Directed by Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen
Starring: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse
* Published specifically for The Singin’ in the Rain Blogathon: 70 Years of that Glorious Feeling hosted by Ari at The Classic Movie Muse *
Hello to my fellow bloggers and loyal readers! It has been quite some time since I have taken to writing on my blog and I must say that it is both terrifying and riveting to be back. My family life has been pretty chaotic since my husband’s near-fatal heart attack last October. We have slowly been rebuilding the dynamics of our household as well as dealing with usual everyday life. I want to thank each and every one of you for the kind thoughts and wishes that you have sent our way. 😊
When I was a child, I was not really a big fan of musicals. In fact, they sometimes made me shudder and block my ears. Perhaps this can be attributed to an over-saturation from repeated viewings of Annie (1982). Since I was a redhead like little orphan Annie, I had to endure comment after comment comparing the two of us even though our hair colour was the only thing we had in common. A few years before that, I remember getting scared out of my wits when my older brother played one of the Wicked Witch of the West’s flying monkeys in his elementary school production of The Wizard of Oz. I spent the better part of my younger years avoiding anything with song and dance.
It was not until I was well into my 30’s that I was finally able to come to terms with my phobia mainly thanks to two things: a healthy dose of Gene Kelly and the visual splendour of Vincente Minnelli. Their individual films as well as their numerous collaborations were continuously played throughout an entire month of a stark and chilly February. This specific programming was a real game changer for me in regards to my love for Classic Film. Cover Girl, Summer Stock, On the Town, An American in Paris, Brigadoon, The Pirate, Kismet, Gigi, The Band Wagon… discovering these films felt like pure magic.
That charm was equally matched the first time that I saw Singin’ in the Rain. I loved everything about it. The story was very original and I felt a constant sense of excitement as I watched the film. The pace was not annoying or overly in your face, either. It was simply energetic. A lot of this was contributed from Gene Kelly who seemed to have boundless energy. From the mere stunt-performing days at Monumental Studios to those impromptu jam sessions, Gene made Don Lockwood a sensation. And who better was there to play Don’s childhood bestie than Donald O’Connor? It was a veritable dream team.
The two men men were accomplished dancers who meshed very well despite having different backgrounds and, moreover, 13 years between them. They had both been dancing and entertaining in various forms since their childhoods. Born in 1912, Gene probably had clear memories of when The Jazz Singer opened in 1927. Its release was groundbreaking in introducing sound to film all the while prompting an end to the silent film era. It was also around this time that Gene started dancing seriously again after shying away from it for several years due to bullying issues. Simply put, it was not cool for a young boy to prancy around on a dance floor when all of his peers were roughhousing and playing contact sports. As he matured and reached puberty, Gene started seeing dancing not only as an opportunity to make some money but also as a way to hit up the ladies. He told the story several times in his later years with a big smile on his face! As for Donald, he was just a mere toddler when The Jazz Singer came out. Much like Mickey Rooney, Donald practically grew up on the stage and started performing with his family when he was just a tyke. I think that both Gene and Donald were able to take from their personal experiences and enrich the characters of Don Lockwood and Cosmo Brown.
In 1952, Gene was well established in the business with, some would say, his best years in pictures already behind him. His achievements in film were deeply important and he managed to make a name for himself and his dancing styles. He enjoyed lively dance numbers as much as he appreciated more artful expression like ballet and even mime. Although in my opinion standard tapdancing was not his forte, Gene had a great deal of training and took pride in always re-recording his soft-shoe on-screen taps in a dance studio which enhancing the banging of the metal on hard wood floors. Gene used his athletic build to incorporate original movements into his numbers. While he did not have the look or style of typical hoofer, he danced beautifully with a variety of different partners.
On the contrary, Donald O’Connor was a confirmed hoofer whose lean build complimented the visual delight in seeing him perform. He was not as limber as Ray Bolger who was in a world of his own, seemingly having invisible puppeteer strings guiding him along. However, he was very acrobatic and excelled in incorporating physical gags to his numbers. Donald knew where to find the knee-slappers, especially when they had already been successful. A number of the moves he does in “Make ‘Em Laugh” are ones that he did in some of his previous films at Universal, where he was under contract. Director Stanley Donen recognised Donald’s multi-talents and insisted to MGM producer Arthur Freed that O’Connor be cast in the role of Cosmo Brown. This did not go over well with Freed who “had a fit” at Donen and Kelly refusing Oscar Levant the role. Essentially “MGM thought Donald O’Connor was a nothing who made these cheap pictures at Universal.”* Indeed a starring role in a big budget MGM musical was a far cry from playing sidekick to a loquacious mule. But Universal was hardly a Poverty Row studio and they had an impressive array of contracted talent. In the end Donen’s brilliant hunch about Donald proved MGM wrong. (On a side note, Donald and Francis the Talking Mule’s lovesome partnership continued even after the success of Singin’ in the Rain.)
Now that background on our two leading men has been laid out, let us focus on the specific dance routine at hand: “Moses Supposes”.
A classic nursery rhyme, “Moses supposes his toeses are roses”, was turned into a song with original music orchestrated by composer Roger Edens. The lyrics were taken directly from the 1944 published version and the song title was shortened. Additional lyrics were contributed by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the screenwriters for Singin’ in the Rain. It is not exactly known when the rhyme was invented/authored although it first appeared in print in 1888. Over 134 years later, it is still a popular tongue-twister, having been immortalised from its inclusion in the film.
The premise for the routine revolves around Don Lockwood and his leading lady, Lina Lamont, receiving dictation lessons. Since Monumental Studios and all the rest of Hollywood is transitioning to talkies, the studios’ stars need to have a distinguished verbal delivery to match the crowd-pleasing reputations they built up in silent film. This proves to be a near impossible task for Lina who is completely tactless, not to mention clueless. As for Don, he needs to refine his speech and try to incorporate a haughty mid-Atlantic accent, which he finds ridiculous. Joined by Cosmo, the two decide to have a bit of fun with their dictation coach. They sing the verses of “Moses supposes his toeses are roses” all the while performing an animated and hilarious dance sequence.
Take a moment to catch your breath! 😊
Stanley Donen had a beautiful way to sum up his feelings on “Moses Supposes”:
“That number is the best tap number that has ever been done in pictures. Ever. The only other one that comes close is Fred (Astaire) and Eleanor Powell’s doing ‘Begin the Beguine’ in The Broadway Melody of 1940. But the one with Donald and Gene is better, for its sheer energy.”**
These are bold but very truthful words. The “Moses Supposes” routine always brings me joy and I never tire of seeing Gene and Donald dance together. I love their outfits, particularly Donald’s green jumper which goes so well with his piercing icy blue eyes. Who does not love two-toned shoes? The take that was used in the film is impressive and shows the absolute best effort given by both men. Admittedly I can never not notice the falling trash can at the end of the routine but it takes away nothing from the overall charm. Imagine being there to witness it being danced live. The luckiest guy in the room was the dialect coach, played by character actor Bobby Watson. He had a front row seat to the action, at least before he had a lamp shade placed on his head!
While “Moses Supposes” is my favourite song in the film, my two daughters have a long-standing admiration for “Make ‘Em Laugh”. It made them immediate and lifelong fans of Donald O’Connor. My 16-year-old said that Donald “is good at acrobatics and he has a good sense of humour.” My 12-year-old enthusiastically shared the following: “I like ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ because Donald O’Connor was a great dancer back in the 1950’s. What’s funny about him is his expressions in the move. He’s always trying to be hilarious to get to be the centre of attention. The song he sings is filled with laughter and jokes. He’s the kind of guy who is perfect for funny movies.”
It makes me proud to know that my children are taking an interest in classic film, making it so that the appreciation for this style of filmmaking will continue to live on. Singin’ in the Rain’s legacy has been preserved through its induction in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry as well as its inclusion on the AFI 100. Widely considered to be the best musical of all time, generations upon generations after us will be able to enjoy it. On a personal note, I do not consider Singin’ in the Rain as the all-time greatest musical feature. For me, that distinction would be a toss-up between Brigadoon and The Band Wagon. The beauty in everyone having different tastes is that one film can lead to discovering another, and then another, and so on. There were never such musicals made as there were during the Golden Age of Hollywood. I find that they make my world a better place. Hopefully they will do the same to yours.
Source: Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and his movies by Stephen M. Silverman, 1996
* pg. 154; ** pg. 161