One of the most popular classic Hollywood films of all time and certainly the best-loved musical from that heady Freed unit MGM era, Singin’ in the Rain endures for good reason. As a catalog musical, it brings together a stable of previously available songs in a beautifully cohesive manner. As a backstage musical, it toes the line precisely between derision and admiration in its self-reflexive nods to the movie business. As a showcase for Gene Kelly’s breathtaking physicality and effortless choreography, it’s unmatched. And as a testament to the similarly effortless-seeming direction by Kelly and Stanley Donen, it’s in a league of its own.
Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s warm, knowing screenplay tells the story of silent film star Don Lockwood (Kelly) and his longtime costar Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), who are rumored to be an item by all the fan magazines. In reality, Don has little patience for the arrogant, screeching Lina, but he’s got a much bigger problem on the horizon — talkies. Initially dismissed by Hollywood types as a mere fad, synchronous sound films are soon all the rage, leading studios to scrap plans for more silents and learn the new technology on the go.
This bodes poorly for the latest Lockwood/Lamont feature, another generic romance that’s set in the French Revolution era. Don’s typically effusive acting style doesn’t translate and Lina’s obnoxious voice isn’t exactly the talking audiences wanted to hear. After a disastrous test screening, Don assumes his career is on a steep downward trajectory, but an inspired idea by aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) and the music know-how of best friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) give Don the motivation to turn the film into a musical. They’ll just have to do something about Lina’s voice.
Nearly every number in the film has achieved iconic status by this point — O’Connor’s manic clowning in “Make ‘Em Laugh,” Kelly’s magical rain dance for the titular song, the lead trio’s effervescent joy in “Good Morning,” the sublime, ravishing Technicolor beauty of the extensive “Broadway Melody Ballet,” featuring the incredible Cyd Charisse. One forgets how episodic the film can feel, but it’s hardly a weakness — each of these moments is given room to stand on its own. Singin’ is an exceptionally well-integrated musical, but it’s never too slavishly urgent when it comes to plot.
Singin’ in the Rain has earned its reputation as an all-time classic, and it’s a bracing reminder of the sheer inventiveness, daring and quality that studio product was once capable of achieving.
The Blu-ray Disc
Singin’ in the Rain is presented in 1080p high definition in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Harvested from a new 4K scan, the transfer here is exceptional. The pervasive softness and Technicolor degradation previously seen on DVD have been eradicated, and in their place, we have a rich, vibrant, film-like image that features excellent levels of fine detail. Damage and speckling is nonexistent and image clarity is unwavering. The transfer is at its best during the eye-popping “Broadway Melody” portion of the film, when bright reds and gleaming yellows positively leap off the screen, but it’s a home run all the way through. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is perfectly clean, giving the songs decent range while keeping the dialogue crisp from the center channel.
Warner has given Singin’ in the Rain its lavish (read: bloated and overpriced) treatment via one of those giant box sets that doesn’t fit well anywhere on your shelf. And like any good commemorative set, this one comes with at least one piece of useless crap — in this case, a hideous blue, yellow and red umbrella that’s about as chintzy as one would expect. The big box also includes a 48-page hardcover book with production stills and behind-the-scenes info and three mini door panel poster reproductions.
The set’s three discs are included inside in their own DVD-height digipak. Disc one is the only Blu-ray disc, presenting the film alongside the commentary track from the 2002 special edition DVD. It’s a crammed track, featuring Reynolds, O’Connor, Charisse, Donen, Comden, Green, Kathleen Freeman (who had a cameo as Lina’s diction coach), historian Rudy Behlmer and for the “why-the-hell-not” factor, Baz Luhrmann. Also included on this disc is the only new extra, an hour-long, almost completely worthless litany of praise from the folks behind Glee, High School Musical and Rock of Ages — equals to Singin’ in the Rain all, I’m sure.
HD upgrades for the old extras would’ve been far more welcome than this new feature. As it stands, all the extras from the special edition DVD are included on a separate DVD disc and are just crying out to be given better A/V treatment. The two long documentaries — one on the MGM Freed unit musical era and one on the making of Singin’ — feature extensive film clips that would look fantastic restored and upgraded, but alas. Both are well worth watching anyway.
Also a superb supplement is the inclusion of clips of the original films where Singin’s songs first appeared, running close to an hour total. The disc also offers up an alternate take of “You Are My Lucky Star” by Reynolds, several vocal outtakes, a gallery of production stills and the theatrical trailer.
The Bottom Line
This new HD transfer of Singin’ in the Rain is a must-own for any sort of serious film fan. The single-disc Blu-ray edition gives you that without all the superfluous packaging, but if you want those old extras (and already sold your 2002 DVD for those sweet OOP prices it’s fetching right now) you’ll have to opt for the monstrosity version.