Arts and Culture Film

Singing in the Rain’s Philosophy on the Falsities of Hollywood

Singing in the Rain is a musical joyride that dazzles the eye and astonishes the ears. From its catchy tunes to its endearing story, it has remained a classic well beyond its original satirical timeline. Its lessons remain timeless as well, relating to modern Hollywood just as much, if not more, than the Hollywood of its origin. The unique format of the movie allows it to poke fun at the Hollywood of the past, present, and now the future.  It laughs at celebrities and their hyper stylized lives, while also commenting on the similar lack of honesty in the production of the movies they inhabit.  So in an already self reflective musical, the different aspects of characterization and production have come together to create a self aware criticism of Hollywood that uses its unique characters and platform to provide a sly commentary on the lack of integrity and realism in show business; all while managing to stay thoroughly entertaining and upbeat.

Musicals are hardly the first genre to look at for realism, with their over the top performances and spontaneous bursts of song. But in between Singin’ in the Rain’s musical triumphs, we catch a few glimpses of the rougher sides of Hollywood life. The first instance of this is right after the movie’s opening number, where the main characters sing the title song together in appropriately chosen raincoats. Our star, Don Lockwood, (played by Director Gene Kelly) is applauded by people as he talks to a reporter asking him questions about his start in show business. Lockwood recounts his marvelous start, talking about his “rigorous musical training” and his glorious time being brought up in a world surrounded by success. Throughout this story, Lockwood frequently talks about the motto his parents brought him up on: “Dignity, Always Dignity.” (Singin’ in the Rain, Kelly). This character introduction seems all well and good as it is, but every time Lockwood recounts a specific moment we see a flashback to a not-so-glamorous start in the movie business, filled with dangerous stunts and brief vaudeville gigs. And so a simple introduction to the movie’s main character quickly turns into a commentary on the lack of realism in Hollywood. Lockwood’s motto “Dignity, Always Dignity” turns from a genuine declaration into something of a joke, just as the flashbacks reduce Lockwood’s seemingly monumental rise to fame into something intentionally comical. But the general audience does not think less of Lockwood for lying to the public. Instead, viewers may find this sly commentary quite endearing. Occasionally Lockwood will look directly at the camera with his over-the-top smile as if to say “Hey, look at how ridiculous all of this is, isn’t showbusiness crazy?” And as an audience member, we understand. The over-the-top crowd with their bulging eyes and screams of amazement makes us feel more grounded by contrast, and our inside knowledge of Lockwood’s real career shows us the lack of authenticity in Hollywood, while also making him a more personable main character. We know that Hollywood has glamourized his rise to fame, but we also know that he will not hide the truth from us, the real audience. Quality is not sacrificed for commentary, and both synergize to create a strong opening into an equally strong movie.

Looking past the main commotion over Lockwood, there are a few more proverbial winks to the camera that say a lot about movie stars as they are seen through the media, and how unfortunately, talent is sometimes second to appearance. One of the costars and eventually the villain of the film, Lina Lamont, (played by Jean Hagen) makes an appearance during the introduction scene as well. However, her introduction was more of a visual one, as opposed to the narrative intro Lockwood was given. Her first few scenes don’t even have lines, as she nods along without much commentary. This continues until it becomes almost annoyingly obvious, with Lockwood cutting her off before she can speak. Eventually, the curtain is pulled back as Cosmo and the producers of the movie compliment her appearance, while she complains, saying, in a high-pitched warble, “Can’t a girl get a word in edgewise? After all they’re my public too!” (Singin’ in the Rain, Kelly). She is then hushed once again as one of the producers explains that the studio has to convince the public that Lamont has a voice to match her wonderful appearance. Lamont is a character that embodies the true spirit of Hollywood, a celebrity with glamorous looks and nothing behind them. It is no wonder that at the end of the movie she is the one trying to keep the curtain from being pulled, as she tries to keep up her marvelous facade, despite the changing culture of cinema. But this is not the end of Singing in the Rain’s veiled commentary. Kathy Selden (played by Debbie Reynolds), is the antithesis to Lamont’s character. She values talent and substance over looks and style, becoming the movie’s heroine to complement Lockwood. Already the film is supporting the people who value the genuine, talent-based, qualities of film and villainizing the ones who value the more shallow aspects. Lockwood brings his hard work and dedication, while Selden brings the heart and raw singing talent. Her singing is one of the movie’s most notable plot points, as it shows the true talent that Hollywood should be promoting. Yet in the movie, she starts out not as a movie star or celebrity singer but as a “Coconut Grove” dancer, which is ironically a profession also based on looks rather than pure talent, which goes against everything Selden stands for. Selden’s character is like the musical’s bid for a more genuine Hollywood, where substance isn’t cast aside in favor of style. 

But the film’s meta take on Hollywood culture and its values does not stop there. Stepping outside of the film, we can see some potentially unintended, yet surprisingly self reflective, commentary on honesty within cinema. Kathy Selden, as we all know, is played by Debbie Reynolds, who was a great star of the screen during the 1950s and onwards. But her voice isn’t the one who dubs over Lina Lamant’s in the musical. In fact, the actual singer, Betty Noyes, is unjustly uncredited in the film. Furthermore, for the one instance in which Kathy Selden dubs over Lina Lamont’s normal voice, Jean Hagen’s original voice is used because Reynold’s thin and youthful voice sounded too similar to Lina Lamont’s fake one. (Debbie – My Life, Reynolds).  But rather than hurt the film’s criticism of a lack of authenticity in cinema, these production details show how overbearing and inescapable the power of deceit is within show business. Lina Lamont is vilified by her fake voice and yet Kathy Selden is praised for yet another fake voice. This just goes to show that even behind the scenes, Singing in the Rain contains lessons on the hypocrisy and injustice of Hollywood. 

Another aspect of this debate is Cosmo Brown, played by Donald O’ Connor. Cosmo is perhaps the most useful of the film’s characters, acting as both the comedic relief and the one most responsible for plot development. In a seemingly intentional fashion Cosmo acts as the man behind the camera, creating the narrative and facilitating many musical numbers that happen throughout the movie. He isn’t seen as a celebrity, and is even cast aside by the public, as the same crowd that excitedly cheered for Lockwood begrudgingly clapped for Cosmo in the opening scene. Cosmo embodies the unsung celebrities of show business, the people who work just as hard as the stars on screen but are never cheered for. And funnily enough Cosmo seems to be the only one who doesn’t mind not being in the spotlight. At some point or another all of the other characters seek the limelight in some way, but Cosmo stays constant, focused on making his friends laugh and prosper rather than seeking his own fame. From his over the top slapstick antics in “Make Them Laugh” to his playful performance with Lockwood in “Moses Supposes” he is always there to bring joy to a bleak situation. Perhaps this is just the nature of his character, or instead, this is another indirect message from the musical, telling the audience that fame doesn’t mean happiness, and that the happiest ones do not seek fame, and instead focus on bringing their joy to others. 

Overall, Singing in the Rain does what few films have achieved. It brings joy and laughter, as well as suspense and light conflict. It manages to dazzle the eyes and ears of the audience while making unique and interesting comments on the state of American cinema. Each character manages to make a case for and against Hollywood culture, making Singing in the Rain appear both self aware and blissfully ignorant. Its dubbing trickery helps to more adequately facilitate the narrative, and its now famous characters show us that fame doesn’t equate to happiness. It provides us with a rare glimpse behind the camera explained to us by the actions of the movie’s characters. All of this is balanced by an amazing soundtrack and a light, fun tone that makes it as accessible as it is complex. 


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Reynolds, Debbie, and David Patrick Columbia. Debbie–My Life. Pocket Books, 1989. Open WorldCat,

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