Normally I might post an image from Singin' in the Rain as we get closer to Christmas; for some inexplicable reason, it's one of my favorite holiday-season movies. However, I was instead moved to post something by news of the death on Thursday of Betty Comden, one of the film's co-writers. Comden and Adolph Green teamed up to write a number of stage musicals and films, such as On the Town, The Band Wagon and Bells are Ringing. Comden and Green also adapted the play Auntie Mame into the 1958 film -- another holiday favorite of mine. For Singin' in the Rain, Comden and Green were engaged to write a movie musical around a catalog of existing songs from the 1920s and 1930s by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown. A few original songs were later added as well to the 1952 movie, such as Donald O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh" number.
I think one reason why I like Singin' in the Rain so much is that it is well written, with clever dialogue and lots of amusing moments. The musical numbers are impressive, and of course everyone remembers Gene Kelly performing the title song. But I love all the details about the transition from the silent era to talkies. I'm particularly fond of Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont, the gorgeous silent-film star with the horrible speaking voice. The scene in which Hagen and Kelly are shooting a silent love scene and murmuring sweet nothings like "Why, you rattlesnake!" and "I'd like to break every bone in your body" is one of my favorites. I also like the opening sequence, shown above -- I recall reading that Comden and Green wrote three different opening scenes for Singin' in the Rain, and ended up incorporating elements from all of them in the final script.
A few years ago, I finally saw The Band Wagon, which Comden and Green adapted from their stage musical a year after Singin' in the Rain, and hoped for the same delightful combination of humor and music. It felt terribly flat and dull in comparison (and I know I'm in the minority on this opinion, so feel free to defend the film). I'm not fond of most 1950s musicals, but Singin' in the Rain is a glorious exception. I actually found two great photos from the film last night; perhaps I'll post the other one around Christmastime.