As a two-time Oscar nominee, one-time Golden Globe winner, and one of the first 25 films ever selected as part of the National Film Registry by the U.S. Library of Congress, Singin’ In The Rain has earned its legendary status multiple times over—not that its modest reception by the public upon its release in 1952 guaranteed that fate. But it takes only a scene or two to be reminded why the film has become such a beloved, enduring fixture to fans of classic movies and musicals in particular: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor deliver such extraordinary, tireless, joyful, precise performances of both song and dance that their energy immediately becomes infectious.
Seventy years later, The A.V. Club was lucky enough to speak to Patricia Kelly, Gene’s widow, about the film as it arrives on home video in a gorgeous new 4K release that further showcases the incredible work of those actors on screen as well as Kelly and Stanley Donen as its inventive co-directors. Patricia’s first order of business was to confirm a few of the lingering rumors around the film, and dispel some others. “I would say 99.999% of what you read in books and on the internet is not true,” she told The A.V. Club.
“But the one thing that is true that Gene was very sick when he shot the iconic ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ number. So he did have the flu and a temperature of about 103. But then I say, remember he’s directing, choreographing, and starring in this, so he’s working basically around the clock and he’s setting up the camera shots, setting up the choreography performing it.”
“And among the many others, there was no milk in the water,” she explained about the famous ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ scene, where for years viewers speculated that the filmmakers had to “thicken up” the water to make it more visible. “There’s no reason to put milk in the water. It’s just sublime back lighting—it’s exquisite cinematography and lighting—like going to a sports event and you look down at the sports field and you don’t see the rain, and then you tilt your head up against the lights and you see the rain.” She credited the crew in particular for navigating that challenge: “I think the technicians deserve a little credit on that one, not milk.”
While observing the way that stories from the set had evolved into Hollywood lore, Patricia Kelly indicated that a very clear accounting of the production taken at the time could and would set the record straight. “The notion of bloody feet and doctors being called to the set, it’s simply not true because anytime that doctors were called to the MGM set, it was noted by at least one and usually both of the people who kept the production notes,” she said. “Certainly if doctors were brought on, it was noted. And it’s logged in. If you do any homework and you go check a primary source, that’s all there.”
Patricia has served as a shepherd for Gene’s legacy since his death in 1996 at the age of 83. When asked which of his films he felt went underappreciated during his lifetime, she revealed that Kelly was a fan of specific scenes and sequences from his films that showcased the breadth of his talent better than start-to-finish features. “Gene was a cultural ambassador to Africa in 1964, and what he took with him was a reel of film clips. He wanted to show in Africa the diversity of his work and the diversity of his choreography. And I find that it’s easier for me to give people a sense of who Gene was and to be able to give them a sense of his work if I show them an assortment of film clips, rather than showing just one single movie,” she said.
“So I think they get an awful lot out of ‘Singin’ In The Rain,’ but I think they get an awful lot out of seeing the roller skating number in It’s Always Fair Weather, and something like ‘You Wonderful You’ from Summer Stock or Jerry the Mouse [in Anchors Aweigh],” she continued. “So I really like to show all of them because a lot of people don’t know he was a trained Spanish dancer. A lot of people have no idea he was a trained classical ballet dancer. And the great ‘Moses Supposes’ number with Donald O’Connor, Gene thought was the best tap number he ever did on film.”
A layperson might never notice how unusual it is for dancers such as Kelly and O’Connor in “Moses Supposes” to both turn left, but it’s these almost invisible flourishes that Patricia Kelly said repeatedly distinguish Gene’s work. “Gene in An American In Paris is doing something else unusual; he’s tap dancing on the melody, which people don’t usually do. And then in Anchors Aweigh, he’s doing Spanish dancing. But the roller skating number with Andre Previn’s ‘I Like Myself’ [from It’s Always Fair Weather], Gene thought that was the best song that he ever put over in a movie. And he thought the ‘Heather On The Hill’ with Cyd Charice in Brigadoon was the best pas de deux that he ever did on film.” It wasn’t all complimentary, she insisted. “Then there were things called ‘real ouch time,’ he said that just made him cringe, and yet the audiences doesn’t see those things.”
Kelly’s work has inspired multiple generations of dancers and filmmakers, not just for his appearances or references but as a foundation for the work that has come since, both musical and not. When asked who she thinks Gene would have worked especially well with in modern film, or with whom he shares a particular affinity, Patricia didn’t hesitate with her answer: Guillermo del Toro, and not just because she recently presented del Toro with the Advanced Imaging Society’s inaugural Gene Kelly Award.
“They’re very linked at the hip. Maybe not the association that would have been your first thought, maybe not any of your thoughts, but they are very much in sync,” she said, qualifying her answer. “And the more conversations I have with him, the more I even see the depth. And he didn’t realize how closely connected they are, but even in the types of literature, the types of ghost stories, Irish ghost stories, and the notion of enchantment, Gene never lost his sense of enchantment. He maintained that childhood sensitivity to the day he died. And I think you see that in Guillermo as well.”
She concluded, “And obviously in Shape Of Water, there’s a big nod, Gene is very much in that.”