HIDDEN GEMS: 16. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. This week Singin’ in the Rain. You’re welcome.

Singin’ in the Rain should have been a huge hit. It starred Gene Kelly, who directed it alongside Stanley Donen, as well as Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Jean Hagen. Set in the golden era of the big silent movies, Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a matinee idol who along with Lina Lamont dominate the silver screen. However, trouble is brewing as a little movie called The Jazz Singer introduces sound to a stunned Hollywood and the studios begin to rush talkies into production. The problem is that Lockwood and Lamont are terrible at speaking and their acting style leaves a lot to be desired. The solution comes via one of the many song and dance routines – they’ll turn The Dueling Cavalier into The Singing Cavalier and make a musical. However, Lamont can’t sing and has such a shrill voice, it can break teeth. Another song and dance later and the idea of having Kathy (Reynolds), Don’s new love interest, dub Lamont.

The movie will be a hit and Lockwood and Lamont’s careers will be saved, but will it also cost Kathy her chance of an independent career. The film is a brilliant breezy piece of Hollywood satire. Perhaps the best film to be made by Hollywood about Hollywood (along with Sunset Boulevard). Not as acerbic as the latter nor the later The Player, but under the gloss there is a keen satirical eye and the bursts of exuberant fun are intoxicating. Looking back on the film many wonder why it didn’t get a larger audience, but Gene Kelly probably came closest when he stated how much he regretted the title. ‘That apostrophe cost us,’ he told French cultural magazine Chapeau. ‘In those days people wanted the movies to be held to higher standards. I remember an audience in Milwaukee walking out and chanting as they went “Where’s the G?” At that point I knew we’d lost them.’

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SIR EDWIN FLUFFER REMEMBERS LAURENCE OLIVIER

HOLLYWOOD – In another EXCLUSIVE extract from Sir Edwin Fluffer’s autobiography “In Like Niven!” comes this startlingly honest account of the great English actor and director Sir Laurence Olivier.

Larry Olivier had moved into a new place high in the Hollywood hills. It was every bit as grand and elegant as the great man himself, but the tree outside his bedroom window was home to a large family of rooks, and the dawn chorus would often wake him from his slumber.

 I’ve never been much of a morning person and darling Larry’s early morning phone calls filled me with dread. Following the success of Henry V and Hamlet he’d found another one of Billy Shakespeare’s screenplays to have a go at; but this time he’d decided to turn it into a musical.
 
Banquo! was to be his all singing, all dancing version of Macbeth, and he’d already started work on the score with Larry Adler. I went round for breakfast to hear the fruits of their labour. Adler took out his harmonica and played me a couple of numbers including There Is Nothing Like A Thane and Kiss Me Hecate, I cancelled my plans to go bowling with Keenan Wynn and said “Where do I sign?” 
 
We were all ready to begin filming, sets were up, costumes were made, Donald O’Connor had been booked, then tragedy.  Larry lost a tooth during a heated game of chequers with Bobby Morley and his singing voice went with it. He wouldn’t let the part go to anyone else and the whole thing was cancelled – Three months of work down the drain, and I was furious with him. 
 
Larry Adler gave me one of his harmonicas to say thank you for all my support but I could never learn to play the bloody thing. In the end, I gave it to Charles Bronson who used it to great effect in Sergio Leone’s One Upon A Time In The West. But that’s another story…