ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #24 Dames (1934)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My twenty-fourth review was for the 1934s classic Dames directed by Ray Enright and Busby Berkeley. Enjoy!

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Musicals from the 1930s are some of the most significant ones to see. Why? Because they initiated the genre into the world of cinema. The first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, was released in 1927, but the first all-talking, all singing picture was The Broadway Melody (1929), which won an Academy Award for Best Picture. Early Hollywood musicals were mainly backstage musicals, films about the creation of a musical review. A key figure of those films is Busby Berkeley, one of the most inventive choreographers in movie history and a Berkeley film nobody should miss is 1934’s Dames.

Dames creates opposition between the snobbish high society and the creative stage world. Millionaire Ezra Ounce (Hugh Herbert) believes in good American morals and visits his cousin Matilda Hemingway (ZaSu Pitts) and her husband Horace (Guy Kibbee) who lives in New-York City. Ezra has decided to will an important part of his fortune to the family, but he has to make sure they are morally good according to his principles.

Their daughter Barbara (Ruby Keeler) isn’t much thrilled by the idea as cousin Ezra decides to disinherit her love interest and 13th cousin Jimmy Higgens (Dick Powell). Ezra doesn’t approve of Higgens’ “sinful” artistic career. Ruby, to her parent’s despair, also wishes to have a career in the musical world as a dancer. Meanwhile, Horace has to deal with Mabel (Joan Blondell), a showgirl, who might endanger his status as a good moral man.

As we are not immediately introduced to Berkeley’s choreography or a song at the beginning of the film, what first grabs our attention is its hilarity. Dames isn’t only a musical, it’s a musical comedy. The film contains a bunch of dynamic comic situations that keep the spectator’s interest, such as the first scene where Horace goes to meet Ezra in his office for an appointment. He passes through several people and security measures to finally get to him. We then see during his last appointment he’s stayed only a few minutes.

Comedies in the ’30s have a touch of spontaneous humor that makes the film pleasant to watch, no matter what.

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In the same vein, the characters in Dames are well-balanced and portrayed in a way to amuse us. Some are unwittingly funny and others are on purpose which creates an interesting opposition and the serious aspects of the film are not to be taken to the first degree. As a matter of fact, they lose all credibility, in a good way.

The force of Dames‘ casting mainly resides in the supporting actors. While Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell are lovely together and easily win our sympathy, the film wouldn’t have been the same without ZaSu Pitts, Guy Kibbee, Joan Blondell, Hugh Herbert and Arthur Vinton, who plays cousin Ezra’s bodyguard. He’s always sleeping, and more than ready to fire his gun (never on someone) if he is called to duty. He is unforgettable and with his height and clumsy manners he remains one of the most underappreciated performers of the lot.

ZaSu Pitts, the queen of classic character actresses, chooses the perfect mannerisms to suit her character, a woman who worries too much. Joan Blondell, with her “pep” and self-assurance, is the perfect pre-Code figure. Guy Kibbee knows how to choose the right facial expressions and tone, most of the time a confused one, to match his character as a man who deals with several problems. Finally, Hugh Herbert, despite playing a serious character, ends up being a clown, initiated by unstoppable hiccups. It’s frankly hard to say who is Dames’ best character because they all have their own distinct personality and the actors who portray them do a highly convincing job.

Dames‘ songs are lovely and, being part of a single show, they fit well together, but might not be the most memorable ones of the 1930s. Dames’ real artistic creativity resides in Busby Berkeley’s choreographies, the most impressive being the one created for the songs “I Only Have Eyes for You” and the title number. The choreographer creates spectacular kaleidoscopes with the dancers, filmed in a bird’s eyes point of view, create a better visual effect. Each part of a musical number is introduced in a way that leaves us speechless.

The illusions are amazing and because of that Dames is a film full of surprises. Try to see Dames sequence on a big screen. The choreography is a real masterpiece and should be praised for their glamour, due to the beautiful, luminous faces of the dancers, their radiant smiles, and beautiful eyes, as well as Orry-Kelly’s lightweight costumes.

Dames is a film that doesn’t need to be watched, but needs to be lived. Let yourself be entertained by the numerous gags and mesmerized by its visual musicality.

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ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #23: The Woman in the Window (1944)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My twenty-third review was for the 1944s classic The Woman in the Window directed by Fritz Lang. Enjoy!

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The work of author-director Fritz Lang has an established notoriety among cinephiles, particularly for his innovative masterpieces, Metropolis and M. One most not forget that the German director also had an important career in the United States in the ’40s and ’50s, and his American films are now considered Hollywood classics, among them his collaborations with Joan Bennett. These films show Bennett in different kinds of essences, but they all complete each other. Where does a beginner start? The Woman in the Window is a good option, with all the perfect ingredients of their collaborations added into a film noir aesthetic and starring two other Lang actors: Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea.

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The Woman in the Window was released in 1944, based on the novel Once off Guard by J. H. Wallis. The main character is criminology professor Richard Wanley (Robinson) who has always been fascinated by the portrait of a beautiful young lady exposed in a storefront window. One evening, after spending time with his friends at the club, he goes to observe the portrait again and is surprised by the lady herself (Joan Bennett). They have a drink and the lady, whose name is Alice Reed, takes him to her home to show him other sketches by the painter who made her portrait.

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While they are casually talking, Alice’s rich lover, known by her as Frank Howard (Arthur Loft), interrupts and is not happy to see her in the company of another man. Blind with jealousy, he fights with Wanley and in self-defense Wanley kills Howard with a pair of scissors. Instead of calling the police, Richard decides to hide the body in a forest. He and Alice make sure no detail is left to let the police. The following day, Richard’s friend district attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey) shares with him information about the mysterious disappearance of a rich man by the name of Claude Mazard. Richard quickly makes the connection and understands that Claude Mazard and Frank Howard are the same person. The body is soon found by a boy scout and the investigation begins. The two “partners in crimes”, Richard and Alice, have to hold their breath and face this problematic situation the best they can.

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The Woman in the Window has one of the most mysterious and beautiful character entrances in classic film history. While Richard observes Alice Reed’s portrait, her face slowly begins to appear in the window’s reflection, mesmerizing Richard and the audience. Joan Bennett has this mysterious dark look (and voice) that make her perfectly suitable for Fritz Lang’s noirs. We never truly say if Alice Reed is good or bad, and this ambiguity is created by the enigmatic aura around her. She can choose whether to remain Richard’s partner in crime or let him down.

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After Alice’s unforgettable entrance, she explains to Richard how she likes to observe people who admire her portrait:

Alice Reed: Well, there are two general reactions. One is a kind of solemn stare for the painting.

Richard Wanley: And the other?

Alice Reed: The other is a long, low whistle.

Richard Wanley: What was mine?

Alice Reed: I’m not sure. But I suspect that in another moment or two you might have given a long, low, solemn whistle.

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Edward G. Robinson is shown in a different light compared to his roles in early gangster films. His role is similar to the one in Scarlet Street: an ordinary man involved in a lot of complications. This proves his versatility and that the man could play sensible characters. There is a lot of wisdom in Richard despite all that happens to him and he knows how to keep cool.

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The work of cinematographer Milton R. Krasner on The Woman in the Window is worth praising. Creating interesting nightlife scenes is often expected of film noirs and this film isn’t an exception. Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson perfectly fit in this ambiance. The interior and daytime scenes are filmed with a lot of class and create an interesting contrast between the darkness of the night and the clarity of day. Krasner also worked on Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street and many other notorious classics.

 

Fashion fans will also be delighted by the work of Muriel King, designer of Joan Bennett’s gowns. All are faithful to the high society fashion of the ’40s and, once again, add a lot of visual beauty to the film. King manages to accentuate Joan’s beauty with both dark and light fabrics.

 

The Woman in the Window is a perfect film for those who love to see mysteries being solved. It remains fascinating, but also for the way the course of events themselves is developed. The spectator is kept at the edge of his seat from beginning till end. Fritz Lang was a master of noir, as he also proved with The Blue Gardenia in 1953 and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt in 1956.

All of Bennett and Lang’s films are one of a kind and are all worth watching, but The Woman in the Window is a favorite. Will it be the case for you?

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ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #22: Blackboard Jungle (1955)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My twenty-second review was for the 1955s classic Blackboard Jungle directed by Richard Brooks. Enjoy!

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The ’50s were marked by the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll, a musical genre that scandalized elders and delighted youngsters. In the world of cinema, Blackboard Jungle, a Richard Brooks picture released in 1955, played an important role in this musical history, becoming the first film to feature rock ‘n’ roll music with the hit “Rock around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets. The ’50s are also often considered the golden age of teen movies and though many mention Rebel without A Cause or The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle is one you shouldn’t neglect.

Blackboard Jungle takes place at North Manual Trades High School in a poor New York neighborhood. Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford) is the new English teacher. He has been told how most of the students are hard to handle and that most of them are hopeless cases. But, in Richard’s opinion, something can be done. There must be a way to make them want to learn while being entertained. The task won’t be an easy one. Richard has to face tough behaviors and rebellion, especially from Artie West (Vic Morrow). He finds an ally in Gregory Miller (Sidney Poitier), but has a hard time figuring if he is a recommendable student or not.

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These are the main lines of Blackboard Jungle, but more is going on, including problems in Richard and his wife Anne’s (Anne Francis) personal life, caused by the problematic school students.

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Blackboard Jungle is based on a novel by Evan Hunter which was based on Hunter’s own experiences as a schoolteacher in a tough school of the South Bronx.

For those unfamiliar with the work of underrated actor Glenn Ford, Blackboard Jungle is a good one to start with. Ford plays a sensible man who provides a range of emotions well chosen according to how the story evolves. When he arrives at the school, it’s easy to notice he’s one coming there to do good. He never overacts and shares a contagious and beautiful complicity with the charming Anne Francis who plays his wife, Anne.

The film is also an occasion to discover Sidney Poitier’s earliest film role. He hadn’t won his Oscar yet, but his thoughtful performance in Blackboard Jungle is proof he was on the right track. It is important to mention Poitier was one of the first African-American actors given important and significant roles. Among the other young actors in this film Vic Morrow, who plays Arnie West, does a credible and convincing job as the toughest student of Dadier’s group. Steve McQueen was considered for the role, but Morrow nailed the audition.

Let’s not forget Louis Calhern, who plays Jim Murdock, the history teacher. Calhern steals the show by simply being there. What an incredible actor he was! Richard Dadier is not the only new teacher at North Manual Trades High School. Joshua Edwards is the new mathematics teacher brilliantly played by Richard Kiley. Without revealing too much, Josh breaks our hearts. And finally, Lois Hammond is played by the beautiful Margaret Hayes. Even if her character has a crush on a married man (Dadier), Hayes manages to retain all the class she needs.

Director Richard Brooks was a prolific movie director and an excellent movie writer. Brooks wrote the screenplays of all his films, with a few exceptions. For Blackboard Jungle, he received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay but lost it to Paddy Chayefsky for Marty. Brooks gives the best tone to the film through his adaptation and knew how to make the characters and story unfold in the right way.

Despite being a brilliant film, on its release Blackboard Jungle brought a lot of complications. To include a rock ‘n’ roll song in its opening and ending credits attracted the teens, but some screenings were victims of vandalism. We notice that “Rock around the Clock” is never fully heard and that’s mostly due to the fact that, in the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll was considered a bad influence (especially on youngsters).

Luckily, Blackboard Jungle is best remembered for the good values it presents. It’s a film that proves every human can change for the better and every human can help if he or she wants to. The film should also be praised for its anti-racism message embodied by Richard (Glenn Ford), Gregory (Sidney Poitier) and the school principal, Mr. Warneke (John Hoyt), perceived in some crucial dialogue. For example:

Richard Dadier: Now, you pick up that magazine, Belazi. Pick it up! I wanna get one thing very clear in this classroom. There’s not gonna be any name calling here. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Now you understand that? All of ya!

Pete V. Morales: I was just kidding.

Richard Dadier: Yeah, I know you’re just kidding. That’s how things start. Like a street fight. Somebody pushes somebody in fun. Somebody pushes back, and soon you got a street fight with no kidding. That’s the same way with name-calling. All right, West, look. You’re of Irish decent. So is Murphy over there. You call him a Mick. He calls you a Mick. Suppose Miller called you a Mick. Is that all right?

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For those who want to see a classic that had important cultural impact, Blackboard Jungle is a good option. It remains a timeless masterpiece as such situations still happen in today’s schools. There is much more to say, but to reveal too much could spoil the future viewers’ experience.
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ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #20: Little Women (1933)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My twenty-first review was for the 1933s classic Little Women directed by George Cukor. Enjoy!

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Christmas is waiting impatiently at the door, which means hot chocolate, cookies and, of course, Christmas movies made to be watched with friends and family. The movies of this holiday season make us smile and put us in the holiday spirit. Many excellent Christmas films have been made through the ages, but my choice is George Cukor’s Little Women. It might not be the most “Chrismasy” of them all, but it represents the holiday perfectly by warming our hearts.

Little Women takes place in New England during the Civil War. It tells the times, the joys, the happiness, the friendship and the loves of the March sisters: Meg (Frances Dee): the eldest sibling and the refined one; Josephine or “Jo” (Katharine Hepburn): the tomboy whose dream is to be a celebrated writer; the timid Beth (Jean Parker): a sensible piano player; and the coquettish Amy (Joan Bennett): the youngest of them all and an artist. They live with their kind mother “Marmee” (Spring Byington) and manage to defy their solitude by being with each other. The film is mostly focused on Jo, who becomes good friends with their neighbor Theodore “Laurie” Laurence (Douglass Montgomery).

This version of Little Women, released in 1933, was the third adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel of the same name after the silent versions of 1917 and 1918. Little Women was well received upon release, both financially and critically and was nominated at the 1934 Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, winning the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

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This film was released at the perfect moment in 1933 since the United States was suffering from the Great Depression and movies like Gold Diggers of 1933 or Baby Face depicted this hard period of history in different ways. Little Women is also about a major event in the history of the USA, the American Civil War, but the film comforts its viewers. The story is full of life and makes us cry, yes, but, it also makes us smile. Little Women was made to lighten people’s hearts and gives them hope that life can be good though it’s simple. The four sisters are a delight to watch; they’re not just sisters, but also best friends. Just like people during the Great Depression the Marches aren’t rich, but they don’t need a big fortune to have a good time: friendship and family are enough for them.

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Little Women is a story about the power of generosity, first proved to us in the Christmas scene when the four girls decide to use the money Aunt March gives them as a gift to buy a present for their mother. When Christmas Day comes they decide to give their delicious breakfast as a present to a poor family who live in miserable conditions. Even though this is difficult, especially for poor Beth who salivates at the view of the popovers, they only feel better after their good actions. It’s a real life lesson for all of us.

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George Cukor does an amazing job transposing Louisa May Alcott’s characters to the screen, and their respective actors give them justice. There couldn’t be a better choice than Cukor to direct this cast. He was excellent at directing “ladies pictures” and gives them a vivid aura and strong personalities.

All the stars are excellent and deserve accolades. Katharine Hepburn stars her second film here and what a performance! Dynamic, touching, funny, the role is perfect for her. Blonde Joan Bennett proves her versatility as Amy March, a role different from the ones she later played in Fritz Lang’s films noir. Frances Dee is elegance itself as Meg March. Jean Parker is the most touching one of the lot as Beth. Spring Bryington, who plays Marmee, gives a wise performance, full of warmth. Douglass Montgomery as Laurie makes a perfect duo with Hepburn and his sense of humor is contagious. Paul Lukas makes an appearance late in the film, but his presence is much appreciated. Edna May Oliver, John Davis Lodge and Henry Stephenson have smaller roles, but they’re well chosen and remain as unforgettable as the rest.

Little Women is also much visually stunning due to the snowy landscapes and 19th-century New England architecture. Walter Plunkett’s costumes are also important to the film. (He did the costumes for Singin’ in the Rain and Gone With the Wind, another film set during the American Civil War.) For one of her dresses, Katharine Hepburn asked Plunkett to copy a dress her maternal grandmother was wearing in an old picture. Walter Plunkett also had to rapidly create a series of costumes that would hide Joan Bennett’s pregnancy at the time she was shooting.

The devotion and passion of the characters, especially Jo’s, makes you want to get up and accomplish something with your life. George Cukor’s classic is the perfect feel-good movie to watch during Christmas. It makes you realize that the most important thing during this holiday aren’t gifts, but your friends and your family. Masterpieces like Little Women are here to remind us of that.

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ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #20: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My twenthieth review was for the 1952s classic Singin’ in the Rain directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. Enjoy!

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This month, I’ll explore the world of the musical, a movie genre too often underestimated by the people of the Y generation. Singin’ in the Rain is the kind of movie that even people who normally don’t like musicals can enjoy! There’s something magical about this film and it’s through the combination of its many positive points.

Singin’ in the Rain is a glorious tribute to the beginning of talking pictures. It starts in 1927 with the premiere of The Royal Rascal, a silent picture produced by Monumental Pictures, starring the two big Hollywood stars of the day, Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). On his way to the after party, Don is attacked by a bunch of fans and manages to run away. He jumps in the car of a young lady, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), who snubs his movie-acting career claiming that theatre is better and that she is a stage actress herself. At the party, Kathy pops out of a giant cake, revealing that she is in fact just a dancer.

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The same evening, a talking picture is shown to the guests at the party. This is something completely knew and the people don’t believe in it. But The Jazz Singer, the first talking picture, is a big hit. Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont’s next film, The Duelling Cavalier, is meant to be a silent picture, but due to the competition created by The Jazz Singer, producer R.F. Simpson decides to turn it into a talkie. The result is a catastrophe, mainly due to Lina Lamont’s aggressive tone of voice. After the premiere, Don, Kathy and Don’s musician friend Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) find the solution: turn it into a musical! Cosmo also has the idea to use Kathy’s beautiful voice instead of Lina’s.

Singin’ in the Rain is best known for its title musical number. Gene Kelly sings about the “glorious feeling” under a torrential rain. But Singin’ in the Rain contains a bunch of other colorful musical numbers such as “Moses Supposes,” “Good Morning” and “The Broadway Melody Ballet.” The musical numbers are a spectacle for our eyes and ears, creating a contagious joy that makes us want to tap dance! The songs weren’t actually originally composed for the film. The majority were picked from previous movies produced by MGM. For example, “Singin’ in the Rain” song can originally be heard in The Hollywood Revue of 1929. “Good Morning” was first sung by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in Babes in Arms. The original versions of “Moses Suppose” and “Make ‘Em Laugh” also appeared in other films, although “Make ‘Em Laugh” is known for having a close resemblance to Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown” from the musical The Pirate (also starring Gene Kelly). Original or not, the songs are a delight, the musical arrangements are perfect and it’s a rich variety of music and lyrics.

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To this is added the incredible tap dance numbers by Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. One of the most impressive tap dance moments is “Moses Supposes” with Kelly and O’Connor. And how can we forget Cyd Charisse’s dancing cameo? Well known for her long legs, Charisse creates an unforgettable visual spectacle opposite Kelly. One of the best moments of the “Broadway Melody Ballet” is her poetic and angelic dancing as a long white veil trails behind her.

Apart from its unforgettable musical numbers, Singin’ in the Rain is best remembered for the strong variety of its characters. Gene Kelly couldn’t be more credible as Don Lockwood. He has the look, the charisma, the voice, and the perfect feet for such a role! Debbie Reynolds is adorable and charming as Kathy, a young girl who makes us think of a doll. Her smile is infectious. Donald O’Connor is a favorite as the sympathetic Cosmo Brown. Cosmo is the kind of person you want to be friends with. He is hilarious and the film wouldn’t be the same without him. Jean Hagen deserved her Oscar nomination because she is perfect as Lina Lamont. How can we forget that voice! And those words! Millard Mitchell has the perfect shape and attitude to play a film producer and Douglas Fowley is a wonderful discovery as the movie director. The poor guy is always on edge!

Singin’ in the Rain remains a fantastic picture for the evolution of its story. It shows us the musical in a perfectly entertaining and original way. However, that’s not exactly how it happened in real life, but it remains a rather sympathetic and amusing way to present it. The screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green contains a variety of memorable quotes which make the film one of the funniest movies of the 20th-century. There are too many to recount them now would fill the whole review! The best solution is to watch the movie!

Singin’ in the Rain has to be praised for the magnificent costumes created by Walter Plunkett (best remembered for his creations on Gone With the Wind). They seem perfectly suited to the fashion of the late ’20s and add pep to the film’s visual dimensions.

Singin’ in the Rain is a Technicolor marvel that’s utterly timeless. It is, with no doubt, a classic appreciated by all generations. This feel good movie will make you want to watch more musicals and do a time travel to the golden days of classic Hollywood!

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