Singin’ in the Rain is generally regarded as Hollywood’s greatest original movie musical. Such a statement serves to differentiate from another very popular form of musical produced by Hollywood: the adaptation of an existing stage musical. Therefore it is perfectly acceptable to say that both Singin' in the Rain and West Side Story represent the ultimate examples of the musical genre since they are two different strains of the same species. Alike, but not identical. Like The Wizard of Oz, Singin’ in the Rain is an original musical motion picture not based on an existing musical work. Unlike that fantasy about Dorothy and her visit to Oz, Singin’ in the Rain is entirely original, having no ties to even an existing non-musical property. And yet, several of the songs—including the famous title number—were featured in movies prior to the 1952 release.
In the American Film Institute’s original list of the 100 greatest American movies, Singin’ in the Rain finished out the top ten with The Wizard of Oz four spots above it. The revised list issued a decade later was almost the exact opposite: The Wizard of Oz was now number 10, but Singin’ in the Rain had actually jumped to number 5. The most remarkable thing about both these lists is that neither film are among the ten musicals that had won a Best Picture Oscar by the time the updated list came out. In fact, Singin’ in the Rain wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. In fact, the film was nominated for only two awards: Best Supporting Actress and Best Score. Not Best Director. Not Best Actor or Actress. The screenplay, cinematography, art direction, editing and costuming were all overlooked.
Singin’ in the Rain was not even nominated in the category of Best Original Song despite the show-stopping solo performance of “Make ‘Em Laugh” being eligible. (In case you’re wondering what timeless classics managed to beat it out, the answers include “Am I In Love,” “Thumbelina” and, of course, that beloved classic even those who have never seen Donald O’Connor going flying through the wall to conclude “Make ‘em Laugh” can’t help but join along with: “Zing a Little Zong.”
Co-directed by Stanley Donen and star Gene Kelly, Singin’ in the Rain was received with lukewarm appreciation upon its release. Not a flop by any means, its mix of comedy and song to tell a story about the very real panic that hit many in Hollywood with the arrival of “talkies” has since then become a legendary film that transcends genre. Not just a classic original Hollywood musical, Singin’ in the Rain has attained a status alongside Casablanca and Citizen Kane that other musicals of its era that did take the big prize come Oscar time—like Gigi and An American in Paris—can only dream about while.
Indeed, Singin’ in the Rain made everybody connected it with laugh before it was over. The last laugh, one might even say.