What a glorious feeling! Singin' in the Rain arrives on 4K UHD just in time for its 70th anniversary and Warner Home Video honors the milestone with a spectacular new remaster that's worthy of a champagne toast. Vibrant, crystal clear, and awash in lush Technicolor hues, the HDR transfer lofts the greatest musical ever made onto an even higher pedestal and infuses more excitement into all of the impeccably produced and performed numbers. Extras have been pared down, but the addition of the original mono track to complement the existing 5.1 mix is very good news and caps off one of the year's most eagerly anticipated 4K UHD releases. To quote Lina Lamont, unless you're "dumb or something," this disc demands a prominent spot in your collection. Must Own.
Hollywood has produced dozens of dazzling, lively, and artistic musicals over the past nine decades, but if I had to pick one movie that epitomizes the genre and everything we love about it, it would have to be Singin' in the Rain. Though not as sophisticated as Gigi, as groundbreaking or substantive as West Side Story, as heartwarming as The Sound of Music, or as edgy and biting as Chicago, Singin' in the Rain explodes with energy, exuberance, satirical humor, innocence, and whimsy...and contains hands-down some of the most breathtaking dancing in motion picture history. Pure, unadulterated entertainment from start to finish, Singin' in the Rain is, in a word, sublime.
A nostalgic tribute to and light-hearted spoof of the early days of talking pictures, Singin' in the Rain honors its industry while savagely lampooning it. Screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green use the transition from silence to sound as a springboard for a perky screwball plot that chronicles the romantic and professional travails of Hollywood's dreamiest matinee idol, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly). The fan magazines print volumes about Don's torrid love affair with his vampy co-star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), who's the quintessential dumb blonde off screen...so much so she believes all the gossip written about her, especially when it involves Don. The truth is Don not-so-secretly loathes Lina, whose screechy voice could grate steel (think Judy Holliday's Billie Dawn from Born Yesterday on steroids), yet cares too much about preserving his precious career to quash the positive publicity.
Enter vivacious flapper Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), who Don meets by chance one evening after he flees a flock of rabid fans. The spunky Kathy isn't intimidated by Don's aura, and he quickly becomes smitten, yet much to his chagrin, the jealous Lina tries to shoot down Kathy's rising star just as the advent of talkies upends the movie industry and jeopardizes Lina's popularity. Lina's squeaky voice and unrefined accent might spell curtains for the lucrative Lockwood-Lamont partnership, but Don, his best pal Cosmo (Donald O'Connor), and Kathy hatch a plan that just might work to everyone's ultimate advantage.
Along with Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris, The Band Wagon, and Gigi, Singin' in the Rain is one of the crown jewels of MGM's Arthur Freed Unit, which produced some of Hollywood's finest musicals. Freed amassed a veritable hall of fame of creative talent to mount sumptuous films that brimmed with style, oozed glamour, and burst with irrepressible spirit. Such icons as Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, and Kelly populated his films, yet before his legendary tenure as producer, Freed was a successful lyricist who penned a string of popular songs with composer Nacio Herb Brown. "Singin' in the Rain" is arguably their most famous melody, and the film was primarily designed to showcase and honor their musical catalogue. In addition to the title tune, such standards as "All I Do Is Dream of You," "You Were Meant for Me," "You Are My Lucky Star," and "Good Morning" comprise the sprightly score.
Though the script makes good-natured fun of a host of Hollywood stereotypes - splashy premieres, backstage backstabbing, oversized egos, stuffy elocution experts, and creative short-sightedness - at its core, Singin' in the Rain is a sweet, naïve love story played with winning earnestness by Kelly and Reynolds. Forget the 20-year age difference; the pair crafts a believable relationship that's heightened by one of Kelly's most relaxed and natural performances. At times, Reynolds might seem a tad too vivacious, but the game 19-year-old never seems daunted by her co-stars or overwhelmed by their substantial terpsichorean talent. As the wisecracking sidekick, O'Connor garners his share of laughs, but it's Hagen's priceless Lina Lamont who all but steals the show. Hagen was a good dramatic actress, but her peerless comic timing, vocal inflection, and no-holds-barred, over-the-top portrayal of the dumb, delusional, yet devious diva justly won her critical raves and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
Nothing, however, can upstage or eclipse the musical numbers, almost all of which are classics. The title song, as performed by the incomparable Kelly, is one of the most recognizable and iconic sequences in the annals of cinema. Simply yet imaginatively and ambitiously staged, it evolves out of the plot and tells its own miniature story. Kelly strategically employs puddles, gutters, and spouts, as he leaps on lampposts and sloshes through pools in an uninhibited expression of the joy of being in love. His grace, precision, inventiveness, athleticism, and inimitable style all converge to create four minutes of pure magic.
As marvelous as that number is, it's not even my favorite. That distinction goes to "Moses," which contains arguably the single greatest display of tap dancing ever committed to celluloid. Kelly and O'Connor tear up the floor with a series of jaw-dropping moves that only the famed Nicholas Brothers could rival. It's flashy, fun, and exhaustingly intricate. Equally awe-inspiring is O'Connor's acrobatic, self-abusive solo turn, the uproariously funny "Make 'Em Laugh." Who cares if the song is a shameless ripoff of the Cole Porter standard "Be A Clown" from another Kelly film, The Pirate? O'Connor delights with a series of perfectly synchronized pratfalls, near-misses, contortions, and nimble moves. Add some mugging and slapstick, and you've got a superior example of sheer showmanship that few, if any, dancers can top.
The rollicking "Good Morning," featuring more great tap-dancing and impish clowning, is a winner, too, as are the sprightly Kelly-O'Connor duet "Fit as a Fiddle," the quietly amorous "You Were Meant for Me," and the sensational "Broadway Ballet." A shorter, more accessible, bouncier dance montage than Kelly's opulent "An American in Paris" ballet a year earlier, this jazzy, sexually charged, yet passionately romantic creation features Kelly dancing with the exquisitely sleek and precise Cyd Charisse. The incendiary fireworks between them burn up the screen in a sizzling mini-drama of seduction set to "Broadway Rhythm."
Singin' in the Rain has no message or moral beyond love conquers all, and it didn't advance the art of musical moviemaking. Kelly and his co-director, Stanley Donen, writers Comden and Green, the accomplished cast, and the MGM dream factory merely take the traditional musical blueprint and produce the ultimate offering, a film whose sole purpose is entertainment and singular goal is to send its audience walking home on air. The lack of pretension, mystifying talent, and sheer joy that emanate from every frame of Singin' in the Rain are what make this beloved film so tremendous and so worthy of repeat viewings. Is it the greatest musical ever made? If it's not, then it's darn close.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Singin' in the Rain dances onto 4K UHD packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve. A standard Blu-ray is also included, as well as a leaflet containing the Movies Anywhere digital copy code. Video codec is 2160p/HEVC H.265 and default audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. (The original mono track, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, is an option as well.) Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no promos or previews precede it.
When Singin' in the Rain made its Blu-ray bow a decade ago, its stunning 1080p transfer revitalized the film, yet that stellar effort can't hold a candle to the eye-popping new remaster used for this 4K UHD release. It's tough to find adjectives to describe this splendiferous 2160p/HEVC H.265 transfer that's gussied up with HDR to ensure the most vibrant and colorful presentation possible. The spotless, crystalline picture nearly jumps off the screen, thanks to perfectly pitched contrast and color timing that indulge the intense Technicolor hues without allowing them to overpower the image. Grain is well resolved, but a faint layer remains and lends the movie a palpable film-like feel. A few scenes are a bit softer than others and sport a tad more grain, but that's to be expected when you're dealing with a 70-year-old film, especially one that's bereft of almost any original elements.
Fine details are everywhere - in Lina's white furs and the fringe, feathers, and sequins that adorn all the outrageous 1920s fashions; in the tapestries, tiles, paintings, and ornate bar of Don's lavish Hollywood home; in the flowers on the gargantuan cake from which Kathy emerges and the carnations in the men's dinner jackets; in the driving rain during the iconic title number; even in the stray fibers of the carpet Cosmo kicks up during his tour-de-force "Make 'Em Laugh" number. Faint patterns and the textures of chiffon and satin are distinct, specks of dandruff can be spotted on the jet-black tuxedos, and it's easier than ever to discern that the gal driving away from R.F.'s mansion is Reynolds' double and the cowboy who flips over the bar in the first silent stunt scene is a stuntman and not Kelly.
Inky blacks, bright, crisp whites that never bloom, and top-notch shadow delineation anchor the image, but it's the color that makes the picture pop. Primaries and pastels dazzle in equal measure, with such standouts as Kelly's yellow vest, Charisse's green dress, and all the blazing marquee lights in the "Broadway Ballet" number, the multi-colored streamers Reynolds and her crew of flappers fling from their pockets before they sing "All I Do Is Dream of You," the red curtain that frames Lockwood and Lamont's black-and-white silent feature, and all the deeply saturated processed backgrounds in the musical montage that precedes the "Beautiful Girl" sequence. Warner has always done Technicolor proud in its Blu-ray transfers, but the hues in this 4K UHD transfer with HDR take the cake...and make us want to eat it, too.
Speaking of process shots, Singin' in the Rain contains quite a few of them. The most famous is a superimposed close-up of Kelly at the end of the "Broadway Ballet," but all of them are cleanly rendered, with smooth lines and almost none of the ragged giveaways that destroy the illusion. All the close-ups are breathtakingly sharp and dimensional, highlighting Kelly's facial scar and crow's feet, the tiny painted black star on Hagen's cheek when she's made up for the film-within-the-film French Revolution scenes, Reynold's fresh complexion, and O'Connor's rubbery facial expressions during "Make 'Em Laugh" and when he's imitating the elocution expert prior to the "Moses" number.
The only real issue I have with this transfer is the fluctuating flesh tones. In some scenes, Kelly and O'Connor look like they've just emerged from a tanning salon, while in others they appear almost pale. The skin tones overall skew more toward orange and pink, but can look quite natural much of the time. Though the shifts can be a bit jarring, they rarely detract from all the other beauty on screen.
The included 1080p Blu-ray looks to be the same one that was released in 2012, and it just looks dull, flat, and oddly lifeless by comparison. The colors are nice, but nowhere near as arresting as they are in 4K UHD with HDR. To say the Blu-ray transfer is kind of like Kansas and the 4K UHD transfer is like Dorothy opening the door and entering Oz is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Once you see Singin' in the Rain in the splendor of 4K UHD with HDR (even with the fluctuating flesh tones), you will never, ever watch the Blu-ray again.
Purists will be thrilled to learn that in addition to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that graced the 2012 Blu-ray, Warner includes Singin' in the Rain's original mono track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 on this 4K UHD release. The mono track supplies surprisingly potent sound that brims with fidelity and tonal depth. It may not have the surround accents, but the audio easily fills the room, especially during the musical numbers. A wide dynamic scale embraces all the highs and lows of Lennie Hayton's glorious orchestrations without a hint of distortion, strong bass frequencies highlight the percussion, and all the taps are wonderfully crisp. Dialogue and song lyrics are well prioritized and easy to comprehend, subtle atmospherics like the titular rain come through cleanly, and any age-related hiss, pops, or crackle have been erased. Mono tracks are rarely this bold, balanced, and rich, and I highly recommend watching Singin' in the Rain with its original audio at least once.
Here's what I wrote about the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track a decade ago:
"Warner...has done a great job fashioning a high-quality DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix for this musical classic. Singin' in the Rain was produced before the advent of stereo, so naturally most of the sound is front-based, but the fidelity and tonal depth are so crisp and warm, there's a marvelous surround feel to this track. A wide dynamic scale, featuring bright, crystalline highs and weighty lows, maximize vocal and instrumental intensity while showcasing subtleties with ease. Both Reynolds' brassy delivery and Kelly's delicate tenor come across cleanly, and the "Broadway Ballet" scoring is alternately vibrant and nuanced, as screaming trumpets and swelling strings fill the room without a hint of distortion. Atmospherics, such as the pouring rain, street noise, and movie set ambience, are solid, too - distinct but not overpowering - and every toe tap is crisp and synchronized.
The audio in the early talkie sequences is especially well balanced, possessing the appropriate degree of roughness without delving too far into caricature. The clanking of Lina's pearls, the clomp of footsteps, and the general imperfections of rudimentary sound recording (static, hiss, pops, crackles) are all meticulously rendered. Thankfully, no age-related defects afflict the rest of the picture, as Warner technicians have scrubbed this track clean.
Dialogue is always well prioritized and easy to comprehend, as are song lyrics, and the musical sequences benefit from a slight level boost that enhances the excitement and vigor of each number. For a 60-year-old movie, Singin' in the Rain sounds surprisingly contemporary, and those who appreciate Golden Age musicals will be thrilled by this track."
Sadly, only a couple of the extras from the mammoth 60th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition have been ported over to this 4K UHD release, and no new supplements have been added. With the exception of the commentary track, all the extras reside on the Blu-ray disc.
Documentary: "Singin' in the Rain: Raining on a New Generation" (HD, 51 minutes) – This 2012 documentary includes comments from such contemporary musical figures as Matthew Morrison, Paula Abdul, Rob Marshall, Adam Shankman, Usher, and Baz Luhrmann, among others, all of whom reflect on their personal experience with the iconic film. They also discuss Singin' in the Rain's wide-ranging influence, inimitable style, and amazing choreography; salute Kelly, Reynolds, and O'Connor; and marvel over the spectacular numbers. Interestingly, the film clips used in this breezy, somewhat superficial piece look rather banged up. Why the restored footage couldn't have been inserted instead remains a mystery.
Audio Commentary – Sometimes on an audio commentary, too many cooks spoil the broth...but not here. Debbie Reynolds "hosts" this highly interesting conglomeration of reflections and analysis by co-stars O'Connor and Charisse, co-director Donen, writers Comden & Green, featured player Kathleen Freeman, director Baz Luhrmann, and film historian Rudy Behlmer. Sadly, many of the participants have passed away since recording this discussion in 2002, but it just makes us more appreciative this audio record exists at all. Comden & Green talk about the difficulty of fashioning a film around the Freed-Brown musical catalogue; O'Connor recalls how his classic "Make 'Em Laugh" number came together; Behlmer relays a cornucopia of fascinating facts, including abandoned numbers and concepts, the proposed casting of Oscar Levant as Cosmo Brown, and how the film's original nitrate negative was destroyed by fire; and the rest of the participants share fond memories of Kelly and Freed. My only complaint is that Reynolds barely contributes, other than to introduce the various speakers. Why aren't her memories worthy of more air time? Other than that small gripe, this is a first-class commentary that's well worth the time of fans and newbies alike.
Jukebox - While the 4K UHD disc contains a song index that offers easy access to all the musical numbers, the Blu-ray goes a step further with a virtual jukebox that lets you not only access the songs, but also create and save a playlist of your favorite numbers. In addition, the "Play All" feature allows you to forego the narrative and just play all the musical numbers back-to-back.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 4 minutes) - The original preview for Singin' in the Rain completes the extras package.
If only all of us could look this good at 70! Newly remastered and enhanced with HDR, Singin' in the Rain makes a huge splash in 4K UHD. Brilliant color, razor-sharp clarity, and pitch-perfect contrast combine to create a dazzling picture that heightens the excitement of this beloved musical classic. Excellent audio sweetens the deal, but a pared down supplemental package is a disappointment. Singin' in the Rain is arguably the greatest musical of all time, and this fantastic release ensures it will remain so for generations to come. Must Own.