Singin’ in the Rain is the classic musical that brought you Gene Kelly’s infamous tap dancing routine on a sound stage and that really awkward morning song that’s in all those Viagra commercials. It’s safe to say that the movie is iconic.
The story follows Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor), and Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), three Hollywood artists working in the midst of its transition from making silent films to “talkies”. Lockwood is a silent film star who is in an artificial high profile relationship with the studio’s leading lady, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), a spoilt, seemingly stupid opportunist.
The core of the film takes place at Monumental Pictures, who, after much pressure from the public, decides to make their first talkie, a film called The Dueling Cavalier. It stars Lockwood and Lamont and after being screened by audiences, is laughed out of the theatre for poor dialogue and even worse acting.
Lockwood is a respected actor who has a say in the films that he’s a part of, Brown is promoted from lowly piano player to the studio’s foremost music director, and Selden is finally recognized by the public for her work. Lockwood is cocky, Brown is witty, and Selden is charming and just so darn cute, even when she’s yelling at Lockwood for being a talentless film star. It’s a conventional love story between Lockwood and Selden. I’m not going to lie—it’s lovely. She’s dainty and graceful and he’s a wonderful strong male lead. They’re beautiful to watch together and their love story is just so innocent.
What really stands out to me, now that I’ve watched it a hundred times, is Lina Lamont. She’s odd. She sounds peculiar and from the audience, you assume (at least I did anyway) that she’s nothing more than a spoiled, talentless diva. It isn’t until she’s in the studio head’s office, slamming a contract down on his desk and demanding Selden’s vocal services, that we see that she’s also cunning and cruel. “What do ya think I am? Dumb or something?” she asks the studio head. And the truth is, well, yeah. Lamont is a proper villain. She’s innocently evil.
But that’s why Singin’ in the Rain is a film of its time. Lamont would be praised by today’s audience. She would be seen as a woman who stood up for her right to be heard. She is continuously shushed and even dubbed over because she does not have the desirable sultry voice that three men, all in positions of power, prefer. And for a woman who is supposed to have the same star power as that of Lockwood, she is instead treated as an object cultivated to help sell movies designed by men.
Lamont is the worst, but her struggle is understandable, and her actions seem as frantic as they are cruel. That’s the beauty of her character—she’s a complicated woman, and Hagen’s performance is just so much fun to watch.