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SPECIAL SCREENING

Happy Again With 'Singin' in the Rain'

August 04, 1994|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lancer who regularly writes about film for the Times Orange County Edition. and

The Newport Harbor Art Museum celebrated Fred Astaire a couple of weeks ago with "Top Hat." Now, its mini-tribute to movie musicals spotlights Gene Kelly--the dancer who so often during his career seemed to be spinning in Fred's elegant shadow--in "Singin' in the Rain."

There are those who would argue that Kelly deserved equal room on the same pedestal with Astaire, but I'm reluctant. Astaire was class, Kelly was brass. Astaire was a prodigy with Old World style, Kelly was a first-rate hoofer with all-American appeal. Fred was better, but Gene could still be a lot of fun.

He proved that in "Singin' in the Rain," one of the most popular song-and-dance extravaganzas ever to come out of Hollywood. The 1952 movie will be shown Friday as the finale in the museum's series.

Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a silent-screen star making the uneasy transition to talkies. It's probably Kelly's finest, most defining role, even more closely associated with him than "An American in Paris" made a year earlier, also for MGM.

As Lockwood, who approaches every travail of his anxious future with a loopy determination, Kelly is irrepressibly upbeat. This taps right into his greatest talent as a dancer, his athleticism. It also lets Kelly emphasize the most prominent feature of his acting, the ability to seem joyfully boyish at just about every opportunity.

The picture, co-directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen, features perhaps Kelly's most popular dance sequence, one that gave the movie its title. There he is, after expressing love for bit actress Kathy Selden (an exhaustingly perky Debbie Reynolds), zinging all over a Hollywood back lot done up as a rain-slickened street as the drops keep falling.

The choreography is playful yet demanding, and Kelly throws his compact halfback's body (such a contrast to Astaire's skinny litheness) through all the paces. One thing you could say about Kelly, he always worked hard to please an audience.

"Singin' in the Rain" has, in part, become such a favorite because of its hyperactive comedy, much of it generated by Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont. Lina, Don's co-star in the silents, has a harder time adjusting to sound because of her screechy voice, turned into a loud running gag by Hagen.

Donald O'Connor also made an impact as Cosmo Brown, Don's rubber-legged sidekick. O'Connor's eccentric dancing (every move seems to be made on top of a banana peel) proved a giddy counterpoint to Kelly's more controlled, powerful style.

Arthur Taussig, an Orange Coast College film instructor and author of The Film Analyst newsletter, will discuss "Singin' in the Rain" before and after the screening.

* Who: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's "Singin' in the Rain."

* When: Friday, Aug. 5, at 6:30 p.m.

* Where: The Newport Harbor Art Museum, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach.

* Whereabouts: Take Pacific Coast Highway to Jamboree Road and head north to Santa Barbara Drive and then east to San Clemente Drive.

* Wherewithal: $3 for museum members, seniors and students; $5 for the public.

* Where to call: (714) 759-1122.

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