1927 Hollywood. Monumental Pictures' biggest stars, glamorous on-screen couple Lina Lamont and Don Lockwood, are also an off-screen couple if the trade papers and gossip columns are to be believed. Both perpetuate the public perception if only to please their adoring fans and bring people into the movie theaters. In reality, Don barely tolerates her, while Lina, despite thinking Don beneath her, simplemindedly believes what she sees on screen in order to bolster her own stardom and sense of self-importance. R.F. Simpson, Monumental's head, dismisses what he thinks is a flash in the pan: talking pictures. It isn't until The Jazz Singer (1927) becomes a bona fide hit which results in all the movie theaters installing sound equipment that R.F. knows Monumental, most specifically in the form of Don and Lina, have to jump on the talking picture bandwagon, despite no one at the studio knowing anything about the technology. Musician Cosmo Brown, Don's best friend, gets hired as Monumental's ... Written by
[broadcasting on radio]
This is Dora Bailey, ladies and gentlemen, talking to you from the front of the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. What a night, ladies and gentlemen, what a night! Every star in Hollywood's heaven is here to make Monumental Pictures' premiere of "The Royal Rascal" the outstanding event of 1927! Everyone is breathlessly awaiting the arrival of Lina Lamont and Don Lockwood!
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I'm going to confine my comments about "Singin' in the Rain" to the "Broadway Rhythm" sequence where Cyd Charisse steals the movie without saying a word. In my view, Charisse, who is still gorgeous at 83, was the quintessential movie dancer of the 1950s. Her height, elegance, aloofness and those impossibly long legs -- along with an uncanny ability to match her style to that of her partner -- makes watching her dance a mesmerizing experience.
Many have said that the two numbers in "Singin' in the Rain" that feature Charisse probably belong in another movie. I don't know as the flapper in jade, she sexes up Kelly's rube character to a steamy height unusual in movies of that era. In a dance full of wonderful moves, my favorite comes after she's left him with her cigarette holder. She sashays away from him, blowing on her nails in studied boredom. She's gotten some distance away, and as she tosses her right hand back, he throws down the cigarette holder, grabs her hand and brings her flying up to his chest, where she proceeds to slide down Kelly's thigh to the floor for one of several prone positions she takes during this duet, from which she returns to a standing position with amazing grace. I'm not wild about dances that rely heavily on props, but this one does so very effectively: they're amusing and they reinforce character.
And thank heaven for the artistic control that allowed Kelly to keep the "crazy veil" number in the picture. Charisse has discussed that dance, where she got to show off her early ballet training, most charmingly for a "Word of Mouth" feature on TCM. She and others have noted over the years that the wind machines required to keep that impossibly long veil moving and undulating between and above her and Kelly made filming a nightmare. But it looks effortless, on a set that is a subtle optical illusionnot as deep nor as sloped as it appears to be.
Both dances end the same way. Whether she's a cheap gangster's moll in garish green or a Grecian goddess in white, less obviously in a mobster's sway, Charisse is invariably lured back to reality by proffered baubles and menacingly tossed coins. But at the end of the crazy veil number, she's the one tossing the coins.
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