This musical comedy masterpiece is in the spotlight tonight on Arte.
A commissioned film
Let’s sing in the rain tells the story of the Hollywood of the 20s and, more particularly, the complicated transition from silent film to talking film through a silent film star duo and a young singer hired as a vocal understudy who will gradually interfere between them. And as surprising as it may seem, this musical comedy masterpiece was almost a simple commissioned film at the start. Successful lyricist, its producer Arthur Freed indeed wanted to find a story to integrate as many songs as possible that he had written at the end of the 20s with the composer Narcio Herb Brown, already heard in several films. Starting with the one that will give it its title: Singin ‘in the rain, present in Hollywood sing and dance by Charles Reisner in 1929. To write the screenplay, Freed called on screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, whom he had previously employed on One day in New York, the first feature film co-directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly in 1949. The duo are not very excited but forced to accept the proposal because they are under contract. He is groping. They are joined by the Donen-Kelly tandem. They think for a time of embarking on a musical transposition of Miss Volcano where Jean Harlow played a star seeking to flee the noise and fury of Hollywood. But they finally decide to tell the story of the creation of a film over a story that evokes … a French film, released six years earlier, in 1946: Star without light by Marcel Blistène. Edith Piaf played there a cleaning lady hired to dub a silent movie star whose voice goes badly in talking movies.
Debbie Reynolds in three cult songs
A guardian angel named Fred Astaire
To play the role of the young dancer engaged as a vocal understudy against Gene Kelly, the names of Judy Garland and Leslie Caron have circulated for a while. But MGM boss Louis B. Mayer doesn’t want to hear about it. He has already made his choice: a very young actress under contract with the studio who has never held a leading role, Debbie Reynolds. This decision makes Gene Kelly mad with rage. He doesn’t want an inexperienced actress. And as Mayer does not give in, Kelly will make him go through hell during the three months of preparation at the rate of 8 hours a day of intensive training. Then on the set where he is obnoxious to her. “This shoot and the birth of my daughter – Carrie Fisher – were the two most trying times of my life,” she will repeat often. And one day, completely exhausted, she leaves the stage to take refuge, bursting into tears under a piano. This is where a man passing by hears her sobs and begins to console her: Fred Astaire, filming The Beauty of New York on the next set. Astaire gives her advice and even goes to coach her on her choreographies during the days that follow. Without him, she once confessed, she would probably not have gone to the end of the adventure.
Debbie Reynolds: “Turning Singing in the rain and giving birth were the two most difficult things of my life”
A long-term triumph
Born in suffering, Let’s sing in the rain did not reach the heights of the box office when it was released in 1952. It certainly found its audience with revenues three times greater than its budget, but it barely made a par with An American in Paris of Vincente Minnelli and remains well below the score of Show Boat by George Sidney. And above all, in the wake, he was shunned at the Oscars, winning only two nominations (the music of Lennie Hayton and Jean Hagen in supporting role) not rewarded with a statuette and being absent from the best film category (trophy won this year by Under the biggest marquee in the world by Cecil B. De Mille facing The Quiet Man, Ivanhoe, red Mill and The Train will whistle three times). And this whileOne American in Paris had won the previous year. It is time that will know how to replace Let’s sing in the rain in its true place in the history of the seventh art.
From Singing in the Rain to Funny Face: Stanley Donen’s Best of