Is there a scene that more perfectly expresses the giddy nonsensical joy of being in love than when Gene Kelly is splashing about during a rainstorm in Singin’ in the Rain? After kissing Kathy (Debbie Reynolds) goodnight, the moment they realise they have fallen in love, Don Lockwood (Kelly) outstretches his arms as if he is embracing a warm summer’s day, when in fact it’s raining like a pissing cow. Instead of joining the bustling pedestrians trying to escape what Kathy calls the ‘California dew’, Don strolls leisurely down the street before launching into the iconic routine that you probably know even if you haven’t seen the film.
For such a perfect moment, it may be surprising to learn that the song wasn’t even written for the film. Most of the soundtrack comprises songs from the early talkies era that the studio happened to have the rights to; Moses Supposes is the only number original to Singin’ in the Rain. Even the sets and props are borrowed, raided as they were from MGM’s storage vaults. This gives the film such a loose, thrown-together feel that really makes you feel the fun they must have had filming. This spontaneous energy comes across in the Singin’ in the Rain number; Gene Kelly’s dancing feels improvised, as though he has completely given himself over to the love he feels, when in reality such a deft routine would have had to be endlessly rehearsed. The routine builds to a point where Kelly’s nimble footwork has given way to just straight up stomping in puddles, so overcome is he with joy.
The Singin’ in the Rain number as it appears in the final cut can largely attributed to Gene Kelly himself, In the original draft of the screenplay, the song featured later in the film, and was performed by Kelly, Reynolds and Donald O’Connor (which is why you see them singing part of the song during the opening titles). Kelly, whether through inspiration or just pure narcissism, snatched the song for himself and placed it to the moment Don leaves Kathy’s place. Kelly uses his trademark of incorporating the locations and props of a particular scene into the routine; he uses puddles, gutters, lampposts, and his umbrella to form a dance perfectly crafted for the scene.
Since the release of the film, this scene has etched itself into the collective consciousness of western culture. When thinking of this film, who doesn’t picture Gene Kelly hanging from a lamppost? It’s so filled with joy and lightheartedness that it’s almost a little poignant watching Singin’ in the Rain when you consider that very few films made today match its innocent delight. Very few films today have musical numbers, let alone choreography of the same calibre as Kelly, or his contemporaries such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Singin’ in the Rain is a film to be treasured, and Gene Kelly’s solo is the happiest moment in one of the happiest films of all time.
Dir: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
Prd: Arthur Freed
Scr: Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds
DoP: Harold Rosson
Music: Lennie Hayton
Running Time: 103 minutes
Singin’ in the Rain and other Warner Bros films in the Iconic Moments collection are available on Blu-ray and DVD