SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952)
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Behind the Camera on SINGIN' IN THE RAIN
For the dream segment within the "Broadway Ballet" sequence, Gene Kelly choreographed a scarf dance, using an enormous fifty-foot veil of white China silk attached to Cyd Charisse's costume. A strong wind was created using airplane motors but Cyd Charisse could hardly stay on her feet because of the pressure of the wind. The "Broadway Ballet" sequence took a month to rehearse, two weeks to shoot, and cost $600,000, almost a fifth of the overall budget.
One crucial ingredient needed to guarantee the success of Singin' in the Rain was the right cinematographer. John Alton, who had won an Oscar for his color photography on An American in Paris (1951), had been assigned to the picture, but Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen soon had him replaced with Harold Rosson, who had worked with Kelly and Donen in On the Town (1949). Rosson's lighting and mobile camera are very evident in the "Singin' in the Rain" number. The title song was shot out of doors on one of the permanent streets built on the studio backlot - the East Side Street. The area was blacked out with tarpaulins (rather than shooting "day-for-night") and had to be lit from behind so that the rain was visible to the camera but without the carbon arc lights reflecting in the shop windows. Milk was added to the water to make it more visible to the camera. A similar method was used by Akira Kurosawa for the opening and closing sequences in Rashomon (1950).
The "Make 'em Laugh" sequence was created because Gene Kelly felt that Donald O'Connor needed a solo number. As O'Connor noted in an interview, "Gene didn't have a clue as to the kind of number it was meant to be." The two of them brainstormed ideas in the rehearsal room, and came up with a compendium of gags and "shtick" that O'Connor had done for years, some of which he had performed in vaudeville. O'Connor recalled, "Every time I got a new idea or remembered something that had worked well for me in the past, Gene wrote it down and, bit by bit, the entire number was constructed." The real highpoint - the scene where O'Connor runs up a wall and completes a somersault - was one that O'Connor had performed years before in vaudeville. To give himself confidence for the sequence, O'Connor invited his brother over to help him rehearse the stunt with a rope.
Debbie Reynolds had to train rigorously for her role so she could keep up with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. This meant mastering the art of tap dancing and other complicated steps. After they finished the "Good Morning" number, Reynolds had to be carried to her dressing room because she had burst some blood vessels in her feet. Reynolds later stated that she "learned a lot from (Kelly). He is a perfectionist and a disciplinarian - the most exciting director I've ever worked for. And he has a good temper. Every so often he would yell at me and make me cry. But it took a lot of patience for him to work with someone who had never danced before. It's amazing that I could keep up with him and Donald O'Connor." Kelly later commented on her work, "Fortunately, Debbie was strong as an ox...also she was a great copyist, and she could pick up the most complicated routine without too much difficulty...at the university of hard work and pain." But despite her hard work on the "Good Morning" number, Kelly decided that someone should dub her tap sounds, so he went into a dubbing room to dub the sound of her feet as well as his own.
By Scott McGee