By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin December 5, 2009 at 1:16AM
by Earl J. Hess and Pratibha A. Dabholkar
Although the authors are new to the world of film, they recognized the fact that no one has ever written a thorough chronicle of this beloved musical’s creation and its lasting impact. Drawing on such first-hand sources as the Arthur Freed papers (including daily production reports from the film’s assistant director) and other primary materials, they have constructed a valuable, and readable, account of its production that often corrects anecdotal versions told and retold over the years.
In many ways the book is a study of film history itself, as Hess and Dabholkar have apparently tracked down every interview ever given by Freed, Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Betty Comden and Adolph Green—and discovered that they repeatedly contradict themselves about every aspect of the picture, large and small, from how Reynolds was hired to whether or not “Make ‘em Laugh” was improvised or choreographed. The anomalies they chart over many years’ time are fascinating. (One minor example: Cyd Charisse had to learn to smoke in order to blow a puff of cigarette smoke in Gene Kelly’s face during the ballet number. In numerous interviews after the film’s completion she said that she never smoked again—while in her autobiography she remarked that she went through several packs a day for many years.)
But if you’ve ever wondered how Kelly and Donen planned and executed the magnificent “Singin’ in the Rain” number, or the ambitious ballet that climaxes the film, you’ll get fascinating and irrefutable details about everything from the tarping of the MGM backlot to create a nighttime look to the creation of puddles in the street. It’s that kind of solid information that makes this book worthwhile. (University Press of Kansas)