When you're ten years old Singing in the Rain is the definitive movie musical of all time. When you're older, nothing really changes.
Forever burned in my consciousness will be the image of Donald O'Conner, Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly grinning with arms outstretched as if to say, "We are movie stars, we are dancers, we are artists, we are masters, we are knocking ourselves out for you, and we are loving absolutely every moment of it." You hear about the behind the scenes backstabbing and impossible working conditions, but in that moment you see only the smiles of three extraordinary show people.
Singing in the Rain, directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen, was the second movie musical I ever saw (after Oklahoma). But, even if this were not the case, I know that it would still inhabit a special place in my heart. I've introduced a number of friends to the film and watched as the cynicism of each gave way to delight at the overwhelming joy, brilliance and goofiness of it all. How can anyone remain sober-faced while Gene and Donald so expertly torment their vocal coach in Moses Supposes? Here is proof that dance can be entertaining and maddeningly technical at the same time.
Though I didn't know it at the time, I was probably most influenced by the scene that is sometimes considered one of the film's weakest. Certainly it is oddly placed, unwieldy in length, and seems to occur with the barest of threads connecting it to the story. However, taken apart from the film, Broadway Melody is a little splinter of genius. It's a story told entirely in dance and music. We meet Gene at his most charming. Raffish, yet green and awkward. Wanting only to dance, until he meets Cyd and discovers that he actually wants a bit more. She is all sex and disinterest with those famous legs and a grin that gives little away. The love story occurs entirely within his head and it is inevitable that she will leave him for some other shiny object. It's the same story told in every musical over and over again. A star is born, but does he lose his soul in the process? Never Gene. He tilts his hat and smiles at the camera as if to say, "Hey, I lost Cyd Charisse, but at least I got to dance with Cyd Charisse."
There is a formula. This is the perfect example of why that formula works. When you have those dancers, that music, those costumes, and that choreography - the formula works. What bitter soul can hear the strains of "Gotta Dance," and not feel a slight tingling in their toes?
AFI's 100 Years of Musicals: http://www.afi.com/tvevents/100years/musicals.aspx