By Diane Claytor
For the second year in a row, Diablo Ballet has teamed up with the Lafayette Library to present their popular summer Dance on Film series. Intended to celebrate some of the best dances ever captured in popular movies, last year’s sold-out screenings were enjoyed by very enthusiastic audiences. Brigadoon was shown last month; coming up (July 10) is the legendary Singin’ in the Rain and next month (Aug. 15), viewers can enjoy Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
For those of you in the area, come by the beautiful Lafayette Library July 10th at 6:30 to enjoy Gene Kelly’s rain soaked performance of the title song. If you can’t make it, well, here’s a brief synopsis of the film along with lots of interesting facts you may not know.
Singin’ in the Rain is a 1952 musical comedy considered by many to be one of the best musicals ever made. It’s the top movie on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) list of 100 greatest musicals, #5 on its list of 100 greatest movies and #16 on the list of the 100 funniest movies. After viewing the movie, composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein said “There has never been a greater celebration of life.”
Not bad for a movie that was only a modest hit when released in March 1952 and made for a mere $2.5 million (and that was $.5 million over budget!).
The movie, set in 1927, offers a lighthearted depiction of Hollywood, with its three stars — Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds – portraying performers caught up in the transition from silent films to talkies. As moviefone.com described it, Singin’ in the Rain is “not only fondly remembered for its exuberantly athletic song and dance numbers, but also for its witty dramatization of the birth of Hollywood’s sound era…Imagine 2011’s ‘The Artist’ with spoken dialogue and without the heroic dog.”
Don Lockwood (Kelly), the dashing romantic silent film star, and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), the glamorous silent screen goddess, are a famous on-screen romantic pair. Lina, however, mistakes the on-screen romance for real love. Don has worked hard to get where he is with his wisecracking sidekick Cosmo (O’Connor). When Don and Lina’s latest film is transformed into a musical, Don has the perfect voice for the songs. But Lina has a shrill, screechy voice and even with the best efforts of a diction coach, they decide to dub over her voice. Kathy Selden (Reynolds), an aspiring actress, is brought in to dub for Lina, and while she is working on the movie, Don falls in love with her.
The title number, according to moviefone.com, is one of the “most iconic and most frequently parodied sequences in film history. The films’ impact on popular culture is enormous.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1ZYhVpdXbQ)
O’Connor was named Best Actor by the Golden Globes, writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green won the Writers Guild of America Award and Hagen was nominated for best supporting actress.
Some facts you may not know:
• Kelly was not the first choice for the role; Howard Keel was originally cast but was replaced when the Lockwood character evolved from a “western actor” to a “song and dance vaudeville performer.”
• In the famous dance routine where Kelly sings the title song while twirling an umbrella, splashing through puddles and getting soaked to the skin, he was sick with a 103 °F fever; the rain in the scene caused his wool suit to shrink during filming.
• Reynolds was not a dancer at the time she made this film; her background was as a gymnast. Kelly, in his role as director (with Stanley Donen), specifically chose Reynolds (over Judy Garland and June Allyson) based on the belief that she had the athleticism and vocal abilities needed for the role. However, he apparently found her lack of dance experience to be a hindrance and publicly insulted her; in fact, Kelly later admitted that he had been unkind and was surprised Reynolds continued speaking to him.
• Fred Astaire volunteered to coach Reynolds on her dancing. Years later, Reynolds praised Kelly as “the most exciting director she had ever worked with.” But she was also quoted as saying that “Singin in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I ever had to do in my life.”
• Only two songs – “Make ‘Em Laugh” and “Moses” – were composed for the movie. The others were recycled by producer and former lyricist Arthur Freed, who, along with composer Nacio Herb Brown, had written them decades earlier for some of MGM’s earliest musicals. Writer Betty Comden said Freed told her “you’re going to write a movie called Singin in the Rain. Just put all of my songs in it.”
• Judy Holliday had been envisioned for the role of Lina Lamont. But instead, the role went to Holliday’s ‘Born Yesterday’ understudy, Jean Hagen, who, in her audition, did a drop-dead impression of Holliday (and went on to receive a “Best Supporting Actress nomination).
• O’Connor, a heavy smoker, worked himself to exhaustion on the “Make ‘Em Laugh” number and had to be hospitalized after filming it. He then learned that the footage had been accidentally destroyed so he had to it all over again.
• Cyd Charisse, who played the sensuous gangster’s moll (and was only on screen for 5 of the film’s 102 minutes’ running time), was a ballet dancer, having joined the Ballet Russe when she was only 13. As Director Donen later said, “We needed someone who could stop a man by just sticking up her leg.” Singin’ in the Rain made Charisse into a Hollywood star.
Another film directed by Stanley Donen, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was a 1954 musical known for the unusual choreography by Michael Kidd – he made dance numbers out of such mundane pursuits as chopping wood and raising a barn. In fact, a review of the film found on timeout.com said this musical is “best seen as a dance-fest, with Michael Kidd’s acrobatic, pas d’action choreography…” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QHKLqRZOwg )
Rottentomatoes.com calls Seven Brides for Seven Brothers “one of the best MGM musicals of the 1950s.” And this film also made the AFI’s list of the top 100 greatest musicals, coming in at number 21. It was nominated for a best picture Academy Award and received an Oscar for best score, as well as a Writers Guild of America award for Best Written American Musical.
The movie takes place in 1850 Oregon, when backwoodsman, Adam (Howard Keel) brings Milly, his new wife (Jane Powell) home to his farm. Milly discovers Adam’s six rude, unsophisticated younger brothers are living on the farm and she sets out to reform the uncouth siblings, all of whom decide they, too, want to get married. Her plan backfires when the brothers, in their enthusiasm, kidnap six women from a neighboring town to be their brides. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfFFFfRwsR0)
More facts you may not know:
• To perform the incredible dance numbers, Kidd cast four professional dancers, a gymnast and a baseball player to play the six rough and tumble brothers:
•Jeff Richards, who played Benjamin, was a former professional baseball player.
• Matt Mattox, Marc Platt, Jacques d’Amboise and Tommy Rall (playing Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim and Frank) were professional dancers.
• d‘Amboise, appearing on loan from the NYC Ballet, had to leave before filming was completed because of his NYC Ballet contract, so a substitute filled in for him during the final days of filming. You can see someone else playing his character as the brothers are pacing during the baby’s birth.
• Mattox went on to “become something of a legend for his jazz classes at London’s Dance Centre,” according to timeout.com.
•Russ Tamblyn (Gideon) showcased his gymnastics training throughout the action scenes.
• Julie Newmar (Dorcas) was a classically trained ballerina.
• According to tcm.com, the “attention and adulation heaped upon Seven Brides for Seven Brothers came as a major shock to MGM, who had relegated this film to a relatively low budget while lavishing a great deal more time, effort and expense on other musicals,” such as Brigadoon. For this reason, the budget was slashed, forcing Donen to use painted backdrops instead of filming on location.
• An alternate name to this movie was “A Bride for Seven Brothers,” but the censors thought that sounded too risqué.
Again, if you can, be sure to attend Diablo Ballet’s Dance on Film series at the Lafayette Library. You’ll have the opportunity to view these great musicals, see incredible dancing and hear more interesting behind the scenes facts from film critic Beau Behan and Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas.
Diane Claytor, a Chicago native, has spent most of her adult life living in the East Bay and working for several different non-profit organizations. Although admittedly not a dance aficionado, she enjoys all types of music and is probably happiest when she’s plugged into her mp3 player listening to whatever the mood dictates.