All right. Let’s put this question to you directly?
Is 1952’s Singin’ In The Rain the best movie musical ever filmed? Better than, say, Showboat, The Wizard of Oz or Meet Me In St. Louis? What do you think?
Hello, every body. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, raising some questions today in the aftermath of new poll results from Sight & Sound, the highly respected British movie magazine published by the British Film Institute — which has been surveying international critics every 10 years since 1952, asking them to identify the best movies of all time.
This is the poll that now ranks director Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo the best movie ever made, unseating Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, which held the top spot for half a century. (See our Greatest Films Of All Time blog of Aug. 23.)
But in going through broader poll results beyond the top-10-of-all-time category, one thing struck us. There was not a single movie musical in any category with one exception — Singin’ In The Rain. Why, we wondered, was that?
Critics pride themselves on being a verrrry serious lot who always prefer dramas to comedies (of which, incidentally, there are few cited in the S&S poll) and musicals. So in that sense the Stanley Donen-Gene Kelly gem defied gravity.
Singin’ In The Rain actually made it to No. 20 on the all-time-top-100 films list.
It came in No. 5 on the best films of the 1950’s subcategory, a notch behind Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and two behind John Ford’s The Searchers. It ranks No. 7 on the top-10-best American movies ever made, a notch behind Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. The musical is also cited by Coppola as No. 7 on his personal best-ever list, and is the first choice of British director Terence Davies.
Although there are several voting subcategories in the S&S poll – including silent films, documentaries, westerns and films directed by women — there are no categories for comedies or musicals. So how did Singing’ In the Rain emerge so high in the poll results in the first place?
It’s apparent that the movie is more popular abroad than it is at home. American audiences tend to swoon over The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland, but less so about Singin’ In the Rain with Debbie Reynolds. The musical was written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden (with MGM producer Arthur Feed claiming credit for writing the song lyrics), and its inside showbizzy quality may have more appeal in Europe than in the U.S.
There’s no question that Singin’ In the Rain is a work of genius revealing the amazingly athletic dance performances of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and, yes, of Reynolds. Still in all that was pretty much ignored by official Hollywood when the movie came out.
It was not among the five films nominated in the 1952 Academy Award sweepstakes. The nominees were Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show On Earth (which won), High Noon, Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge and The Quiet Man.
Singin’ in the Rain had to content itself with a single principal Oscar nomination (for Jean Hagen in the best actress supporting category). It won nothing.
Oscar observers have over the years bemoaned the selection of The Greatest Show On Earth as best picture rather than High Noon. The bigger injustice may well be the total cold shoulder received by Singin’ In the Rain.
As the S&S poll results indicate, this film classic has found its warm international niche.