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 RECALLS CYD CHARISSE

HOLLYWOOD- Sir Edwin Fluffer once again delves into his personal memoirs – soon to be published as ‘Not THAT Kind of Fluffer!!!’ – to recall Cyd Charisse.

It’s only now that all the major players in this sorry tale have passed on that I feel able to reveal one of Hollywood’s most closely guarded secrets. Cyd Charisse was in fact a woman.

 I was visiting Stanley Donen on the set of Singin’ In The Rain when I first saw her: that smile! Those legs! ‘Who’s she, Stan?’ I whispered, ‘she’s beautiful!’
‘Pardon?’ said Stan, whose hearing was not what it could be.
‘WHO’S SHE?’ I shouted, ‘SHE’S BEAUTIFUL!’ 
Everyone looked ‘round, so we ran off like a pair of naughty schoolboys and hid in Don O’Connor’s dressing room. How many pairs of tap shoes does one man need? I must’ve counted at least three!
‘Come on Stan,’ I said, ‘don’t play games, who is she?’
‘She?’ said Stan, ‘I think you mean he!’
You could’ve knocked me down with Van Johnson! ‘Some fella called Cyd,’ Stan explained, ‘Gene says he’s the best dancer he’s seen in years!’
I thought they were crazy! How could the studios sell a picture where the big finale musical number features two men dancing together?
‘Easy,’ said Stan, ‘we just won’t tell ‘em!’
And do you know what? They got away with it! For more than fifty years now audiences around the world have loved that picture and thrilled at the sight of Gene and Cyd moving across the floor like Romeo and Juliet. For whole generations of movie-goers that scene’s been more than a dance number; it’s been a prayer for tolerance. But like so many Hollywood dreams, the reality begged to differ.
Cyd was never a man, and as far as I know never wanted to be one. She made this quite clear when I followed her into the toilets and I’m afraid to say that quite an ugly scene followed. The police were called and I was lucky not to be charged. Nothing ventured nothing gained as Joseph Cotton used to say!
But that’s another story…

47 FILMS: 16. BEDAZZLED

In our continuing series of ‘47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams’, we look at Pete and Dud’s Faustian comedy Bedazzled.

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore came out of the Oxbridge comedy scene, first achieving international fame with their participation in a satirical sketch show Beyond the Fridge, with Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. Moore, a talented musician, was offered a show by the BBC, but he felt the need for his chum to be involved and so Not Only (Dudley Moore) But Also (Peter Cook) was born. A forerunner and inspiration for Monty Python, only a few episodes have survived due to the BBC’s foresighted policy of taping over the original recordings to save money. Bedazzled was their first movie as writers and stars. Directed by Singing in the Rain director Stanley Donen, Bedazzled is a Faustian comedy of the swinging sixties. Wimpy short order cook, Moon (Moore) is given seven wishes with which to ensnare his love, singularly unattractive  waitress Margaret (Eleanor Bron), by George Spiggot (Cook) also known as the Devil.

The format allows for seven sketches in which the Devil wittily out wits the hapless Moon by turning each wish to his own advantage and against the wisher. When Moon wants to attract Margaret to love him as a pop star, his desperate pleading song of love is outshone by the Devil’s cool number of complete indifference.  Occasionally helped by the seven deadly sins – allowing for a jaw dropping cameo by Raquel Welch as Lust – the Devil is a sly ironic prankster, delighting in causing petty discomfort and with a pleasantly jaded view of the Brave New World of 1967. There’s nothing as sharp as their later manifestation of Derek and Clive, but Bedazzled is brilliantly clever and ceaselessly witty with both Moore and Cook at their best. Of course, Moore would go on to a kind of stardom that evaded the less camera friendly Cook, but his fans can at least satisfy themselves with Elizabeth Hurley’s wonderful impression of him in the remake of 2000.

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