Choreography in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ (1952)

Given that this film is a musical and a Gene Kelly musical, at that, and its profusion of classic song-and-dance sequences (but, you know the one I’m thinking about), there’s a bit less information online about the creative inspiration or the thought process behind the choreography in the movie than I had expected. And what I found didn’t exactly fill me with the joy I associate with this amazing production.

At the risk of depressing everyone who loves this movie, here’s what I found out.

One of the most amazing people in this film is Debbie Reynolds, who wasn’t even a dancer—really!? But she did more than a fair imitation of one, even if “dancer” wasn’t her official job title.

Gene Kelly reportedly denigrated Reynolds’ abilities, right to her face. So much so, that at one point, she broke down crying during the production, but like out of a Hollywood movie, Fred Astaire caught her crying and comforted her. Possibly had a quiet word with Kelly. Who knows? In her memoirs, Reynolds later wrote, “Singin’ in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I ever had to do in my life.”

According to one source, after performing and filming the “Good Morning” sequence (no doubt, after multiple practices and takes), Reynolds’ feet were bleeding. Another article describes her having “burst blood vessels” in her feet.

And pity poor Donald O’Connor, whose dance sequence in “Make ‘Em Laugh” scarcely gets a mention, likely because they figured that bit came under “stunts,” not “dance.” So, he’s just a mere stuntman, is he? According to sources, O’Connor spent several days in the hospital on bed rest after filming that scene. I’ll bet.

There is no credit given on IMDB for choreography in this film. But one can easily imagine that Kelly (as co-director and a very definite dancer) took a hand in creating/coaching/demanding the dance moves.

There are two sources I found particularly interesting. One is “Dancing Happiness: Lyrics & Choreography in Singin’ in the Rain (1952)”. Using a lot of ten dollar words This is an in-depth look at the different ways each element of the iconic dance number (you know the one) expresses joy and happiness in contrast to the relatively dull street with one or two dull people who can’t quite get into the spirit and the inevitable police officer, doing his dull duty or whatever. (But then Kelly smiles and saunters off, giving his unused umbrella to a rando guy, thus we have a “Save the Drowning Cat” moment.)

Then, there’s this one called “Love and Music in Singin’ in the Rain”, which basically says that this movie seems like a comical (satirical?) take on the transition from silents to sound, but a deeper truth lies beneath this message. It’s about Hollywood and fakery and being unable to simply be honest.

The article examines the “You Were Meant for Me” sequence, where Don (Gene Kelly) wants to reveal his feelings to Kathy (Debbie Reynolds), but feels compelled to do so with stage fakery—lights, props, scenery, the works! A great big show! He uses a fake front in which to express his real feelings.

To go back to the “iconic scene,” Don treats the street as if it were a stage. (Is all the world a stage? But there I go, being Shakespeare …) The article notes that “Don is treating that real environment as if it were a stage.” (Um, it actually is a … stage set.) The other people he encounters “aren’t particularly pleased to be in the rain.” So … this creates a visual clash between realism and optimism.

We would like to dance in the rain. We would like to profess happiness despite any dreary or uncomfortable aspects of our lives.

We would all like to toss our proverbial umbrellas aside and simply dance in a downpour. The scenario is so fantastic, we want to be Gene Kelly. Or, at least, we relate with his desire to keep upbeat despite being drenched.

So, this either represents a ray of hope when times are bad—an almost “in your face” happiness—or denial in its most entertaining form. 🙂

Let’s go with hope, something that’s actually worth celebrating. Although, admittedly, denial can have its charms.

In conclusion, no matter what, I’ll always love this movie. And I don’t need a stage to tell you that.

I’m submitting this as part of the Singin’ in the Rain Blogathon: 70 Years of That Glorious Feeling! Hope you enjoyed it or learned something or, at least, didn’t hate it.

* * *

Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
Produced by Arthur Freed
Screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner (story & screenplay)

This entry was posted in 1950s Films, Film Analysis, Musicals and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Choreography in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ (1952)

  1. moviefanman says:

    Donald O’Conner’s Male ‘Em Laugh routine is the best dance in the whole film. O’Conner was as much an acrobat as a dancer, and he pulls it off so well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s amazing how many “happy musicals” (or any type of movie, really) of yore were actually the result of wretched circumstances. The studios controlled everything and, with the exception of a few very powerful stars, most actors were considered cattle and they had to endure outrageous and belittling treatment if they ever wanted to be in a movie again. The Golden Age of Hollywood really wasn’t all that golden…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debbi says:

      So, so true. I did a review of Kim Novak’s book Reluctant Goddess and, boy, did Harry Cohn put her through the wringer.

      And Judy Garland’s story … oof. And then there are all the stories we haven’t heard, no doubt.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It was directed by Stanley Donen AND Gene Kelly and it was written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. And yes, Gene did the choreography.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The dancing in this film is amazing and really special. Kudos to Kelly, Reynolds, and O’Connor for making it look so effortless. I love your sentiment about hope being worth celebrating. I’m with you on that! Thank you for bringing this thoughtful post to my blogathon, Debbi! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s nice to think that all of that excellence just happens, but I guess there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved. Nevertheless, the audience is so grateful for all of the talent, temperament and devotion it takes to give us something as special as “Singin’ in the Rain.” Loved your post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Paul says:

    Impossible not to love. If I were a psychiatrist, I would prescribe this movie to my patients!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post! The choreography is joyous, and Debbie did a great job keeping up with Gene and Donald. It’s so cool that Fred Astaire was there to encourage her–what a sweet guy he was.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Le says:

    I knew about the extenuating circumstances under which Reynolds, O’Connor and even Kelly danced (Kelly was supposed running a fever when he recorded the main number). I didn’t know though, that whole articles were written about the choreography of the movie. Great research!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I liked what you said about the fake-ness of Hollywood, and how Gene Kelly’s character couldn’t tell Debbie Reynolds how he felt about her without all the staging!

    I adore this musical, especially the scene of Kelly dancing in the rain with what appears to be unadulterated joy. It’s one of my fave moments from the movies, period.

    Liked by 1 person

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