Singin' in the Rain [1952]

No one even bothers to argue about it any more--by any standard and international consensus, this is the best movie musical of them all. Its arcane, unlikely milieu is Hollywood during the transition in the late 1920s from silent to sound motion pictures. Its reason for being was producer Arthur Freed's desire to use the catalog of songs he had written with Nacio Herb Brown in the '20s and '30s for various shows and movies. But, ironically, it's now the soundtrack that seems cobbled together from disparate sources, while the movie itself remains seamless. That's thanks to a literate screenplay by Adolph Green and Betty Comden and ebulliant acting and dancing by the young Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds. Jean Hagen is especially brilliant as the silent-screen star whose speaking voice is so screechy she has to be dubbed for talkies. Kelly codirected with Stanley Donen, and both can take credit for a masterpiece. Musical standouts are "You Were Meant for Me," "Good Morning" and "All I Do Is Dream of You." Visually, the indelible image will always be Kelly sloshing around in puddles while singin' in the rain. That said, this coupling of video with a definitive version of the soundtrack benefits from Rhino's meticulous reconstruction of the material and extensive annotations, which only enhance our grasp of this film and musical legend's gestation. ---Robert Windeler

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