Singin’ in the Rain is a classic musical, set in the late 1920’s, that depicts the transition of film from silent to “talkies.” Talkies, as we know now as regular films, are films with sound. The plot is part love story, part commentary on the early film industry. Prior to the addition of sound to film silent films were the standard.
It follows Don Lockwood, (Gene Kelly) a major silent film star, who begins to fall for an aspiring actress named Kathy Seldon, played by, Debbie Reynolds. His co-star, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), is jealous of the attention he is giving Kathy and plots to ruin her career. While both Don and his co-star are beautiful, the transition to talkies caused trouble. Lina’s voice was horrendous. This was a major issue in the early film industry. Stars that previously acted were now required to have vocal talents as well. Although Lina tried to get her fired, Kathy was asked to stay and do a voiceover for Lina. Lina’s mic was then cut off and Kathy’s voice replaced hers in the film. Don, fed up with Lina’s ways, plots with his friend Cosmo to expose Lina’s terrible voice. The film ends with Lina being found out after she was asked to sing in public. Kathy stood behind a curtain, singing as her, and Don pulled up the curtain to reveal the true talent.
Another factor the film addressed was the hesitancy of film studios to make talkies. The film showed industry professionals arguing over whether or not talkies would last. Many in the industry believed that sound would just distract the audience from the art. Once major film studios saw the positive response, the entire industry adopted the standard.
The addition of sound in film also brought complications with actors & actresses who were used to moving around freely on set. Head turning and movement caused sound levels to vary and lead to an uneven recording. In one scene, Lina is depicted swinging her head around while reciting lines. The director tries to explain that she has to keep still so that the mic, hidden in a bush in front of her, can be pick up the sound evenly but she continues to move freely.
At this point the director decides to wire a smaller mic into her dress. This caused complications because the placement of the mic made it so that her heartbeat was being picked up in the recording too. Frustrated as ever, the director re-wires her dress so that the mic is on her shoulder. Finally, the recording is coming out clear, until an executive walks in and almost trips on the wire, pulling it…and Lina, causing her to fall off a chair.
I’m probably saying this because I know better now, but if I were the director, I would have a crew member stand with a boom mic, or whatever their version of a boom mic was at that point, hovering over her head, outside of the shot as she moved around to catch the sound clearly.