When one speaks of the Golden Age of Hollywood, there are certain names that get invariably included: Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor, and Gene Kelly. Each of them left an indelible impression upon cinema history, making it so that their work, whether it holds up over time or not, still teaches lessons for modern audiences and future filmmakers to absorb. With so many classics films being restored and remastered, it doesn’t surprise that Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s Singin’ in the Rain would receive such an honorific for its 70th anniversary. Though it includes legacy special features from prior home releases, if you’ve been looking for a reason to pick-up or upgrade your copy of this 1952 musical gem, now’s the time.
In the late 1920s, movies begin their shift from the silent film era into talkies, sending studios scrambling to understand new technology while also trying to figure out if their current stable of actors are capable of meeting the new needs of this cinematic form. This is where Don Lockwood (Kelly) and his frequent scene partner Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) find themselves as they seek to make the transition. The magic to their survival comes in the form of Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), an actor looking for a big break who got on Lina’s wrong side. With some help from Don’s longtime friend and partner Cosmo (Donald O’Connor), Don may not only find a way to save his career and start Kathy’s, but might just create an opportunity for a real life happily ever after.
A quick confession that I hope doesn’t instantly revoke my cinephile license: this 4K UHD home release review is the first time I’ve seen Singin’ in the Rain start-to-finish. I’m certainly familiar with the film by reputation and have seen individual scenes many times throughout my life (“Good Morning” was specifically used as an ice breaker/warm up during my very first Resident Assistant training trip in undergrad), but I couldn’t have told you what the film was about or who was in it beyond Kelly and Reynolds. To my astonishment, like too few films from previous generations, Singin’ not only holds up as a hilariously sweet and romantic story, but there’s not a moment which doesn’t age well. There’s no amount of misogyny or sexism, no amount of denigration in order to win fights or hold one’s ground. Characters are treated as whole people with rights and agency, even Lina, the “villain” of the film. Her comeuppance occurs because her boasting inspires an idea that creates a weakness in her cleverness. She’s simply out-smarted, despite spending most of the movie being treated as though she’s little more than a pretty face. Admittedly, much of Lina seems like a stereotype as a successful woman who discards or discounts any perceived threat; however, within the context of the film as a period when many actors lost their jobs due to their inability to transition from silent to talkies, what drives her to protect herself and keep Kathy behind the scenes reeks of sympathetic desperation. When Don first meets Kathy (he jumps off a train into her car), I really expected there to be a lot more discomfort in seeing this strange man land in her vehicle, yet the film smartly addresses the issue quickly and sends them on their way so that the two can begin their verbal jousting. Even when it goes badly, it’s adorable for them both, culminating in a reunion that feels earned and honest. More than that, it’s sexually charged but without feeling smutty. Add in some brilliantly executed choreography with memorable songs and you’ve got yourself a film that’s a bona fide crowd-pleaser in any era of filmmaking.
If you’re coming to Singin’ in the Rain as I did, fairly fresh and ready to explore, then the 4K UHD 70th Anniversary edition is a great place to begin. Based on my research, this version seems to include all of the bonus features from prior editions, not to mention that it includes a Blu-ray disc and digital code. So you not only get the highest quality format of the film, but get two others along with it. For folks who already own the special edition Blu-ray from 2012, it may be important to manage expectations. Evidentially, the master used for the Blu-ray is the same as the 1992 DVD, which makes things tricky as the original film negative was destroyed in a fire, so the 4K UHD edition uses the same materials to reproduce the new disc as the old ones. So while there are scenes that are clearly more natural in color and a tad amplified (less muted than prior releases), the 4K UHD restoration is not working from a negative, which would have produced the best possible restoration (see: The Green Mile and Full Metal Jacket). This makes for a mixed bag in terms of the restoration. On the one hand, some scenes look gorgeous and more modern in their presentation — the film grain minimized and the colors more balanced. On the other, there are scenes where the shine off the actors’ foreheads is jarringly visible, the grain is more noticeable, and the clarity of the scene less focused. It may be fine one moment and less so the next. If you’re watching the film for the first time in the capacity I am, it’s something you notice more because you’re looking for balance in the presentation. If you’re watching it to get absorbed into the narrative and music, you’ll be right as rain mostly because no one really expects restorations of a film, be it from the 1990s or the 1950s, to restore to the point of seeming like it was made today. What we want is as clear an image as possible, balance and depth in the colors, and pristine sound. Though there’s no new audio mix for the 70th anniversary (possibly because of the lack of original negative), the sound is clean and clear, so at least the restoration has that consistency going for it.
There’s a magic about Singin’ in the Rain that other musicals want to capture. It three primary leads — Kelly, O’Connor, and Reynolds — are effervescent. They primarily feel like they haven’t a care in the world, dancing and singing as though floating on air, even when things weigh fairly heavily. When one realizes the very real drama that flows within the film borrowed from the history of cinema, it makes sense that film historians, cinephiles, and members of the industry would hold Singin’ in such high regard. It’s a film about the love of moviemaking from the perspective of people who want to be performers. It doesn’t so much seem to be about fame; rather the pursuit of performance and play. Acting is nothing more than that — it’s play, it’s pretend, and this story, in all of its falsehoods and fabrications, never rings false. Instead, it sweeps you off your feet, wrapping you in a warm blanket constructed of song and dance numbers that make you feel like you can run up a wall, jump, and land on your feet. Maybe that’s just because both O’Connor and Kelly seem otherworldly in their movements, defying gravity all in the pursuit to make us laugh.
Singin’ in the Rain Legacy Special Features
- Commentary by Debbie Reynold, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, Stanley Donen, Betty Camden, Adolph Green, Bad Lurhmann and Rudy Behlmer.
- Singin’ in the Rain: Raining on a New Generation Documentary
- Theatrical Trailer
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo Pack and digital April 26th, 2022.
For more information, head to official Warner Bros. Pictures Singin’ in the Rain webpage.