Variety‘s Peter Debruge has written a Debbie Reynolds tribute piece. He partly focuses on the seminal influence of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen‘s Singin’ In The Rain (’52), in which Reynolds costarred at age 19. Underappreciated when it came out in 1952, Rain is “easily the most delightful Hollywood-plays-itself movie ever made, thanks in no small part to the purity of Reynolds’ performance,” Debruge says, and “one of the great screen musicals of all time.”
No argument from this horse. I “like” and respect Singin’ In The Rain as far as it goes. God knows, the lore of the damn thing has been pounded into my head my whole life. Which is one reason why I own that remastered 60th anniversary Singin’ in the Rain Bluray, which comes with spirited commentary from Reynolds and costar Donald O’Connor, among others.
I nearly popped this Bluray into my Oppo last night in honor of Reynolds’ passing, but I couldn’t quite do it. A little voice told me “wait…maybe not.” The reason for this reticence, I remembered this morning, was expressed four and a half years ago in a piece called “Rain Fatigue”:
“The older I get, the harder it is to really enjoy Singin’ in the Rain,” I began. “I can still appreciate what’s ‘classic’ and ‘joyous’ about it. The problem is that it feels — has always felt — forced and a bit clenched.
“The satire and the spunk are infectious, and I’ll never stop marvelling at Donald O’Connor‘s acrobatic ragdoll dancing in that ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ number. And you can’t wave away Kelly’s choreography (especially in that opening vaudeville fiddle-playing number with O’Connor) and his boundless energy and bright-lights smile. And Debbie Reynolds is spunky. I’ve always been irritated by Jean Hagen‘s fake-screechy voice, but the movie hinges on this so she — it — has to be endured.
“But there’s something chilly and fake about this film that’s hard to describe, but is absolutely there. It tries so hard to entertain that its like watching four seals bouncing beach balls on their noses for 103 minutes straight while balancing on a high wire.
“And O’Connor is such a jerky and robotic actor that if you let him, he’ll drive you nuts in this thing. Underneath that elastic puss he seems terrified of everything, including himself.”
Debruge, by the way, mentions that Michel Hazanavicius‘ The Artist, which won the 2011 Best Picture Oscar, is “a blatant rip-off” of Singin’ In The Rain “minus the songs.” Not quite. In my original Cannes Film Festival review I wrote that “the story of this French-financed production recalls the plots of Singin’ In The Rain and A Star Is Born mixed in with a little Sunset Boulevard.”