Singin’ In The Rain Marks The Legacy of Stanley Donen

Having a legacy is important, particularly for people in the arts.

Creators who made their living in the music or movie industry usually want their work to be remembered for years to come. In the case of classic movie director Stanley Donen, he was a man whose talents flew under the radar for years, only being appreciated after his death. When he passed away on Feb. 21, the movie world not only mourned the loss of a great artist, but his death also made people question: what was the film that defined Donen’s career?

Headshot of Stanley Donen.
DONEN

Born on April 13, 1924, Donen rose to fame directing some of the most memorable films in Hollywood history. With a flair for the dramatic due to his background in Broadway, Donen made his directorial debut with 1949’s nautical-themed musical comedy On The Town, starring actor Gene Kelly. From that point on, Donen’s talents as a director were well-known with actors, actresses and directors alike.

Donen had the special ability to turn screenplays into magic.

It didn’t matter the genre, he managed to turn the most mundane scripts into masterpieces. His standout films range from musical comedies like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Royal Wedding and Take Me Out to The Ball Game, to more somber, serious films that still manage to have musical elements like Funny Face, the melodrama Two For The Road  and the mystery-thriller Charade.

But perhaps the most important and defining film of Donen’s career, and what probably holds the crown as his signature work, Singin’ in the Rain. Released in 1952, and often regarded as the best musical movie of all time, Singin’ in the Rain is the quintessential movie musical; filled with angst, comedy and intricate dance numbers, Donen’s technicolor masterpiece was one of a kind upon its release. Telling the story of silent movies and their transition to talking films, also known colloquially as “talkies,” Singin’ in the Rain gives viewers a look behind the scenes of the movie business.

With an all-star cast that included the likes of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor, Donen’s unique directing ability was able to take what could’ve been another dull musical about the hardships of acting and turned it into a film that has been remembered for decades. With Singin’ in the Rain, Donen demonstrated how to delicately balance the heavy emotions of the cutthroat world of show business and the lighthearted dance numbers that were weaved throughout the picture. These two elements perfectly described Donen’s directing style: neatly constructed storylines that have just the right amount of drama and comedy, with one genre never overpowering the other.

The majority of Donen’s movies were similar to this but Singin’ in the Rain is the best example of his way of making a film. For Donen, it did not matter what the subject matter was, as long as it had an interesting storyline that could be made into something the audience wasn’t expecting. With his ability to combine drama and comedy to create the perfect movie, it’s no wonder that Singin’ in the Rain is the ideal movie to define such a wonderful career.

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