Singing in the Rain

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  • Singing in the Rain

    SINGING IN THE RAIN is considered the greatest movie musical of all-time. AFI lists it as the 5th greatest movie of all-time. The scene of Gene Kelly singing in the rain is iconic. Watching the film again recently, it remains delightful with a surprising number of original songs that have gone on to join the Great American Songbook.

    Here's what I didn't know: It wasn't a hit.

    Not when it was released in 1952. The public's reaction was meh. So was the critics'. It only got a couple of Oscar nominations and lost both of them. Was Gene Kelly nominated? Nope. Debbie Reynolds? Nope? Stanley Donen for directing? Nope. Art Direction? Cinematography? Best Song? Nada nada nada. The Best Picture that year: THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH.

    When was the last time you watched that? Or these Best Picture nominees - IVANHOE, MOULIN ROUGE, THE QUIET MAN? The other nominee (that should have been SINGING IN THE RAIN'S main competition) was HIGH NOON.

    Over time of course SINGING IN THE RAIN has been recognized for the classic it is.

    But to me it's fascinating how the exact same motion picture can elicit such different responses. Did theatergoers yawn during the "Singing In the Rain- scene in 1952? Did any of them say, "What's wrong with you people? This is pretty dazzling?- THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is a terrible bloated unwatchable movie, by the way. It was also the boxoffice champ in 1952. SINGING IN THE RAIN did a little better than break even.

    I just wonder what Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen and the rest of the cast and crew thought at the time? What could they have done differently?

    Other movies that were originally flops: THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, BARBARELLA (although I saw it three times when it came out), BLADE RUNNER, OFFICE SPACE, IRON GIANT (see this one if you haven't), and a little movie called IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

    And now, turning to TV -- THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was essentially canceled after the first season. It was not on the CBS schedule. It was only when ad men Grant Tinker and Lee Rich went to Cincinnati and convinced Proctor & Gamble to sponsor it did they pull a Hail Mary. Almost 60 years later we are still marveling at how great THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was. You know what the big hit sitcom was the year THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW struggled in the ratings? THE REAL McCOYS. How often do you binge on that?

    The song "What a Wonderful World- by Louis Armstrong was released originally in 1967. It topped out at 116 on the Billboard chart. In 1988 it received a Gold Record.

    And then there's the example I had a personal stake in: CHEERS. We were getting killed in the ratings that first year. David Isaacs, the Charles Brothers, and I would sit in the writers room and scratch our heads. This was our A material, folks. It's not like we could stay an extra half hour a night and the show would be any better. Ten years earlier, Larry Gelbart & Gene Reynolds were in the same quandary over MASH, which was struggling its first season on CBS.

    The point is that perception is as important as quality when it comes to recognizing art.

    CHEERS was on the last place network when it premiered. Maybe SINGING IN THE RAIN played in lousy theaters. Maybe there were so many musicals at the time that it just felt like yet another one. I have no idea. I'm just speculating. There are quite a few painters and authors who passed away before their work received the recognition and praised it deserved.

    I've seen SINGING IN THE RAIN many times. I've always loved it. But I always assumed it was smash from the time it was released. This time I looked up to see how many Oscars it snared only to learn it was largely ignored. So watching the movie again was a different experience. After every great number or scene I was that guy saying, "What's wrong with you people?-

    By the way, in AFI's Top 100 Movies of All-Time, only one of the Oscar nominees in 1952 made the list -- HIGH NOON at 27. THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is nowhere to be found.

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