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Singin' In The Rain: 60th Anniversary Collector's Edition

Warner Bros. // Unrated // July 17, 2012
List Price: $84.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted July 22, 2012 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
It's been over a decade since I've seen Singin' in the Rain.  I remember that I liked the film a lot and when it was announced that Warner Brothers were going to create a Ultimate Collector's Edition for the movie, I was sure it was something I'd pick up.  Screening the film again, I was surprised at just how good it was.  I had forgotten what an amazing dance Gene Kelly was, and how stunning the musical numbers are in this film.  With solid acting and a thin but enjoyable plot (that's strikingly similar to the plot of The Artist) to hold everything together, this film deserves its reputation as the greatest musical to come out of the studio system. 

This was a jukebox film; a movie where they took hit songs from other musicals and strung them together, adding a plot almost as an afterthought.  With that pedigree, it's a bit surprising that the plot is an engaging as it is. 
Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a huge silent movie star.  Along with his partner, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), they're two of the biggest box office draws in Hollywood.  At the premier of their latest film, Don bumps into Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) a spunky young girl who happens to be a struggling actress.  Don is enthralled by her energy and determination, but Lina (who isn't too bright and believes the fan-press magazines that claim Don is in love with her, though nothing could be further from the truth) hates the girl and pulls some strings to get her fired from her job. 

Don feels responsible and spends weeks looking for Kathy, pulling in his childhood friend, Cosmo (Donald O'Connor), to aid in the search.  She's finally located, but just as Don finds her his life is thrown for a loop.  Fox has released The Jazz Singer and Hollywood will never be the same.  Talking pictures are all the rage.  Lockwood and Lamont are no longer the bankable stars they once were since the abrasive Lina has a voice like nails on a chalkboard.  Shrill and piercing with a thick Brooklyn accent, there's no way she'll be able to make the transition to sound.
They try anyway, and after much difficulty get their latest historical epic in the can.  On the night of the preview though, things go badly.  Bad sound and dialog that looks better on a title card than spoken out loud turns the picture into a farce and the audience laughs at the costume drama.  It's clear that Lockwood's career is over, until Kathy and Cosmo come up with a bright idea.

This is a magnificent film, not because of the plot, which is fine and is filled with some great comedy, but because of the impeccable dance numbers.  Having watched more than my share of music videos, I was astounded by the singing and dancing.  The cast not only dances wonderfully, but they film the musical numbers with incredibly long takes.  This wasn't some MTV offering where going 5 seconds without an edit is unheard of.  These takes are long and edits are infrequent.  Just watch the title song sometime, (and Kelly had a 101+ degree fever when he filmed it, reportedly in one take!) and you'll be amazed at how the song is pieced together.  In the most impressive number, Good Morning, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Conner and Debbie Reynolds will dance across a room and up a flight of stairs unedited and in unison.  That's unheard of today, and very, very impressive.  Then there's also the big finale number where Gene Kelly dances with Cyd Charisse who has an impossibly long train blowing in the wind.  The pair dance so wonderfully that it's not until after the number that you're struck with how difficult it must be to dance with a prop like that. 
Aside from the peppy music and gorgeous dancing, the movie's very funny too.  Of course everyone remembers Donald O'Connors hilarious Make 'em Laugh song, but the script is filled with quick, under-the-radar jokes that add to the fun of the picture.  For example, when Don is looking for Kathy after she gets in trouble he runs into the chorus dressing room and asks for her:
Don Lockwood: Where'd Miss Selden go?
Female dancer: She just grabbed her things and bolted. Anything I can do?
Don Lockwood: Sorry, I don't have time to find out.
It's a joke that if you're not paying attention, you'll miss.

Another reason for the movie's appeal is Gene Kelly's character and acting ability.  Though he's playing a big movie star, Kelly comes across like a regular down-to-Earth guy.  He falls for a girl in the chorus, of course, but he also isn't afraid to get dirty, or wet, and has simple pleasures.  He seems like the guy next door, only one who can dance like no one else.
That's not to say the film is perfect.  They did have to shoehorn some things into the movie.  The big dance number near the end, Broadway Rhythm Ballet, doesn't really fit with the costume drama set in medieval France, but they come up with an excuse to throw it into the picture.  Given that the songs came first and the story was fashioned around them, it's pretty amazing that it holds together so well.  You won't notice the discrepancies until after the credits roll.

The Blu-ray:

This is another one of Warners "Ultimate Collector's Editions."  If you've seen their previous sets, Gone with the Wind, Ben-Hur, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and The Wizard of Oz, you know they create a fantastic package of extras to go along with the feature film, and this set is no exception.  This time they've included a 48-page hard cover book with photos, biographies of the cast, and production memos, three (smallish) reproduction of theatrical posters, and even (and this is my favorite touch) an umbrella.  The movie itself is presented on a Blu-ray disc and a DVD, and there's also a DVD of extras.  All of this comes in a very attractive, numbered, white box.  There is a clear plastic slipcover patterned with raindrops that slides over the whole thing adding a perfect finishing touch.
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track reproduces the music and dialog wonderfully.  The mix is excellent, with the songs coming though with force but not overpowering the dialog.  The background if free of hiss and other background noises and the music has a nice wide dynamic range.  WB did a great job.
The 1.37:1 color image has been restored at 4K resolution and the results are fantastic.  There are absolutely not scratches or dirt present on the print.  The colors are bright and solid, the whites are strong without being crushed, and the blacks are nice and inky.  You can compare this with the unrestored footage that's shown in the new HD documentary and there's a world of difference.
The new bonus that's included in this collection is 'Singin' in the Rain': Raining on a New Generation, a nearly hour-long look at how this film influenced the current crop of hoofers and choreographers.  At first I was disappointed in this docu.  It starts out with some of the people involved with Glee and High School the Musical talking about the first time they saw this seminal film.  Yeah, as if I care.  Stick with it though.  As the feature progresses these talented dancers start to discuss why Singin' in the Rain is such a classic picture.  They point out impressive bits from the film that non-dancers (like myself) are likely to miss and do a good job of putting the film in its historical context.  It's actually a very good look at the movie and shouldn't be missed.

All of the extras from the 2002 SE DVD release have been ported over to this set too, albeit still in SD.  These include a commentary track with a very impressive group including Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, Stanley Donen, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Baz Luhrmann, and Rudy Behlmer.  Whew!
Video bonuses include an hour-and-a-half 1996 PBS documentary Musicals Great Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit at MGM, a half-hour look at the creation of the film, What a Glorious Feeling: The Making of 'Singin' in the Rain', and a series of Nacio Herb Brown/Arthur Freed film excerpts.  This last item is a collection of 12 film clips that runs nearly an hour in length showing clips from the movies where the songs in this film originated.  It's a lot of fun and a nice addition.
But wait, as they used to say in Ronco commercials, there's more!  The Extras DVD also has a reel of production stills from the film, there's a trailer in HD, an outtake from the song You're My Lucky Star, and a juke box feature that lets you play the songs from the film.  It's a very complete set of extras and really makes this a complete package.
Final Thoughts:
A film that truly deserves its stellar reputation, Singin' in the Rain is a great musical and one of the best ever made.  On top of this it hasn't looked as good as it does on this Blu-ray disc since it's original release.  The 4K restoration is excellent and the audio is clean and clear.  Add to that a complete roster of extra features and some great items packed in with the set, and it's easy to give this title the coveted DVDTalk Collectors Series rating. 
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