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Tremendous deluxe edition
on October 26, 2002
"Singin' In the Rain" has finally gotten the "special" treatment this masterpiece deserves. The new digital transfer is stunning-- both visual and audio. I've seen this film I don't know how many times in theatres, including several screenings in the original 3-strip Technicolor. This transfer, as with "The Wizard of OZ," is as close as you can get to seeing a 3-strip print in a theatre.
Many reviewers have complained about the commentary track and it is the low-point of this edition. So skip it, if you don't like it.
Instead, throw on the second disc, which is a goldmine. First, there is the excellent PBS documentary on the Arthur Freed Unit, "Musicals Glorious Musicals." This is an often revealing 90-minute film about the musical films Freed produced. Plenty of great excerpts, too. It tends to puffery, but not excessively.
Then there is a new documentary, "What A Glorious Feeling," on the making of "Singin' In the Rain." Watching both these documentaries, you don't need the commentary track. Most of it was lifted from these documentaries.
In addition, this supplementary disc includes the songs used in "Singin' In the Rain," as they first appeared in their original written for films and later films that used the songs again. Some of these are unintenionally funny today. But it is really a crash course in the history of movie musicals. My favorite is Eleanor Powell in the number that introduced "You Are My Lucky Star." A beautfully done, very '30's black-and-white number that builds into an all stops-out dream-dance sequence. (Were Americans ever this innocent?) Others include Bing Crosby wonderful introducing "Beautiful Girls," Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney introducing "Good Morning," Cliff Edwards (aka Ukele Ike, Jiminy Crickett) introducing "Singin' In the Rain" with what appears to be every star then under-contract to M-G-M in 1929, "Broadway Melody" in a tremendous number led by the irreplaceable Eleanor Powell and support from some of the best talent of the time including "eccentric dancer" Buddy Ebsen and the great singer Frances Langford--the best number by far in this retrospective. And there is another whole section of audio excerpts from the recording sessions.
In short, this is an incredible collection that any musical or film buff should treasure.
It is true, as one reviewer noted, that the "Broadway Melody" number in "Singin' In the Rain" is a flaw in the flow of the film. Pauline Kael pointed this out too. She considers the film a great one. For myself, I don't mind, the number is too damned well-conceived and entertaining. Again, thanks to being on DVD, you can jump to the next scene if you don't care to watch it. I've tried it and the film definitely runs smoother narratively. But I missed it, and played after the film.
If you love SITR, as I do, this is a must buy. If you're interested and have never seen it, rent it and decide for yourself.
Let's hope that Warner Brothers does a 50th anniversary edition of "Bandwagon" next year with a digital and audio refining that equals or surpasses this. And a better commentary track. Bet Scorssee would join in the commentary.
ONE LAST THING
"Singin' In the Rain" was not shot in widescreen, but in the only format used for studio pictures before the end of 1953. It was designed to be shown in 1.37:1, Which just about the ratio of most tv screens. YOU ARE NOT MISSING ANYTHING. I wish you young film buffs would educate yourselves about the history of film aspect ratios.
Also Michael Kidd had nothing whatsoever to do with the choregraphy in "Singin' In the Rain." He comments on it, but never claims he did any of it, for the simple reason he did none. He was probably in New York over-seeing his legendary choregraphy for the original stage production of "Guys and Dolls." Which is probably why he got the "Bandwagon" assignment a year after "Singin' In the Rain." He did all the choregraphy in "Bandwagon" and the following year, 1954, for "7 Brides For 7 Brothers."
Kelly and Donen worked in partnership on the choregraphy and direction "SITR." And it is really impossible now to determine who was responsible for what.