Singin' in the Rain
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If TCM host Robert Osborne had his way, the winner of the Oscar® as Best Supporting Actress of 1952 would have been Jean Hagen for MGM's Singin' in the Rain (1952), not Gloria Grahame for the same studio's The Bad and the Beautiful. In the classic musical about the early sound days in Hollywood, Hagen plays Lina Lamont, the glamorous "Queen of the Silent Screen" whose voice unfortunately sounds like chalk on a blackboard. Hagen's hilarious performance owes something to Judy Holliday, who developed a similar character in routines worked up with Singin' in the Rain screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green when all three were part of a New York satirical troupe called "The Revuers." Holliday had since become a movie star, thanks to her Oscar®-winning performance as Billie Dawn, another squeaky-voiced character, in Born Yesterday (1950). Because a supporting role no longer was appropriate for Holliday, the Singin' in the Rain producers went after Hagen, her understudy in the stage version of Born Yesterday.
That Oscar® might have proven the shot in the arm Hagen appeared to need in her film career. A versatile actress who could switch with ease from musical comedy to drama (The Asphalt Jungle, 1950), she never again got the great opportunity afforded her in Singin' in the Rain. After several minor film roles and a three-year stint on TV's The Danny Thomas Show, she made her final movie appearance in Dead Ringer (1964) and died at age 54 in 1977.
Two other female performers were luckier in building on their success in Singin' in the Rain. The movie elevated Debbie Reynolds to full-fledged MGM stardom after small roles in such musicals as Three Little Words (1950) and Two Weeks With Love (1950). An inexperienced dancer when she began making Singin' in the Rain, Reynolds had to drive herself mercilessly to keep up with hard-driving costars Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. She recalled later that after one strenuous number, she had to be carried to her dressing room because she had burst blood vessels in her feet. Cyd Charisse lucked into her small but star-making role in the film when O'Connor was not available for the climactic "Broadway Melody Ballet," providing an opening for a female dance partner for Kelly. Charisse had been hovering on the edge of stardom at MGM for some years. The unforgettable moment, when one of those long legs shot up with Kelly's hat balanced on her foot, turned the trick. Within a year Charisse was starring in her first musical lead in The Band Wagon (1953), opposite ideal partner Fred Astaire.
Ironically, in view of the fact that many feel Singin' in the Rain is the greatest of all screen muscials, it won only one other Oscar nomination - for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. It lost to Alfred Newman's score for With a Song in My Heart.
Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Screenplay: Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Art Direction: Randall Duell, Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Costume Design: Walter Plunkett
Editing: Adrienne Fazan
Original Music: Nacio Herb Brown, Lennie Hayton
Lyrics: Arthur Freed
Choreography: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen (uncredited)
Cast: Gene Kelly (Don Lockwood), Donald O'Connor (Cosmo Brown), Debbie Reynolds (Kathy Selden), Jean Hagen (Lina Lamont), Millard Mitchell (R.F. Simpson), Cyd Charisse (Dancer), Douglas Fowley (Roscoe Dexter), Rita Moreno (Zelda Zanders).
C-103m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Roger Fristoe