantom of the Paradise. Phantom is in Cult Movies 2.

Anonymous said...

Charlton Heston may not have been Olivier or Brando, but he was pretty damn good as Long John Silver in Treasure Island (Tom Shales notwithstanding). He more than held his own with a pretty good cast: Christian Bale, Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed and Pete Postelwaite).
Take a look sometime.

Cap'n Bob said...

Since I'm not a fan of Gene Kelly or Debbie Reynolds, I'm not bothered by the fact that the movie didn't have legs. I do like Donald O'Connor, though, and I'm glad he got good notices for his number.

Anonymous said...

Silent film accompanist Ben Model suggests
that the title number of Singin’ in the Rain was
influenced by a film by Buster Keaton,
who was working as a MGM gag man
and visited the set. See video :
At the end of the Rain number,
Kelly hands off his umbrella to
silent comedian Snub Pollard

Dixon Steele said...

Cate Blanchett as Lucy???


tavm said...

How about this: How does SITR-considered the Greatest Movie Musical of All Time by various critics-compare to two of the most financial successful movie musicals when adjusted for inflation-The Sound of Music and Grease?

Lemuel said...

The people who gave Kubrick permission to use Singin In the Rain must have regretted it when it showed up in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

Michael said...

Yes! He was great in that.

Michael said...

I'm with Pauline. The stage play of WSS is captivating, but the film makes me giggle.

Anonymous said...

Not getting much love here, for many a good reason,
are the film versions of three great Broadway shows -
Guys and Dolls, Gypsy, and A Funny Thing Happened
on the Way To the Forum.
Has there ever been shakier “comic actor” singing
- unless you count Gilbert Gottfried as a comic actor-
than, on stage, Sam Levene in Guys and Dolls and
Jack Klugman in Gypsy, or, on film, Buster Keaton in
Forum (one line in the reprise of Comedy Tonight)?
Klugman and Keaton in Sondheim musicals is only
slightly less surprising than Lahr snd Keaton in Beckett

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Mike Doran Thanks for enlightening me about this. I had no idea these were merely myths, but it's always intriguing to see such TV myths and legends being debunked.

Frank Beans said...

HIGH NOON is a great film. I would add a nod to STAGECOACH, making the two western movies that are worth a damn. (So yes, tear down monuments to John Wayne, but at least give him that).

I'll just say that some of the greatest comedies of all time--MASH, CHEERS, and FRASIER--are ones that I mostly saw in syndication and DVD form. So I wouldn't put too much stock in how they are originally received in terms of ratings. Some of us just have to discover them later, y'know. The Beatles broke up long before I was born, too.

VP81955 said...

For "well-crafted but over-hyped," let's journey back to 1936 and Best Picture winner "The Great Ziegfeld"; it's elephantine MGM, but for its lead, William Powell, it's the third-best film he made in that legendary year. The other two are comedies, a genre the Academy traditionally gives short shrift to -- one was "Libeled Lady," with its nonpareil cast of Powell, Loy, Harlow, Spencer Tracy and Walter Connolly, which at least was nominated for Best Picture. The other, "My Man Godfrey," now deemed by many the greatest screwball of them all, wasn't nominated, even though Powell, Lombard, Alice Brady and Mischa Auer each received acting nominations (none won). Go fig.

J Lee said...

Just for a little synergy/six degrees of separation to a couple of today's blog post subjects, here's Lena Lamont (Jean Hagen) singing, a year after "Singing in the Rain" came out, in a scene directed by Sheldon Leonard for a show that almost bombed out on ABC, before moving to CBS and setting the stage for "The Dick Van Dyke Show" --

D McEwan said...

"Anonymous Anonymous said...
Charlton Heston may not have been Olivier or Brando, but he was pretty damn good as Long John Silver in Treasure Island (Tom Shales notwithstanding). He more than held his own with a pretty good cast: Christian Bale, Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed and Pete Postelwaite).
Take a look sometime."

No he is not and no he didn't. I've seen it. Heston is ludicrous in the role. When subtle under-actor Robert Newton is better in a role than you are, you're an embarrassment.

But Heston thought he was Laurence Olivier's equal. In his book Dropped Names, Frank Langella tells of attending a banquet honoring Olivier, and of Heston delivering a long, egotistical speech in which he kept presenting himself as Larry's absolute equal. Langella was seated next to Maggie Smith when Tony Curtis dropped by the table and said, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, "Doesn't Chuck make wonderful speeches?" To which Maggie Smith replied, "Oh yes, he should never be allowed to do anything else."

Anonymous said...

The Great Ziegfeld is a decent picture but Luise Rainier's phone call to Flo wishing him good luck is one of the greatest scenes in all of movies.
She was an actress.

Anonymous said...

That's why they have horse races.
Difference of opinion.

Kendall Rivers said...

That happens a lot. It proves that the true test of a classic is time and does something have the staying power to last beyond when it was popular or not or like the point of this post something that had wonderful quality but bombed at the time went on to become a classic. Another example you didn't mention: Harlem Nights which did terrible with stupid biased critics at the time but is considered a genuine classic with the black community and is still one of Eddie Murphy's very best along with other underrated gems of his Life and Metro, two fine films that deserve much more credit. I know this isn't a Friday Question post but speaking of underrated series you also worked on Wings which is one of the biggest example of an underrated show that went on to be a cult classic. It also had an incredible writers room. What was it like in the Wings writers room? Could you take us step by step through a typical week of Wings?

Kendall Rivers said...

@Daniel This is definitely agree with. I liked many of the MCU movies but besides Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and a few others most of them don't hold up well and were mostly just popular due to the hype. Speaking of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk both didn't flop per say though did much less than many expected. I was shocked when I went to the theaters for both and saw very little crowds. However I like some of Snyder's work and think that once people stop this damn Marvel bias down the road they'll look back and realize how great some of the DC movies really are, especially in comparison to Marvel. I still attest that the best Marvel movies ever made are Blade 1 and 2 that definitely still hold up and haven't been topped in its style, finesse and perfect casting since.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Actually according to Oz historians, The Wizard of Oz was not a complete flop in 1939. It made money for MGM and was reissued theatrically before it was broadcast in 1956. While it was not a megahit like Gone With the Wind or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (which inspired MGM to produce it and imitate the musical form), the film did respectable business. Over the years, some authors and even Ray Bolger perpetuated the misinformation that it was a colossal bomb.

Television made The Wizard of Oz into a beloved institution. The intimate home viewing experience brought the characters closer to the public. The annual airings were major events in an era when few big movies were broadcast and Disney classics were only reissued every seven years.

Speaking of Disney, one of its biggest box-office disappointments was Alice in Wonderland, but because it became accessible through television, cable and home video while the other films were still vaulted, it gained a strong following over the years. Plus its anarchic attitude and independent heroine, which were out of place in 1951, found its place in contemporary culture and it stands alongside the other Disney classics.

Hanna-Barbera's Charlotte's Web, among their best work, was one of the only animated features anyone could get when home video was new and Disney was not releasing them (and was claiming they never would). Suddenly millions of people were seeing this film and it also gained several generations of fans, so much so that when the remake came out, the test audience asked why certain elements of the earlier film were not in the new one.

Willy Wonka was generally panned in 1971, was dropped into matinees with poor prints and was "disowned" but its studio, Paramount. That's why it is a Warner property now--among its most profitable. When NBC started showing it, the same thing happened as with The Wizard of Oz. Plus, the world began to catch up with its cynical, satiric nature. Children's films continue to imitate.

If you were to tell me back in the 70s that every magazine remembering Gene Wilder would have Willy Wonka on the cover instead of Victor Frankenstein or his characters from Blazing Saddles or The Producers, I would have been stunned and pleasantly surprised because I love the film and its score.

Astroboy said...

I just want to say that any America where all these movies and shows, like Singing in the Rain, can come out and not be appreciated and loved for how brilliant they are, right from the git go, is an America that would elect Donald Trump president.

D McEwan said...

"Anonymous said...
That's why they have horse races.
Difference of opinion.

I fail to see what horse races have to do with opinions. Who won any race is not a matter of opinion; it's a matter of the fact of which horse crossed the finish line first.

But you can count on Heston to lose any horse race. He'd be facing the wrong direction, because he was the back end of the horse, the thing under the horse's tail, where his "acting" falls out to the ground, stinking up the place.

D McEwan said...

"Greg Ehrbar said...
Television made The Wizard of Oz into a beloved institution. The intimate home viewing experience brought the characters closer to the public.

It is unquestionable that it was TV that made WOO into a beloved institution, but I can't agree that it "Brought the characters closer to the public."

I was lucky enough to see WOO for the first time in a theater, in its 1955 last re-release before it hit TV a year later, when I was 5. Seeing the characters HUGE and IN COLOR on a BIG screen brought those characters closer to me. On TV, on a small screen, with not-all-that-great definition, and in black & white (Since only the very richest people had color TVs in the 1950s) made them remote and less involving.

When the witch appeared in Munchkinland in an explosion of fire and vividly red smoke, with green skin, in a theater on a big screen, I was TERRIFIED. I'd read the book before I ever saw the movie, and the witch does not show up in Munchkinland, so her appearance there meant they were departing from the book, and she might appear anywhere at any time. I was NEVER SAFE!

When the witch appeared in Munchkinland on our TV, on a 19-inch screen, grainy and low-def, in a puff of gray smoke, with skin the same light gray that everyone else's faces were, the emotional impact was "Meh."

Anonymous said...

I realize how silly it is to disagree with such an undisputed authority.
Three points:
1. you obviously don't know much about horse racing. No one would bet if there weren't differences of opinion. Stick to movies.
2. Plenty of people think Charlton Heston was excellent as Long John Silver -plenty of people. They are not the experts you are, I guess.
3. if I had to guess myself you don't like his politics, so nothing he could ever do would be good. Because his politics determine the quality of his performance. After all, you are the authority.
/just stay away from horse racing

D McEwan said...

"Anonymous said...
I realize how silly it is to disagree with such an undisputed authority.
Three points:
1. you obviously don't know much about horse racing. No one would bet if there weren't differences of opinion. Stick to movies.

You're right. I have never set foot in a race track in my life, nor ever placed a bet on anything ever. I have never been idiot enough to get into gambling, and, as horse after horse after horse after horse is killed at Santa Anita, I strongly support banning this horse apocalypse "sport."

So some other horse than the one who comes in first wins? Do they debate who won? Or is who won a matter of fact, not opinion?

"2. Plenty of people think Charlton Heston was excellent as Long John Silver -plenty of people. They are not the experts you are, I guess."

Those 3 or 4 people are wrong, and have wretched taste.

"3. if I had to guess myself you don't like his politics, so nothing he could ever do would be good. Because his politics determine the quality of his performance. After all, you are the authority."

Of course I despised his politics. All decent people despise his politics. But my observation of how lousy an actor he is predates my finding the man himself loathesome. Jimmy Stewart was a Republican also, but I love his acting, because unlike Heston, Stewart was a great actor.

And as for "Nothing he could ever do would be good," I clearly wrote that he was good in the Musketeers movies. As a fiendish man of evil, he was convincing. Apparently you failed "Reading For Comprehension."

"just stay away from horse racing"

No problem. You couldn't pay be to participate in horse racing in anyway. Feel free to go lose every cent you have at the race track. At least I have the guts to put my name on my opinions, Mr. Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

As I said I was wrong to argue with an authority - on acting, gambling and politics. Perhaps courage and who knows what else..
Guts has nothing to do with Anonymous - John, if you must know.

Kendall Rivers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kendall Rivers said...

@D McEwan Now, I know you're gonna attack me for this but I'm just giving my viewpoint of your comments so I don't know how you'll take this criticism, but, wow. For someone whose supposed to be open minded and "progressive" you thinking that anybody whose republican is a vile human being and any decent person would despise their politics sure does sound bigoted and closed minded. Sure the GOP is corrupt and morally jacked up, but, mind you, there are a lot of republicans I know that are decent people and aren't automatically Trump supporters or crazy bigots. Hell, plenty of them in Hollywood were\are pretty good people. A lot of them were\are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet like Jimmy Stewart, Clint Eastwood, Robert Urich, Tom Selleck, Patricia Heaton, Chuck Norris, Johnny Walker, Kelsey Grammer etc. But I guess you just assumed they were evil and avoid their work just because of their specific political choice. Also, you do realize that being democrat or "liberal" doesn't automatically make you a good person? Ever heard of Bill Mahr? or did you know that back in the day that most black people were in the republican party and most of the vile, evil racist whites were in the democratic party? Quite a switch ain't it? But again, just my two cents, just don't go crazy because I'm not trying to attack you so I hope you'll extend the same courteousy if you have a courteous side, that is.

Mike Doran said...

Thoughts from a '50s Kid:

I'm from the South Side of Chicaga: Irish (mostly), Catholic (originally), Democratic (after all these years) … and I knew lots of Republican kids, and we'd argue politics, and then go out and have a coffee and a roll and live our lives.
It wasn't Mortal Kombat back then; we just agreed to disagree.

Then came the '60s - and both ends went nutzoid.

We haven't recovered since; my guess (which I hope is wrong) is that we never will.

Peter said...

What a fascinating post. I'll stick up some for The Quiet Man, but it's no Singing in the Rain. I first saw Singing on a Sunday afternoon on our black and white TV when I was maybe 12, around 1972. Those Sunday musicals saved me, the dread of returning to school on a Monday hanging over my head. And this one blew me out of my seat. I think it was my first exposure to Gene Kelly. I had been accustomed to Fred Astaire, obviously a great, but Kelly blew away this kid who spent a lot of time with superhero comics and appreciated the muscularity of his performance. Plus, the script was dazzling and gave me some comedic insight into the silent film era, the casting was impeccable, and the characters charming. And, of course, the music and dancing. Still one of my top handful of films.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Singin' in the Rain is one of those popular culture items that has been lucky enough to weather the changing tastes and mores of society and survive, becoming more lauded than it ever was in its day. Part of the reason is that it was done in the midst of the MGM machine when all the elements were in place to get a great job done with the best talent available.

The assignment was to take "trunk songs" from Nacio Herb Brown and Alan Freed and write a musical around them. The only original song was "Moses." Betty Comden and Adolph Green turned in a brilliant, good-natured spoof of early Hollywood that was really kidding show business of any era. That's why it's still funny. Even Gene Kelly's image is part of the gag ("I'm such a ham.")

The dubbing of singing for actors who haven't got the training, don't have the range or simply can't quickly sight read is a reality that still exists, and Singin' in the Rain tells that story, as well as the transition from silent to sound. These are no different than the transitions from black and white to color, or vinyl to CD, VHS to streaming, movies to TV, any entertainment changes that affect the bottom line, the talent and the audience. The story never really gets old.

Singin' in the Rain was a straightforward assignment and not a pretentious "American in Paris" "We Are Making a Masterpiece That Will Make a Difference Here Ladies and Gentlemen!"

With great power comes great responsibility, and it can sometimes overpower the vision. When a film has to be "art," or "important" or has to "say something" or has to be "an instant classic" (a term frequently used in critics' quotes) even if it is a hit in its time that does not guarantee that all the requirements to assure its acceptance within that narrow time frame will continue its popularity and endurance.

These things just happen. You can watch three dozen musicals on TCM -- and we have lately -- and see how many of them are, to quote BAHR-bra, "the way we were" (like BUTTAH!) and how some can stand outside of their time.

We also finally watched the big-screen remake of Lost in Space and found that it was even more dated than the TV show it was based on (and that includes the episode in which Dr. Smith was go-go dancing in a mod hippie wig).

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. Valid points.

Anonymous said...

Sheldon Leonard, and sometimes even Carl Reiner, are credited with passionately saving The Dick Van Dyke Show, but Grant Tinker also played a major role.

Among the reasons was precisely what was mentioned. As an advertising and promotions person, was also acting on behalf of Mary Tyler Moore. Both he and Mary made a very dynamic career trajectory team. Most of Mary's triumphs had been in conjunction with the shrewd strategic thinking and negotiations of Tinker and her considerable talent.

Mike Doran said...

Is anybody besides me old enough to remember that prior to 1968, Charlton Heston was a Democrat?
That's true, you know; Heston was a regular at all the civil rights marches and like that there.
And before that, Ronald Reagan was a Democrat, pre-'64; he'd been an avid New Dealer under FDR, when he was putting together the Screen Actors Guild.
Ronnie went hard to starboard when he took up with Nancy Davis, but that's another story …

Two examples, to serve for many.

Something to think about, especially if (like so many people these days) you have no interest in (or sense of) history …

ScarletNumber said...

@Mike Bloodworth

What timing you have with Carl Reiner dying the next day.