The sun’s in my heart and I’m ready for love…
Who can forget Singin’ In the Rain? Who can forget Gene Kelly dancing down the street singing the title song? It is magic. Pure film and pure magic.
The 1952 movie is far from the only time the song has been featured on the big screen, though. Oh no, it’s been in more pictures than we can shake an umbrella at (see a full list here). Button up your overcoats, guys, because “Singin'” is about to get really familiar.
Written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown in 1928, “Singin'” had a busy first year of life. It was initially introduced to the public on December 23, 1928 by Nacio Herb Brown’s onetime love interest, Ziegfeld girl Doris Eaton Travis.
Unfortunately, no recording of Travis’s rendition survives, at least nothing that’s accessible to the public, but we do have this 1929 version by Nick Lucas, the “Crooning Troubadour.” Note the relatively sedate, almost ballad-like tempo, which may have been close to how Travis would have sung it as well:
Freed and Brown have to get credit for being in the right place at the right time. Since it was 1929, Hollywood was learning to talk and sing, which meant the studios were looking for music. It just so happened that Freed and Brown made friends with the Marx Brothers, who were looking for music for their vaudeville act around that time, which gave Freed and Brown futher clout.
“Singin’ In the Rain” was tapped to be part of MGM’s Hollywood Revue of 1929, a plotless musical showcase which featured “Rain” not once but twice, the first turning the spotlight on Cliff Edwards, the Brox sisters, and the MGM chorus, not to mention a steady downpour of H2O. Unlike previous arrangements, the song was given a little more bounce and kick.
Then “Singin'” was brought back for a splashy Technicolor finale, which showed off the entire cast, including such luminaries as Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Marie Dressler, Buster Keaton, and Jack Benny bobbing around in raincoats and hats under a giant ark:
It’s an understatement that the song did well, netting Brown and Freed hefty MGM contracts, and MGM resurrected “Singin’ In the Rain” at various times over the next decade or so.
One of them was 1932’s Speak Easily, starring Jimmy Durante, which amounted to Durante at a piano mugging and humming while Sidney Toler as the Stage Director remarks how familiar Durante’s “new” song sounds (the relevant part is from 36:48 through 37:48):
The film has the distinction of always having been in public domain since it was never registered, and remains a readily accessible curiosity on YouTube.
Judy Garland also took a shot in 1940’s Little Nellie Kelly, only she didn’t have to get wet doing it:
Not every rendition of the song went over so well, though. The 1948 film, The Babe Ruth Story, which is widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made, sports this number by an embarassed though game William Bendix as Babe Ruth:
When it came to Gene Kelly’s time under the umbrella, Kelly and co-director Stanley Donen wanted to get back to basics. “It’ll be raining and I’ll be singing,” Kelly told Arthur Freed. Freed, who wasn’t known as a cut-up, was not amused.
Interestingly, Kelly drew inspiration from The Hollywood Revue of 1929, as well as from stories told to him by Buster Keaton about Hollywood’s transition from silent movies to talkies. The choppiness of the sound and the bad recordings of Joan Crawford and John Gilbert made a big impression on him, and he wondered how a talented fellow like Buster Keaton could be a victim of progress.
“Singin'” is still full of life, and has shown up in various films in the years since Kelly’s walk down the lane. Cary Grant hums it in North By Northwest. It was sung in Fame. Malcolm McDowell sings it in the supremely icky rape scene in A Clockwork Orange, which I won’t go into and won’t link to, but suffice it to say, it made me want to shower and read my Bible. Ugh…
Glee‘s 2010 version, on the other hand, is really cool, mixing the Brown and Freed song with Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” This sequence must have been soggy and slippery to shoot, but it’s worth it:
Then there’s the adorable “Singin’ In the Oil” from 2005’s Robots. Knowing Robin Williams, he may have even ad-libbed some of this scene:
“Singin’ In the Rain” is going on a century old, but it’s a song that won’t die. It’s a lilting, hopeful tribute to perseverance and healing, even as the rain keeps falling and things look dark. That’s why we keep singing it and finding new ways to get under that umbrella.
For more Singin’ In the Rain goodness, please see Ari at The Classic Movie Muse. Thanks for hosting this, Ari–it was such a great idea! Thanks for reading, all, and see you on Friday with another post…
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (DVD), Speak Easily (DVD or streaming) Little Nellie Kelly (DVD), The Babe Ruth Story (DVD), North By Northwest (DVD and Blu-ray), Singin’ In the Rain (DVD and Blu-ray), Glee (DVD and Blu-ray), and Robots (DVD and Blu-ray) are available to own from Amazon.
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Hess, Earl J. and Pratibha A. Dabholkar. Singin’ In the Rain: The Making of An American Masterpiece. Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2009.
Yudkoff, Alvin. Gene Kelly: A Life of Dance and Dreams. New York City: Back Stage Books, 1999.