My piece on Downton Abbey: A New Era mentioned how one of the movie’s subplots had recycled the storyline of the musical Singin’ in the Rain. Coincidentally, I learned that Singin’ in the Rain is marking its 70th anniversary this year. To celebrate this milestone, the film was screened last month at Cannes Film Festival, with Gene Kelly’s widow Patricia Kelly in attendance.
I need not repeat the encomiums that have been lavished on this beloved movie, a satire on Hollywood’s transition from silent movies to talkies. The plot was written around the old songs that had been co-written by Arthur Freed, also the film’s producer. The songs were used in the MGM musicals of the early ‘30s.
This collaboration of Freed, choreographer and leading man Gene Kelly, director Stanley Donen, and writers Betty Comden and Adolf Green, resulted in what is considered the finest movie musical of all time. It also made its 19-year-old leading lady Debbie Reynolds a major star.
Singin’ in the Rain has so many iconic numbers, from Make ‘Em Laugh performed by Donald O’Connor, to the seductive dance of Kelly and a leggy Cyd Charisse, and of course, the solo title number of Kelly himself.
My first encounter with Singin’ in the Rain was when I was around 10. It was being aired on TV, it was so funny I literally rolled on the floor in laughter. When I was in college, the SM cinemas screened a restored version of the film. It was a rare chance to see this movie on the big screen in all its Technicolor glory. I asked my college friends to come along, but they felt they were too sophisticated for Hollywood fare. So I went alone, and not long after I quit hanging out with them.
It was obvious that like me, most of the audience at SM cinema had seen Singin’ in the Rain more than once. The cake-in-the-face routine got the biggest laugh. Had my pretentious school friends gone with me, they would have cancelled me out if only for that scene.
Well, this great movie is still my friend. I own a DVD copy and I usually put it on to cheer myself up during rainy days.
There’s a line in the movie that perfectly describes what it does for viewers. It’s delivered by the talented Jean Hagen who plays the hilariously vain and untalented silent movie star Lina Lamont. Says Lamont to her fans in her squeaky voice: “If we bring a little joy to your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain’t been in vain for nothin’. Bless you all.”
It’s a hysterical line meant to reveal the star’s hillbilly origins and patronizing attitude. Yet if she meant Singin’ in the Rain brings joy to our humdrum lives, then it rings true at least for me!
The Godfather won Best Picture in 1972, Cabaret won more Oscars
This year’s Academy Awards presentation paid tribute to The Godfather, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Forgetting the fact that the Oscar’s Best Actor they gave its star Marlon Brando was refused by Brando, they invited director Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino, and Robert De Niro to make a special appearance. Coppola gave a brief speech, the two actors didn’t. They didn’t even make Will Smith an offer he couldn’t have refused.
The show ended on a poignant note when Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli presented the Best Picture award. Lady Gaga graciously reminded the audience that Minnelli’s film Cabaret was also marking its 50th year.
The Godfather won Best Picture in 1972, Cabaret won more Oscars, including Best Actress for Minnelli and Best Director for Bob Fosse. I can watch both movies repeatedly and still get spellbound by the storytelling and acting. The two films are atmospheric, somewhat brooding, and constantly riveting. They also recreate the period of their stories so accurately.
The Corleone family in The Godfather made their fortune through illegal means. They’re Italian-Americans who can resonate with Filipinos. They’re family-oriented and would go out on a limb to protect a loved one. But in the case of Corleones, that’s often done at the cost of another person’s limb.
Set in the decadent side of Berlin in the 1930s, the groundbreaking Cabaret is a radically different musical. Dark, adult themes such as racism, abortion, and the rise of Nazism in Germany are rarely the staples of musicals. Yet combined with Fosse’s erotic choreography and the bawdy period-appropriate song score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Cabaret is a true work of art. It remains to be the crowning achievement of Fosse and Minnelli.
Performed by Rupert Everett, I Say a Little Prayer is one of the most engaging singing scenes in a movie ever
Celebrating its silver anniversary is Titanic, which won the Oscar for Best Picture and became the top grossing film of all time. Yet in retrospect, the other Best Picture nominees—Good Will Hunting, As Good As it Gets, and L.A. Confidential—are vastly superior. James Cameron’s recreation of the ship’s sinking is impressive, but the romance in the movie is standard Star Cinema fare.
Even the Julia Roberts romantic comedy My Best Friend’s Wedding had better writing. It also turns 25 years old this year. When it was released in 1997 it left everyone, everywhere singing Burt Bacharach’s I Say A Little Prayer. Winningly performed by Rupert Everett and the supporting cast, it’s one of the most engaging singing scenes in a movie ever.
My Best Friend’s Wedding made I Say A Little Prayer popular again but it wasn’t the first romantic comedy to feature it. That honor goes to The April Fools. Released in 1969, it starred Jack Lemmon and Catherine Deneuve.
The song is sung in a more cosmopolitan setting—a ritzy New York apartment where a party crowded with glamorous people is ongoing. It’s performed by a professional singer in the Dusty Springfield/Helen Gamboa vein using the original Bacharach beat. The scene plays like a fashion show with the upbeat song serving as swinging background to the chic ‘60s look of the party guests.
Just to clarify, I Say A Little Prayer wasn’t written for The April Fools. It was recorded by Dionne Warwick in 1966 and peaked at Number 4 on the Billboard singles chart. Bacharach did compose the title song especially for the film.
The second film, Mr. Wonderful, was produced just four years before My Best Friend’s Wedding. In this one, female lead Annabella Sciorra and her doctor boyfriend (Vincent D’Onofrio) sing it during a hospital staff party. It gets livelier when two nurses appear and perform backup duties with the kind of showmanship that rivals The Supremes. In the audience is Sciorra’s ex-husband (Matt Dillion) who’s seething with jealousy. It‘s a charming performance and the movie’s only highlight. Saddled with a silly and predictable plot, Mr. Wonderful didn’t have a prayer.