Singin' in the Rain is a 1952 American comedy musical film starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds and directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, with Kelly also providing the choreography. It offers a comic depiction of Hollywood, and its transition from silent films to "talkies." Although it was not a big hit when first released, it was accorded its legendary status by contemporary critics. It is now frequently described as one of the best musicals ever made, topping the AFI's 100 Years of Musicals list, and ranking fifth in its updated list of the greatest American films in 2007.
Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a popular silent film star with humble roots as a singer, dancer and stunt man. Don barely tolerates his vapid, shallow leading lady, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), though their studio, Monumental Pictures, links them romantically to increase their popularity. Lina herself is convinced they are in love, despite Don's protestations otherwise. One day, to escape from overenthusiastic fans, Don jumps into a passing car driven by Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). She drops him off, but not before claiming to be a stage actress and sneering at his undignified accomplishments. At first, she pretends not to know who he is, but later in the film, she admits that she knew who he was all along and is also a big fan. Later, at a party, the head of Don's studio, R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell), shows a short demonstration of a Vitaphone talking picture ("...My voice has been recorded on a record...") which pays homage to the original 1921 DeForest Phonofilm demonstration featuring DeForest himself explaining the system, but his guests are unimpressed. To Don's amusement and Kathy's embarrassment, she pops out of a mock cake right in front of him as part of the entertainment; Kathy, it turns out, is only a chorus girl. Furious at Don's teasing, she throws a real cake at him, only to hit Lina right in the face. Later, after weeks of searching, Don makes up with Kathy after he finds her working in another Monumental Pictures production, and they begin to fall in love. After a rival studio has an enormous hit with its first talking picture, 1927's The Jazz Singer, R.F. decides he has no choice but to convert the new Lockwood and Lamont film, The Dueling Cavalier, into a talkie. The production is beset with difficulties that reportedly reflect what actually took place during the early days of talking pictures. By far the worst problem is Lina's grating voice. An exasperated diction coach tried to teach her how to speak properly, but to no avail. A test screening is a disaster. In one scene, Don repeats the line "I love you" to Lina over and over, to the audience's derisive laughter (a reference to a scene by John Gilbert in his first talkie). Then in the middle of the movie, the sound goes out of synchronization. Don's best friend, Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor), comes up with the idea to dub Lina's voice with Kathy's, and they persuade R.F. to turn The Dueling Cavalier into a musical called The Dancing Cavalier, complete with a modern musical number called "Broadway Melody". When Lina finds out, she is furious and does everything possible to sabotage the romance between Don and Kathy. She becomes even angrier when she discovers that R.F. intends to give Kathy a screen credit and a big publicity promotion. Lina, after consulting lawyers, threatens to sue R.F. unless he cancels Kathy's buildup and orders her to continue working (uncredited) as Lina's voice. R.F. reluctantly agrees to her demands. The premiere of The Dancing Cavalier is a tremendous success. When the audience clamors for Lina to sing live, Don, Cosmo, and R.F. improvise and get her to lip sync while Kathy sings into a second microphone while hidden behind the stage curtain, and while Lina is "singing," Don, Cosmo and R.F. decided to do the right thing as they gleefully open the curtain. When Cosmo replaces Kathy at the microphone, the deception becomes obvious. Now exposed as a fraud, Lina flees in embarrassment. Kathy tries to run away as well, but Don introduces the audience to "the real star of the film." The final shot shows Kathy and Don in front of a billboard for their new movie, Singin' in the Rain.