50th Anniversary Special Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse
Directors:  Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  103 Minutes
Release Date:  September 24, 2002

“Whaddya think I am, dumb or somethin’?  Why, I make more money than Calvin Coolidge…put together!”

Film ****

Singin’ in the Rain…what a glorious feeling.

It’s been called the greatest of all movie musicals, and even that’s something of an understatement.  Francois Truffaut named it his favorite film, and indeed, fans, critics and filmmakers alike have kept this sunny MGM offering a top ten favorite for fifty years now.  It’s the kind of picture that you’ll never forget the first time you saw it, and if you’re lucky, like me, you’ll get to be there when others see it for their first time.

It’s a beautiful Technicolor masterpiece, an incredible collection of dances and songs, a fall-down-funny comedy, and a glorified look back at one of Hollywood’s most troubled eras:  the arrival of sound.  Movie stars who once made their names without ever uttering a syllable were finding that they didn’t have the voice to carry one of the new talking pictures.

In this story, the arrival of talkies even threatens the legendary screen team of Don Lockwood (the inimitable Kelly) and Lina Lamont (the brilliant Hagen).  Sound is an awkward transition for both, but especially for Lina, whose lovely face belies a voice that could shatter glass.

In the meantime, Don finds himself falling for a young starlet, Kathy Selden (a stunning 19 year old Reynolds), who first puts him in his place, and then later gives him the confidence he needs to reclaim his good name.  With her help, and the steadfast support of his lifelong friend Cosmo Brown (the dapper O’Connor), Don gets ready to re-invent his image for the new era.  The only problem?  What to do with Lina…

The story is wonderful, and much more than an excuse to string together a collection of song and dance numbers.  An amazing accomplishment for screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden, considering their assignment was simply to create a film for producer/songwriter Arthur Freed to showcase his classic songs!  And WHAT a body of songs, each one presented with unforgettable images to accompany them.  Who could forget the fashion play of “Beautiful Girls”, the flapper number “All I Do Is Dream of You”, the lovely “You Were Meant For Me”, the spirited “Good Morning”, and many more.

But two numbers have become indelibly etched into motion picture history.  Donald O’Connor offers one of the most frantically funny showstoppers ever to come from out of the movies.  “Make ‘Em Laugh” showcases his talents for singing, dancing, and comical acrobatics at the same time, and often leaves first time viewers catching their breath.  And “Singin’ in the Rain”…wow.  Quite simply, Gene Kelly’s legendary solo dance number is the movies’ most eloquent moment.

The “Broadway Melody” is a strange but beautiful sidetrack…enticing enough to make you forget for a moment that there’s a whole other story going on while this colorful fantasy unfolds.  Who could forget the curvaceous Cyd Charisse as she taunts and teases her way into and out of Kelly’s heart?  Their dance with Charisse’s long white veil is technical perfection, as both stars grace their across a vast stage and create visual art with their movements.

In short, it’s no one aspect that makes Singin’ in the Rain the most beloved of all movie musicals.  It’s an incredible collection of individual parts that miraculously makes for something even greater their sum.  It’s amazing stars at the height of their talent, it’s a story filled with laughter and romance, it’s a collection of great songs, it’s amazing dancing, it’s a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds.  Like a soufflé, it came from the oven as absolute perfection, and like a great wine, it’s gotten even better with age.

And no matter how old the audience gets, it’s the kind of picture that makes us feel eternally young.  Happy again, indeed.

Video ****

I’ve owned three versions of this movie on disc now, and I’ve always thought it looked great.  But this new 2002 digital transfer proves that even greatness can be improved.  This Technicolor offering looks absolutely stunning; not one color is faded, not one image is distorted, not one detail is misplaced or marred.  I frankly can’t imagine this film looking any better at its 1952 premiere than it does right here.  A benchmark for classic film restoration!

Audio ****

Ah, 5.1 sound for Singin’ in the Rain…I love it!  Admittedly, the surround sound is mostly used to boost the musical numbers, but there are enough of ‘em to make this worthy of a four star rating.  These songs sound fresh and more vibrant than ever, with full open orchestrations and the voices of the leads coming across with clarity and cleanness.  The subwoofer gives the bottom end extra punch, and the overall song score gives the audio its dynamic range.  Dialogue and sound effects never falter, either. 

Features ****

For those who love this movie as much as I do, this double disc boasts a joyful package of extras.  The commentary track is one of the year’s best, hosted by Debbie Reynolds and featuring the recollections of writers Green and Comden, stars O’Connor, Charisse and Kath Freeman, co-director Stanley Donen, film historian Rudy Behlmer, and movie maker Baz Luhrmann.  Though not recorded at the same session, the editing is flawless and the number of participants make this a fascinating, fun track that covers the film from every angle, from those who participated in it to those who have admired it.

Disc One also features the trailer.  Disc Two contains two excellent documentaries:  the hour-and-a-half Musicals Great Musicals which highlights MGM and Arthur Freed’s glory years, and the brand new What a Glorious Feeling, with many of the commentary track’s participants on screen for you.  Both are entertaining for fans and invaluable for film students.

Freed’s songs originated in much earlier MGM films, though, and this disc also includes excerpts from those films showcasing your favorite songs as they originally played.  There are also music cues from the scoring session, Debbie Reynolds’ legendary cut number “You Are My Lucky Star”, and a stills gallery.  This is as good as it gets, friends.


I can only say in conclusion what I said starting out…what a glorious feeling.  Singin’ in the Rain is one of the crown jewels to ever emerge from the Hollywood studio system, and for its countless fans, this new special edition DVD from Warner Bros. is an absolutely dream come true.  If you own a DVD player, you have to own this disc…it’s that simple.