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Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

by | Dec 18, 2015

A successful silent-film actor attempts to maintain his status as a Hollywood star when the movie industry transitions from silent film to "talkies."

Medium: Film

Writer(s): Adolph Green, Betty Comden

Director(s): Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

Production Co.(s): Loew's Inc.; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); RKO-Pathe Studios Inc.

Story be: Adolph Green, Betty Comden

The Story on the Screen

In Singin' in the Rain, the main character, Don Lockwood, is a successful Hollywood silent-film actor whose rise to fame has been earned through years of hard work and aided greatly by his longtime song-and-dance partner, Cosmo Brown. As Don relates (disingenuously to his adoring public) in a flashback-assisted recounting at the start of the film, he and Cosmo have known each other since they were boys and have entertained together in pool halls, bars, and Vaudeville venues—where their work was sometimes not appreciated. It was only when Don volunteered as a movie stunt man one day that his career began to take off, bringing him to the notice of a Hollywood producer, R.F. Simpson, and leading to his ultimate pairing with a glamorous leading lady, Lina Lamont.

Don Lockwood is a successful Hollywood silent-film actor whose career is upended by the introduction of talking pictures.

When Don is forced to flee an adoring throng after the Hollywood premiere of his latest film, he lands accidentally and unceremoniously in the passenger seat of a car driven by Kathy Selden, a fresh-faced pre-ingénue with acting aspirations of her own. He is attracted to her immediately, and makes advances that are summarily rebuffed. When Fate brings them together later that same night at a party, Don is delighted but Kathy is not. And when he teases her about being a chorus girl rather than the serious stage actress she aspires to be, she throws a cake in his direction but misses the mark and hits Lina in the face, creating a feud that will haunt her throughout the story.

Shortly after the film premiere, the entire movie industry is upended by the success of the first "talking picture," The Jazz Singer. And when R.F. orders the entire studio to abandon silent films in favor of "talkies," Don must face the prospect of being heard by his audiences for the first time—a prospect that is far less daunting for him than it is for Lina, whose voice is high and grating and whose live-acting skills are virtually nonexistent. Fortunately, circumstances surrounding the upending put Don back together with Kathy and bring about their romantic coupling.

When Don and his leading lady, Lina Lamont, fail miserably at their first attempt at a talking picture, Don questions his own skills and future. He is rescued by the idea of a musical in which Lina's voice is dubbed by an ingenue named Kathy.

Don and Lina's first effort in the realm of "talkies" is a disaster that earns the mocking derision of a preview audience. And the scope of its failure leads Don to question his own acting skills and the future of his film career. His crisis in confidence is averted first by Kathy, who conceives the idea of producing the film as a musical, and then by Cosmo, who proposes dubbing the film with Kathy's voice to hide the fact that Lina can neither speak well nor sing.

Lina goes along with the idea of dubbing the film and pleased with the results until she discovers that her onscreen voice is that of Kathy and that Kathy and Don are in love—a notion that conflicts with her own tabloid-fueled idea that Don and she are lovers. And when she discovers that R.F. plans to promote Kathy's career after the film is released, she is filled with a furious desire for revenge.

Lina attempts to undermine Kathy and her own producer, but the endeavor backfires, embarrassing her and vindicating Kathy and Don.

By virtue of a clause in her contract, Lina is able to exert control over R.F. with regard to not only her own career but that of Kathy, who is herself under contract with the studio. But when Lina takes that control too far in the wake of the film premiere, Don, Cosmo, and R.F. execute a simple endeavor to expose her as a fraud whose singing and talking voice is really that of Kathy.

Behind the Scenery

When the story begins, Don is already successful as a Hollywood star. He worked hard in the past to gain his fame but is satisfied with its level, not seeking more notoriety; therefore, his type of intent does not lie in the realm of gaining. Likewise, at no point in the film does he lose that fame and find himself needing to reacquire it. (The preview of the first attempt at the "talkie" is a failure, but the audience is small, and word of its failure is not made widely public.) Consequently, he is not a regain character, either. Instead, his type of intent involves keeping, and his treasure is the status he enjoys as an admired Hollywood actor—a status that is threatened by the introduction of sound to the movie making industry.

Don is a keep character whose treasure is the status he enjoys as an admired Hollywood actor.

Although Don's type of intent provides the general motivation for the last part of the film, it cannot be said to really drive the story. The inciting incident that spawns his treasure—the announcement that silent films are being replaced by "talkies"—arrives somewhat late in the story after being only hinted at early on. And his response to its challenge involves nothing more than subjecting himself to coaching in diction, which seems hardly necessary given how well he speaks and sings.

When the preview of his first attempt at a talkie meets with jeers, he does not attempt to seek a solution. He simply throws in the towel. It is his friends, Kathy and Cosmo, who save the day by thinking up a way to solve his problem. All Don has to do is go along.

And near at the end of the story, when it looks like Lina will have her way and place everyone at her mercy, he does not concoct a way to defeat her. He simply recognizes, along with Cosmo and R.F., an opportunity to let her defeat herself and participates with them in bringing about the event. Consequently, the engine at the heart of the story is not particularly strong.

Because the main character's actions are somewhat passive, it is not possible to form a strong proposition for the story.

Because the actions of the main character are somewhat passive in the story, it is not possible to form a strong proposition for Singin' in the Rain. The issue of "adapting to change" may be said to lie at the heart of the inciting incident, but Don does not respond with strong action to the threat to his acting career. Consequently, we-the-audience are not provided with the kind of clear intent that must lie at the heart of the proposition.

In the end, Lina is exposed and made to pay the price for her nastiness and egotism, and Don is rewarded for doing little more than taking the advice of his friends. But because he and his friends are such talented entertainers, and the music and dancing in the film are so wonderfully rendered and performed, we-the-audience are prone to side with him and them and be pleased with his success in keeping his Hollywood fame. Therefore, Singin' in the Rain clocks in as a succeed/pleased story.

And because the ending does not involve any collateral damages to Don or his friends, it can truly be classified as happy.

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For details regarding the concepts and terms mentioned in this article, please refer to the resource materials.

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