Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cyd Charisse tribute

Head shot of Jack Carson,

I've been remiss in mentioning it, but TCM's tribute to the late Cyd Charisse will be airing in prime time on Friday, June 27:

Singin' In the Rain at 8:00 PM ET;
The Band Wagon at 10:00 PM; and
Silk Stockings at midnight.

Singin' In the Rain is the obvious choice to highlight, and I'm surprised I haven't mentioned it before. Gene Kelly stars as Don Lockwood, a silent movie star who's paired on-screen with Lina Lamont, who's played by Jean Hagen. Lina thinks Don is in love with her, and the studio PR and celebrity magazines cultivate this myth as well, but in reality Don doesn't care for Lina that much. Help comes literally from the air: while trying to get away from screaming fans after the premiere of his latest movie, Don jumps into the car of one Kathy Selden (played by a 19-year-old Debbie Reynolds), who feigns disdain for the movies, but is in reality obsessed with them. The two quickly fall in love, although Lina sees a threat in Kathy.

All of this is complicated by the fact that Warner Brothers come along an synchronize talking and the picutres with The Jazz Singer, forcing all the other studios to scramble to do the same. Worse, it turns out that Lina's got a terrible voice, which will ruin the latest Lockwood and Lamont movie if her voice is heard. Naturally, the idea is hit upon to have Kathy dub Lina's voice -- but they have to do it without Lina's knowledge.

Singin' In the Rain is one of, if not the, greatest musicals of all time. Interestingly, though, none of the music is original. Longtime MGM producer Arthur Freed had started out as a lyricist, and wanted to create a movie using many of the songs in the MGM library. So, he hired two people better known as songwriters themselves, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and had them come up with an idea for a story based around the old songs. In fact, none of the songs in the movie is original to the movie, with the title song, for example, having been used in the two-strip Technicolor finale of The Hollywood Revue of 1929.

However, Singin' In the Rain isn't just a musical, it's a great love story too, between Kathy Selden and Don Lockwood. Debbie Reynolds more than holds her own not just in the acting, but in the dancing too, despite the fact that she's up against one of the greats in Kelly. The movie is also a great comedy, and here, Donald O'Connor, playing Don Lockwood's friend Cosmo Brown, steals the show. O'Connor gets one of the great dance numbers in "Make 'Em Laugh". Also, watch for O'Connor's facial expressions in the elocution lesson scene leading up to the song "Moses Supposes". O'Connor is taking the speech coach down a peg, without his even realizing it, and the mugging for the camera rivals anything Joe E. Brown would have done back in the 1930s. O'Connor is also excellent when he gets the idea to have Kathy dub Lina's voice. (Speaking of Lina, although her character is portrayed as a bit of a ditzy blond, the character is really just as smart as a blond like Jean Harlow was in real life. Funny too; she gets a great line in about her salary.)

Cyd Charisse, as seen in the photo above, shows up in a fantasy sequence towards the end of the movie that really has little to do with the plot, but it gives Kelly a chance to show off his dancing skills. Charisse, too, shows that she is more than up to the task of dancing with the great Gene Kelly; the fact that she has those unbelievably long legs is a plus, too, giving her excellent lines (in a visual sense; she doesn't have one word of dialog in the movie) and making for some stunning visuals.

Singin' In the Rain is one of the great movies of the Hollywood studio era, and is not to be missed.

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