Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a popular silent film star with humble roots as a singer, dancer and stuntman. Don barely tolerates his vapid, shallow leading lady, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), though their studio, Monumental Pictures, links them romantically to increase their popularity. Lina herself is convinced they are in love, despite Don's protestations otherwise.
At the premiere of his newest film, The Royal Rascal, Don tells the gathered crowd an exaggerated version of his life story, including his motto, which is "Dignity. Always dignity". His words are humorously contradicted by flashbacks showing him taking on a wide range of menial and humiliating roles on stage and in film alongside his best friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor).
To escape from his fans after the premiere, Don jumps into a passing car driven by Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). She drops him off, but not before claiming to be a stage actress and sneering at his "undignified" accomplishments. Later, at a party, the head of Don's studio, R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell), shows a short demonstration of a Vitaphonetalking picture but his guests are unimpressed. To Don's amusement and Kathy's embarrassment, she pops out of a mock cake right in front of him as part of the entertainment; Kathy, it turns out, is a chorus girl. Furious at Don's teasing, she throws a real cake at him, only to hit Lina right in the face. Don is smitten with her, but she runs off into the night. Don searches for her for weeks after discovering she was fired, believing himself to be responsible, but Lina tells him while filming a love scene that she made sure Kathy lost her job as an act of revenge and jealousy. Later, Don finds Kathy working in another Monumental Pictures production and they apologize to each other. She confesses to having been a fan of Don all along and they begin to fall in love.
After a rival studio has an enormous hit with its first talking picture, 1927's The Jazz Singer, R.F. decides he has no choice but to convert the next Lockwood and Lamont film, The Dueling Cavalier, into a talkie. The production is beset with difficulties in capturing sound, but by far the worst problem is Lina's grating voice. An exasperated diction coach tries to teach her how to speak properly, but to no avail. Don also takes diction lessons (albeit with much better results). The Dueling Cavalier's test screening is a disaster; the actors' speaking is barely audible thanks to the awkward placing of the microphones, Don repeats the line "I love you" to Lina over and over, to the audience's derisive laughter, and in the middle of the film, the sound goes out of synchronization, with hilarious results.
After the premiere, Don, Kathy and Cosmo come up with the idea to turn The Dueling Cavalier into a musical called The Dancing Cavalier, complete with a modern musical number called "Broadway Melody". Don will be able to show off his natural singing and dancing talent, but they are stumped when they must think about what to do with Lina. Cosmo, inspired by a scene in "The Dueling Cavalier" where Lina's voice was out of sync, suggests they dub Lina's voice with Kathy's. They bring the idea to R.F., who goes ahead with it. When Lina finds out, she is infuriated. She becomes even angrier when she discovers that R.F. intends to give Kathy a screen credit and a big publicity promotion. Lina, after consulting lawyers, threatens to sue R.F. unless he cancels Kathy's buildup and orders her to continue working uncredited as Lina's voice. R.F. reluctantly agrees to her demands.
The premiere of The Dancing Cavalier is a tremendous success. When the audience clamors for Lina to sing live, Don, Cosmo, and R.F. improvise and get her to lip sync into the microphone while Kathy, hidden behind the stage curtain, sings into a second one. While Lina is "singing", Don, Cosmo and R.F. gleefully raise the curtain. When Cosmo replaces Kathy at the microphone, the sham becomes obvious. Embarrassed, Lina flees in humiliation. A distressed Kathy tries to run away as well, but not before Don proudly announces to the audience that she's "the real star of the film". The final shot shows Kathy and Don kissing in front of a billboard for their new film, Singin' in the Rain.
Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood. Although his performance in the song "Singin' in the Rain" is now considered iconic, Kelly was not the first choice for the role—Howard Keel was originally cast. However, Keel was replaced by Kelly as the screenwriters evolved the character from a "Western actor" to a "song-and-dance vaudeville" performer.
Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden. Early on in production, Judy Garland (shortly before her contract termination from MGM), Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell, Leslie Caron, and June Allyson were among the names thrown around for the role of the "ingenue." However, director Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly insisted that Debbie Reynolds always was first in their mind for the role. Although the film revolves around the idea that Kathy has to dub over for Lina's voice, in the scene where Kathy is dubbing a line of Lina's dialogue ("Our love will last 'til the stars turn cold"), Jean Hagen's normal voice is used. Reynolds herself was dubbed in "Would You?" and "You are My Lucky Star" by an uncredited Betty Noyes.
Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont. Judy Holliday was strongly considered for the role of Lina, until she suggested Hagen, who had been her understudy in the Broadway production of Born Yesterday. Fresh off her role in The Asphalt Jungle, Hagen read for the part for producer Arthur Freed and did a dead-on impression of Holliday's Billie Dawn character, which won her the role. Her character was based on the silent picture star Norma Talmadge who bombed during the transition to talkies.
Millard Mitchell as R.F. Simpson. The initials of the fictional head of Monumental Pictures are a reference to producer Freed. R.F. also uses one of Freed's favorite expressions when he says that he "cannot quite visualize it" and has to see it on film first, referring to the Broadway ballet sequence, a joke, since the audience has just seen it.
Cyd Charisse as Gene Kelly's dance partner in the "Broadway Melody" ballet.
Douglas Fowley as Roscoe Dexter, the director of Don and Lina's films.
Bobby Watson (uncredited) as diction coach during "Moses Supposes" number
Jimmy Thompson (uncredited) as the singer of "Beautiful Girl"
Mae Clarke (uncredited) as the hairdresser who puts the finishing touches on Lina Lamont's hairdo.
Singin' in the Rain was originally conceived by MGM producer Arthur Freed, the head of the "Freed Unit" responsible for turning out MGM's lavish musicals, as a vehicle for his catalog of songs written with Nacio Herb Brown for previous MGM musical films of the 1929-39 period. Screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green contributed lyrics to one new song.
All songs have lyrics by Freed and music by Brown, unless otherwise indicated. Some of the songs, such as "Broadway Rhythm", "Should I?", and most notably "Singin' in the Rain," were featured in numerous films. The films listed below mark the first time each song was presented on screen.
"Broadway Melody Ballet" composed of "The Broadway Melody" from The Broadway Melody (1929) and "Broadway Rhythm" from Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935) (music by Nacio Herb Brown and Lennie Hayton)
In an early draft of the script, the musical number "Singin' in the Rain" was to be sung by Reynolds, O'Connor, and Kelly on their way back from the flop preview of The Dueling Cavalier.
In addition, "You Were Meant For Me" was not included in that draft. Instead, the love song was supposed to be Gene Kelly's version of "All I Do is Dream of You", which would be sung after the party at R. F. Simpson's house, when Kelly chases after Reynolds. The song would have ended up at Kelly's house. The footage of this scene has been lost.
Reynolds' solo rendition of "You Are My Lucky Star" (to a billboard showing an image of Lockwood) was cut from the film, but has survived and is included on the original soundtrack and DVD version of the film.
Rita Moreno was originally to have sung "I Got a Feelin' You're Foolin'", but this ended up being part of the "Beautiful Girl" medley.
Gene Kelly dancing while singing the title song "Singin' in the Rain"
In the famous dance routine in which Gene Kelly sings the title song while twirling an umbrella, splashing through puddles and getting soaked to the skin, Kelly was sick with a 103 °F (39 °C) fever. The rain in the scene caused Kelly's wool suit to shrink during filming. A common myth is that Kelly managed to perform the entire song in one take, thanks to cameras placed at predetermined locations. However this was not the case as the filming of the sequence took place over 2–3 days. Another myth is that the rain was mixed with milk in order for the drops to show up on camera, but the shots were simply lit from the front.
Debbie Reynolds was not a dancer at the time she made Singin' in the Rain; her background was as a gymnast. Kelly apparently insulted her for her lack of dance experience, upsetting her. In a subsequent encounter when Fred Astaire was in the studio, he found Reynolds crying under a piano. Hearing what had happened, Astaire volunteered to help her with her dancing. Kelly later admitted that he had not been kind to Reynolds and was surprised that she was still willing to talk to him afterwards. After shooting the "Good Morning" routine, Reynolds' feet were bleeding. Years later, she was quoted as saying that "Singin' in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I ever had to do in my life."
Donald O'Connor had to be hospitalized after filming the "Make 'em Laugh" sequence. He smoked up to four packs of cigarettes a day.
Most of the costumes from this film were eventually acquired by Debbie Reynolds and housed in her massive collection of original film costumes, sets and props. Many of these items were sold at a 2011 auction in Hollywood. While most items were sold to private collectors, Donald O'Connor's green check "Fit As a Fiddle" suit and shoes were purchased by Costume World, Inc. and are now on permanent display at the Costume World Broadway Collection Museum in Pompano Beach, Florida.
According to MGM records, during the film's initial theatrical release it made $3,263,000 in the US and Canada and $2,367,000 internationally, earning the studio a profit of $666,000. It was the tenth highest grossing movie of the year in the US and Canada.
Donald O'Connor won a Golden Globe for this film. Betty Comden and Adolph Green received the Writers Guild of America for the best written American musical.
Singin' in the Rain has appeared twice on Sight and Sound's list of the ten best films of all time, in 1982 and 2002. Its position in 1982 was at number 4 on the critics list; on the 2002 critics' list it was listed as number 10 and it tied for 19 on the directors' list. The film has a rare 100 percent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 45 sources. In 2008, Singin' in the Rain was placed on Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time List, ranking at #8, the highest ranked G-rated movie on the list.
In 1989, Singin' in the Rain was among the first 25 films chosen for the newly established National Film Registry for films that are deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation.
The 40th Anniversary Edition VHS version released in 1992 includes a documentary, the original trailer, and Reynolds' solo rendition of "You Are My Lucky Star," which had been cut from the final film.
According to the audio commentary on the 2002 Special Edition DVD, the original negative was destroyed in a fire, but despite this, the film has been digitally restored for its DVD release. A Blu-ray edition was released in July 2012.
"Singin' in the Rain" is sung mockingly by Alex DeLarge, played by Malcolm McDowell, in the rape scene in Stanley Kubrick's film A Clockwork Orange (1971). The Gene Kelly version was played during the end credits. Gene Kelly was reportedly disgusted when it was used in the film and walked away from McDowell at a party.
In the Glee episode "The Substitute," Will Schuester and Mike Chang perform the "Make 'Em Laugh" song and dance routine as a duo (which was the hallucination of a sick Will). The cast also performs a mash-up of "Singin' in the Rain" and Rihanna's "Umbrella" at the end of the episode.
In the 1998 American remake of the film Godzilla, the main character Dr. Niko Tatopoulos sings "Singin' in the Rain".
A 2005 Volkswagen Golf GTI commercial features Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain" sequence, but with Kelly performing hip-hop dance moves and a remixed version of the song playing in the background.
In the 2003 film Shanghai Knights, Jackie Chan imitates Gene Kelly's dance moves (complete with umbrella) towards the end of a fight scene set in London, England. The original "Singing in the Rain" music plays over this sequence as a tribute.
On The Muppet Show, the Muppets want Gene Kelly to recreate "Singin' in the Rain" on a reconstructed set, though all he finally does is hum it as he crosses the stage.
In the animated cartoon show The Shoe People, the character Wellington sings the song. However it isn't raining he simply says "I know it's not raining really, but I can dream can't I?".
In Fringe after he is removed from the Observer Corps. September takes the name Donald O'Connor because Singin' in the Rain was the first movie he watched with Walter Bishop.
In the movie Silver Linings Playbook, Tiffany and Pat watch a clip of "Moses Supposes" and copy some of the dance moves for their routine.
In an episode of Sesame Street, Grover stars in a production of Singin' in the Rain, where the special effects are different forms of weather from rain such as snow or wind. When they finally get rain, Grover yells "Cut!" When asked why, Grover replies "I don't want to get my fur wet!".
In the episode of The MunstersDance With Me Herman, Herman Munster sings the first few bars of the title song Singin' in the Rain after which he falls over a couch.
^This scene pays homage to the original 1921 DeForest Phonofilm demonstration, featuring DeForest himself explaining the system.
^Comden 2002: This is a reference to a scene by John Gilbert in his first talkie.
^Betty Comden, Adolph Green (2002). The story Behind Singin' in the Rain: Now It Can be Told, reprint of the Singin' In the Rain screenplay introduction, originally published in 1972, included in the liner notes of the Music from the original motion picture soundtrack (deluxe edition) Singin' in the Rain double CD by Rhino Entertainment and Turner Classic Movies.
^Robert Osborne, TCM commentary, "Singing in the Rain."
^Earl J. Hess and Pratibha A. Dabholkar, Singin' in the Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2009), 145.
^George Feltenstein (2002). "Producer's Note," included in the liner notes of the "Music from the original motion picture soundtrack (deluxe edition) Singin' in the Rain" double CD by Rhino Entertainment and Turner Classic Movies