I've let it be known on a few occasions on this website that I'm not particularly fond of the musical. Most films in the genre spend largely too much time on the singing and dancing aspect, which I feel doesn't communicate feelings and emotions if not done right. "Singin' in the Rain" still remains one of the most enjoyable entries in the genre, in my opinion, simply because it allows the singin' and dancin' to work hand-in-hand with great storytelling and marvelous non-singin' acting.
The film, which takes place in Hollywood as the film industry is moving from its silent era to the "talkies", focuses on the love story between star actor Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). While the love story and singing about love and all that make for charming entertainment, as I mentioned before, "Singin' in the Rain" works on more than one level. While we follow their love story, we also get a fun little exploration of these characters trying to make their way in a new Hollywood era, where even a formerly fabulous star like Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) is having troubles, given the fact that her shrill, Fran Dresher-like voice now is available for audiences to hear.
"Singin'" succeeds with its performances, which are brilliant. Donald O'Connor is absolutely superb as best pal Cosmo, taking scenes away from his costars with exceptional comedic timing. Kelly offers a stellar lead performance, while Debbie Reynolds is sweet and likable as his love interest. The screenplay by Adolph Green and Betty Comden operates on a certain rhythm, with jokes that need perfect punctuation and lines that slide into song. All three leads, along with the supporting cast, nail every moment with exceptional grace and class. The dancing is also absolutely incredible, likely requiring months of practice. This isn't modern filmmaking, either, where expert cutting can make doubles appear to be the star doing dance moves. It's up to the stars to shine here, and they certainly do. Ranked as one of the top films of all time, "Singin' in the Rain" deserves its place in film history - for a 1952 picture, it still works awfully well and seems surprisingly free of that "dated" feeling.
VIDEO: "Singin' in the Rain" is presented by Warner Brothers in the film's original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. This is a new 2002 digital transfer from the restored elements. The result is really one of the finest cleaned-up presentations of a movie from its time that I've seen in quite a long time. Some serious cash and effort has clearly been invested in this presentation, which makes the Technicolor film practically look half its age. Sharpness and detail are impressive, as the picture remained crystal clear, free of anything like grain or artifacts to get in the way of a well-defined image.
As for flaws, I really didn't see very many. While some minor edge enhancement was noticed in a few of the bright, outdoor scenes, there were no other faults to note. The print used seemed to have been cleaned up from top-to-bottom, with not a mark or scratch to be found. No pixelation or grain is seen, either.
Most importantly, colors are beautifully rendered, with the presentation's rich color palette looking marvelous. Flesh tones remained accurate and black level solid. This is one of those presentations that really amazes, going above-and-beyond the kind of appearance I thought was possible through restoration.
SOUND: The new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is quite enjoyable, although it certainly doesn't reach the heights of the image quality - nor could it probably hope to. Still, this new presentation does open up the audio quite nicely, providing a fuller, crisper sound and a more pleasant overall listening experience. This soundtrack only adds to the experience, it doesn't ruin it with any inappropriate trickery or surround use.
MENUS: Everything's special about this SE but the menus - the main menu for the first disc is non-animated and simply uses the cover art as a background.
Commentary: This is a full-length audio track from Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, co-director Stanley Donen, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and film historian Rudy Beamer. Certainly a packed track to say the least, it is made up largely of what seem to be newly recorded interviews about the picture. The result is discussion that, while not often screen-specific, gets directly to the point and doesn't restate what's currently happening on-screen. The track gives us almost all the angles: we hear stories from the actors, directors, writers and additional views from Lhurmann on how it influenced him, as well as Beamer's historical perspective. Through the discussions of all of these participants, we are given a clear picture of the movie's birth, progression through production and its importance in film history. Although I wish a few more of these particpants were recorded together instead of separately, this is still a great track well-worth a listen for fans.
Also On Disc 1: "Singin' Inspirations", which offers additional snippets of information about the film when a small logo comes up. While not a new idea, it's a nifty one. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to get put to much use here, with the logo rarely appearing. Also on disc one, there's "Reel Sound", a text/clip section that provides both interesting info on the development in sound in pictures and clips from early talkies. Rounding out disc one, there's the trailer, awards listing and cast/crew bios.
Disc 2: Disc two opens with Musicals Great Musicals, a remarkable 85-minute documentary on producer Arthur Freed and his slate of exceptional musicals during his career at MGM, including "Singin'", "Wizard of Oz" and "An American In Paris", among others. This piece provides plenty of interviews from the filmmakers involved, as well as a enjoyable general overview for those - like myself - who are not as familiar with the history of the genre. My only complaint is that there seemed to be an awful lot of clips, which occasionally made the documentary drag a bit. This apparently isn't a newly produced piece, either.
However, "What a Glorious Feeling" is a newly done piece, presented exclusively on this 2-DVD set. It's a shorter, tighter 36-minute piece that focuses solely on "Singin' in the Rain". It's a fun, informative documentary that reunites many of the film's cast and crew (such as co-director Stanley Donen) to provide their thoughts about the making of the film and its place in history. Debbie Reynolds hosts and does much of the discussion, often leading audiences through much of the story of "Singin'".
Next up is "Original Song Excerpts". A fascinating look at the history of the classic tunes involved in "Singin'", this provides clips from the films or other productions where many of these songs originated. This is a fun and entertaining section that will likely surprise and entertain even hardcore fans of the film.
Lastly, there's an outtake of "You Are My Lucky Star", a short animated gallery and - most remarkably - the original scoring stage sessions for the songs, which include some different takes. Given how some materials like this can be lost or damaged over the years, I'm surprised at these were available.
Final Thoughts: "Singin' in the Rain" still remains glorious after all these years, if even a bit moreso on this masterfully restored presentation of the picture. This new Special Edition DVD offers dazzling image quality, fine audio and a wealth of informative supplements. Even if you're against the musical, "Singin'" - a sharply funny, witty and wonderfully acted classic - is still worth checking out.
The Film ****