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The title tune of Singin' in the Rain (1952), sung and danced so joyously by Gene Kelly in that classic musical, actually became an MGM "signature" song courtesy of the early talkie The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929). The Arthur Freed/Herb Nacio Brown song was introduced by Cliff Edwards in the latter movie and became its leitmotif. In the film's big production number it is reprised by a chorus of stars in rain slickers. "Singin' in the Rain" would also be performed by Jimmy Durante in Speak Easily (1932), Judy Garland in Little Nellie Kelly (1940) and Malcolm MacDowell in A Clockwork Orange (1971).
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 was the first movie of its kind, similar to the stage extravaganzas of Florenz Ziegfeld and George White. Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, the movie lost to The Broadway Melody (1929), another MGM production to which it is very similar, except that Hollywood Revue has no plotline to connect its skits and songs. The movie was a tremendous hit with both audiences and critics, with the New York Times predicting that such entertaining films would seriously hamper the attendance of live theater.
Almost every big MGM star appears in Hollywood Revue with the notable exception of Greta Garbo, whose contract stipulated that she could only be starred alone in a film or co-starred with a male player. Joan Crawford, in her singing debut, warbles "Got a Feelin' for You" and performs a jazz dance. "Tommy Atkins on Parade" is performed by Marion Davies and a chorus. To scene-stealing effect, Marie Dressler does a bit called "For I'm the Queen" and forms a trio with Polly Moran and Bessie Love to perform "Marie, Polly and Bess." Anita Page sings "You Were Meant for Me."
Acting as emcees of the film are Jack Benny and Conrad Nagel. Since Benny came from vaudeville and Nagel was a movie matinee idol, several of their jokes revolve around the difference between stage performers and film actors. Topical gags include those kidding Prohibition and the advent of sound in the movies. Other comedy routines feature Laurel and Hardy as bumbling magicians and Buster Keaton as a harem girl in a burlesque ballet. In a sequence filmed in Technicolor, John Gilbert and Norma Shearer offer a "slang" version of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, with Lionel Barrymore acting as their director.
Two other segments also are in color: the "Singin' in the Rain" finale and a "Technicolor Ballet." During the latter number, some theaters arranged for the smell of orange blossoms to waft through the audience. Choreographer Sammy Lee, anticipating the work of Busby Berkeley by a few years, created dance routines for the film that were devised to be photographed from overhead.
Producer: Harry Rapf
Director: Charles Reisner
Screenplay: Al Boasberg, Robert E. Hopkins
Cinematography: John Arnold, Max Fabian, Irving Reis
Set Decoration: Cedric Gibbons, Richard Day
Costume Design: David Cox
Original Music: Nacio Herb Brown
Editing: William S. Gray
Principal Cast: Jack Benny (Emcee), Conrad Nagel (Emcee), Ann Dvorak (Chorus Girl); Specialties by Nils Asther, Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Marie Dressler, Cliff Edwards, John Gilbert, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Buster Keaton, Bessie Love, Anita Page, Norma Shearer.
BW & C-119m.
by Roger Fristoe