I like to imagine moviegoers seeing a talking picture for the first time. The union of pictures and sound into a seamless experience is a seminal moment in the history of movie magic, and I harbor some jealousy toward the generation of people who experienced that revolution first hand. After the resounding success of The Jazz Singer in 1927, it’s no surprise that talking pictures quickly became the new normal. Two films that stand the test of critical time and represent this shift from dramatically contrasting viewpoints are Singin’ In the Rain (1952) and Sunset Boulevard (1950).
Tag: Stanley Donen
You know it, and there’s a good chance that you love it: a beaming Gene Kelly on a rain-drenched nighttime street in Hollywood, executing a spellbinding, seemingly effortless dance routine that climaxes in with him stomping and splashing in a puddle, childlike and carefree. It is unquestionably one of our most indelible movie scenes, and probably one of our most joyful; it seems now to be less of an MGM musical setpiece than a mission statement for a particularly optimistic way of living. When Jack Haley Jr. compiled the first of his three That’s Entertainment! compilation films, he paid lip service to the American in Paris ballet’s standing as MGM’s most impressive musical number, but it was Singin’ in the Rain that appeared in the truncation-happy clipfest uncut: a bit of obvious, if unspoken, reverence. And in Belgian director Alain Berliner’s recent film Gone for a Dance, a film about three generations of family men who abandon their families for their Broadway dreams, it is Singin’ in the Rain, specifically that serves as a cinematic siren song for a life of dance. The number is pure magic.
Written by Paul Monticone
Singin’ in the Rain. USA, 1952. 103 min. Cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagenl, Cyd Charisse; Songs: Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed; Choreography: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen; Produced by: Arthur Freed; Written by: Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Directed by: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Band Wagon. USA, 1953. 112 min Cast: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan. Songs: Howard Deitz and Arthur Schwartz; Choreography: Michael Kidd; Produced by: Arthur Freed; Written by: Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Directed by: Vincent Minnelli
By the early 1950s, Hollywood sensed a sea change. Due to suburbanization, television, and a Supreme Court antitrust ruling against the studios, movie-making had to become a more efficient enterprise. While the other major studios cut overhead—dropping contract players and disbanding their armies of salaried technicians—MGM remained dedicated to lavish musicals, and it was at this time that Arthur Freed’s production unit made two of the last masterpieces of the studio era.
USA, 1949. 98 min. MGM. Cast: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller, Jules Munshin; Music: Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green, Betty Comden; Choreography: Gene Kelly; Produced by: Arthur Freed; Written by: Adolph Green and Betty Comden; Directed by: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Stanley Donen was never nominated for an Oscar, so in 1998, the Academy did what was right and awarded him an honorary Academy Award. Donen danced with his Oscar on stage before declaring the secret behind his directorial success. “You show up,” he said. “You show up, and you stay out of the way. But you gotta show up or else you can’t take the credit and win one of these.”