Singin’ in the Rain is widely considered the greatest musical of Hollywood cinema and was even named fifth out of the 100 greatest movies of all time by the American Film Institute. The film falls in the musical genre, with over half the film consisting of singing and dancing, and yet the narrative of the plot is still very strong. In fact, the musical numbers in the film serve not only as entertainment but also as techniques to advance the plot narration as well as character development.
The audience’s first introduction to Don Lockwood’s character is through his recollections during an interview. While his audible recollections contrast with the images displayed, these flashbacks allow the audience to see Don’s experience and talent in singing and dancing. The first musical number that advances the narrative plot is “Make ‘Em Laugh” sung by Cosmo Brown. This song is performed after a discussion about Don’s new film The Dueling Cavalier where Don questions the quality of his acting. Cosmo sings the song “Make ‘Em Laugh” in response. While an entertaining number, this performance is used as a communication device to not only Don but also to the audience. In the exposition given through Don’s background story the audience is aware that these two are men of music-and that’s how they communicate with each other. The transition from dialogue to dance does not seem forced or unusual to the audience and because of this the viewer is able to focus on what is being sung rather than questioning the reason behind it. Cosmo’s primary goal for the performance is to cheer up Don and encourage him to continue his acting career. After all, if Cosmo can continue to get up and perform after falling to the ground and crashing into a wall then Don can still act. This routine enlightens the audience’s understanding of the close friendship between Don and Cosmo as well as establishes a theme of communicating through areas other than dialogue.
The next performance that advances the plot, and sets the tone for most of the film, is Don’s and Kathy’s “You Were Meant For Me.” This musical number follows directly after Cosmo’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” thus emphasizing the contrast between the two. Whereas “Make ‘Em Laugh” is very boisterous and advanced in style, technique, and talent, “You Were Meant For Me” is simple, yet just as important to the narrative. This routine works as a communication technique as well- to express the relationship development between Don and Kathy. Initially their dance together is slow, almost like they are simply walking, however as the song continues it becomes apparent that they are interested in each other. What begins as a shy dance turns into a routine where Don appears to be sweeping Kathy off her feet and the audience is able to see a nonverbal communication between the two- an interpersonal reciprocation of feelings for each other. This performance not only contributes to the romantic narrative but also to the narrative plot as a whole, for Kathy and Don become partners, and together they help create the remodeled film The Dancing Cavalier. Without this song and dance no relationship between the two would have been created, which would have vastly altered the plot and story.
While it is important to mention the film’s title song “Singin’ in the Rain” it is in this viewer’s opinion that the two songs already discussed are the most integral to not only advancing the narrative but also establishing it. “Singin’ in the Rain” is a performance full of emotion and character development for Don Lockwood that also acts as a turning point in the movie. However, without the musical numbers “Make ‘Em Laugh” and “You Were Meant For Me” there would not be a reason for Don to feel such elation that he forgets about the downpour he is in, and instead chooses to sing in the rain.