The centerpiece of the American Cinematheque’s “An Old-Fashioned Night at the Movies” Friday at the Hollywood Bowl was the presentation of MGM’s classic 1952 “Singin’ in the Rain” to an audience of 18,000 people. It didn’t start until after 9:30, for it was preceded by an hourlong program of shorts--a newsreel, trailers, an amusing 1935 travelogue of Los Angeles and a delightful Tom and Jerry cartoon in which they’re competing conductors--at the Hollywood Bowl, no less.
There was a welcome robust overture on the organ from Gaylord Carter, but there was also a dog act, a Rockette-type chorus line and Doc Severinsen and “The Tonight Show” Band. The 3 1/2-hour evening could have done without the live stuff, especially Severinsen and his group, who were not only off-form but on too long.
“Singin’ in the Rain,” which stars Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Jean Hagen, needs no supporting acts but was well worth the wait. It has long been regarded as one of the greatest of American screen musicals, and a fresh viewing (on a pristine print prepared especially for the evening by Turner Entertainment) only confirms its stature. Its evergreen songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed (the film’s producer) are set off by Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s script, which is one of the wittiest ever written for a musical, a knowing, affectionate satire on Hollywood at the time of the chaotic talkie revolution in the late ‘20s.
Comden and Green introduced Reynolds, its co-directors/choreographers Stanley Donen and Kelly, and from the audience, Kathleen Freeman, who played Hagen’s squeaky-voiced silent star’s pompous vocal coach. Also introduced from the audience were the film’s hair stylist Sydney Guilaroff and make-up artist William Tuttle, two Hollywood legends in their own right. The American Cinematheque has an inspired idea with presenting classic films at the Bowl; it just needs to get on with the show faster.
PICNIC FOR THE STARS: The stars of “Singin’ in the Rain” attend a picnic supper before the screening. E2