Singing in the Rain in Seattle

Singing in the Rain in Seattle

I may have been beginning my junior year in college, but I was probably at the post graduate level for viewing films, all thanks to the Harvard Exit.

Around town the latest features were:

The French Connection – still racing down the suburban screens after opening the year before

The Godfather – packing them in at the 7th Avenue

Deliverance – floating down the river at the Music Box

Superfly – jiving at the Town

Ground Star Conspiracy – at my dad’s theater the Renton Village Cinema (bet you’ve never seen nor even heard about that one)

And as I mentioned last time, I was tearing tickets at the Cinerama for Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask.”

My girl friend and I did see five of the six listed above, but we were more interested in films of an older vintage. Films that were in good supply at Seattle’s premier revival house, all (or almost all) in glorious black and white.

It was at this time that we caught up with the film that beat out not only The Maltese Falcon but also Citizen Kane for the Best Picture Oscar for 1942. That film was John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley. I must say that I think Kane was robbed, but I also can see why Valley won. Both had stunning cinematography and magnificent ensemble casts. (And yes, I do love Ford’s films very much). Obviously in the mind of the voters, one just razzled while the other dazzled.

We took in a comedy double bill of Duck Soup and Horsefeathers, following the serious drama of Valley. Cinematography was not the distinctive for the Marx Brothers films. The sparkle came from the antics and patter of the madcap quartet. It was a good portent, for now I was anticipating catching the brothers (pared down to a trio) in A Night at the Opera. I say that I was anticipating it, not so much Karen, whose taste in comedy runs along different lines. Hurrah for Rufus T. Firefly.

In the comedy line, we both enjoyed Buster Keaton in The General which popped up on the Exit’s schedule a few weeks later. This had been on my Must See list ever since reading about it in Brownlow’s The Parades Gone By. And it did not disappoint. One marvels at Keaton’s comic genius, a genius which can engineer comedy gold out of large inanimate objects. Every time we pass by Cottage Grove down in Oregon, I long to get off and go in search of the places where Keaton filmed what many consider his masterpiece. It was the only place in the US at the time that had the right track gauge for the trains he wanted to use.

And now, for the whole reason for this post. (It seems I have veered, -I swear it was unplanned – into the comedy genre). What I want to blog about is the best comedy film of all time, and the best musical film of all time. They are one and the same. And I will define it even further – Singing in the Rain is the most perfect movie made under the Hollywood studio system.

I can state truthfully that neither of us knew what we were in for when we took our seats at the Harvard Exit that night. Right from the opening credits through which Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor sing and dance the title tune, all the way to the HAPPY ending, we were treated to a rollicking good time. It was exhilirating, and dare I say intoxicating, in the best sense –  a joy and a delight to see Kelly dance (not only in his famous solo reprise of the title tune, but throughout), and jaw-dropping wonder at O’Connor’s solo turn that made us laugh. And sweet, winsome Debbie Reynolds won our hearts completely.

And the contrast with the black and white films we had seen could not have been greater. The colors popped off the screen. I could say that the colors “sang and danced” too. All the elements came together – cast, crew, sets, costumes, writing, songs, choreography to make a sweet cinema confection.

We were not alone. Leo the Lion roared at the beginning and the audience roared its approval at the end.

Note – we recently saw the new release The Intern, a film directed by Nancy Meyers and starring Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway. We were delighted that a clip from Singing in the Rain was used to effect as the title character is remembering a time when he and his now departed wife had watched it together. It was a poignant moment. (And it was all my wife could do, not to burst out into song along with it).

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

Having been awed by Bogart in Casablanca I was eager to see him in other films. So when The Maltese Falcon popped up on the schedule for the Harvard Exit, my girl friend and I made a date to see it. Ahead of time, I didn’t know what to expect, not having read any Dashiel Hammett stories or novels. In fact, I had not heard of Film Noir or even the phrase “hard-boiled.” (I did take a class on film at Seattle U, but it was more of film appreciation type class. It would touch a bit on the how tos so that you knew what you were looking at. Really it was a film critique class. And it talked about genres – westerns, sci-fi, comedy, etc.Film Noir included – but this must have been later).

Come time for the show, we were settled in our seats, the lights went down, and the Warner Bros. Logo and a fanfare announced the film. And the music score (Adolph Deutsch) ushered us into the mystery heralded in glorious black and white (and charcoal and pearly grays).

So we were thrown into the mystery of the Black Bird, all wrapped up in the events surrounding the murder of Sam Spade’s partner Miles Archer. We were confused along with our hero as odd characters, one by one came on the scene, all trying to enlist the detective’s help and thwart the others in the quest for the fabled bird. Would Sam figure out what was going on? Would we? Would his feelings for Brigid O’Shaughnessy find fulfillment? We cared. And we were surprised.

Some years afterwards I read one of the bios about the director of the film, John Huston. Huston himself wrote the screenplay. He said that he simply took the story that Hammett had written and translated it page for page to the screen. And in my reading and viewing of the two I can concur. It is unusual for a film taken from another source to end up reflecting it in all its little perfections. The norm for this situation eventuates in two artistic expressions with the same title, but with little similarity thereafter. As the expression goes, Huston nailed it.

The Maltese Falcon would join Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia as seeds sewn in my psyche. Or in another analogy – they were germs that gave me Hollywood Fever.