I'm singin' in the rain
Just singin' in the rain
What a glorious feeling
I'm happy again!
Who doesn't smile at the thought of Gene Kelly tapping, singing and splashing his way through this song? It is perhaps the greatest and most memorable scene ever filmed, still as well known (and as regularly parodied1) as it was over 40 years ago. Let us now defy the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' rule and take a deeper look at this particular sequence.
The famous scene is of course taken from the amazing movie with the same name, choreographed, directed (with Stanley Donen) and performed by Gene Kelly in 1952. But actually, the title song doesn't originate from this movie - in fact, not many of the incorporated songs do. It is actually taken from The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and written by Nacio Herb Brown (music) and Arthur Freed (lyrics). Since the movie was meant to be about the 1920s, much of the music was 'borrowed' from this era.
First, Gene Kelly knew that somewhere in the film he should have a singing and dancing solo, but nothing had been specified. 'Singin' in the Rain' was actually put in to be a trio number for movie idol Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), musician and comic Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) and singer/actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) as a pep-up after the disastrous showing of their film The Duelling Cavalier. The three of them were suddenly meant to go dancing out of a restaurant and have 'impromptu fun' in the rain. The idea was basically a reprise of the 'Make Way For Tomorrow' number which Gene Kelly, Rita Hayworth and Phil Silvers did in the movie Cover Girl (1944). Although Kelly eventually ended up with 'Singin' in the Rain' as a solo, the original idea is still seen at the opening sequence of the film.
The set was found at a permanent street at a studio backlot in Culver City, California, but much work had to be done: holes had to be dug out to make puddles exactly where Kelly's choreography demanded them. A complex system of pipes was engineered to make just the right downpour. Milk was mixed into the water to make it more visible. The area was darkened with tarpaulins and had to be lit from behind to make the rain even more visible and prevent the shop windows from casting reflections.
More problems occurred: Gene Kelly came down with a high fever after rehearsing the scene in the cold rain/milk, and as is evident in the final cut, his fine grey suit shrank drastically, especially the jacket. But as Cosmo says in the movie, 'The show must go on!' And the scene is now seen as Gene Kelly's best performance ever.
There's also a story circulating that when they were about to shoot the scene, the water wouldn't run in the pipes. After some research, the producers discovered that this was because they had attempted to film at 2pm, which was when the inhabitants of Beverly Hills turned on their water-sprinklers.
Kelly said he created the right mood in the scene by the 'thought of the fun children have splashing about in rain puddles and [I] decided to become a kid again during the number' - this is evident when you watch it. It's a testimony to the ecstasy and glee we feel when we're in love. Kelly's childlike silliness couldn't be better at expressing it. The sequence consists of ten shots and is approximately five minutes long.
Scene fades to Don (Kelly) kissing Kathy (Reynolds) at her porch. A cab is waiting outside in a heavy downpour: 'Really? From where I'm standing, the sun is shining all over the place.' The dialogue sets the scene, they kiss again, and Kathy walks in and closes the door.
The first strains of the melody begin. Don feels the rain and waves the cab away, first lightly and then in an exaggerated manner to make his point. He walks cheerily down the street as he hums softly 'Doo-de-doo doo-de-doo-de-doo-doo...' (something Roger Edens, the arranger, suggested to Kelly). The camera moves with him the whole time.
I'm laughin' at clouds
So dark up above
The sun's in my heart
Don starts singing. His stroll becomes more exaggerated and is suddenly stopped by his athletic leap to a lamp-post, where he spreads out in delighted celebration, umbrella in one hand and steadying himself with the other. When he jumps down he starts tapping for the first time. Close-up as he grins and hugs the lamp-post.
...and I'm ready for love
Let the stormy clouds chase
Everyone from the place
Come on with the rain...
A couple hurrying by trying to shield themselves with a newspaper, stop and do a 180 degree turn, no doubt amazed by a man dancing around with his umbrella hanging downwards. Don just gives them a nonchalant wave and they hurry on. The camera cranes down to a close-up as he stands with his legs far apart and his arms outstretched:
...I've a smile on my face.
I've a smile on my face
I'll walk down the lane
With a happy refrain
The rain is more evident as a low hiss and his squelchy taps sound louder. Don strolls up to a colourful pharmacy display in a window - the sidewalk is a stage and the dancing begins. Nonsense sounds and joyous humming issues from Don. He uses his closed umbrella first as a dance partner, then a juggling prop, throwing it up in the air and catching it again, and finally as some kind of string instrument2 He ends the song with Kelly's adapted:
'I'm singin' and dancin' in the rain'
...which sums the whole sequence up.
There's no more singing and the dancing begins. First there is a silly clownish feeling to the dance, as he hunches his shoulders and has his knees at awkward angles. The umbrella still acts as a dance prop and the shot ends with the clickety sounds of Don pulling it along a metal railing.
Don walks higher up the street till he comes to a water pipe with water gushing out. He first dances around it, then walks under it and finally removes the umbrella, smiling cheerily as the water completely soaks his hat.
The song becomes louder and wilder as Don jumps out into the open street and starts spinning round and round in jubilation, with his open umbrella pinned forward with both hands.
The dance becomes childlike play as Don comes back to the curb and walks one foot up on the curb, the other in the gutter, splashing the water. He then starts to do a pantomime tightrope-walk along the curb, then carefully splashes in a small pool of water on the sidewalk. Without warning he jumps out into the open road and stomps and splashes the water around in an ecstatic, childlike frenzy. After approximately half a minute, a policeman in black raincoat (Robert Williams) comes to observe Don's behaviour. Don stops dead and steps back sheepishly onto the sidewalk. He hasn't really done anything wrong, but the policeman acts as a censor, somehow judging Don's immature behaviour.
The final shot gives an over-the-shoulder view from the officer as Don smiles nervously, shrugs and explains, 'I'm singin' and dancin' in the rain.' The camera goes higher as he turns and walks down the street. As a final act of originality, he hands his umbrella to a random passer-by ('Snub' Pollard) before he starts strolling with swinging arms out of the scene. Fade out.
...I'm singin' and dancin' in the rain