A happy and extremely catchy classic Hollywood musical, Singin’ in the Rain has audiences humming its tunes long after leaving the theater. Although what appears as a simple-minded, upbeat musical is actually a complex satire filled with dramatic irony.
Viewers first notice the juxtaposition of words and images when the movie’s leading man, Don Lockwood tells his many fans the tale of his rise to stardom. Don describes his beginnings as respectful, coining his catchphrase, “Dignity. Always dignity.” Despite the star’s allegiance to his motto, viewers see in the flashbacks that the star’s career started in tacky vaudeville clubs, performing acts that seemed desperate for laughs and far from dignified. The fans admire Don’s artistic past, emphasizing that fans will always believe whatever façade movie stars put on.
The contrast between the characters’ perceptions and reality continues soon after the premiere of Don’s silent film when his beloved, beautiful costar, Lina Lamont argues with Don about how he never lets her speak. As soon as she opens her mouth, we can understand why none of the men let her get a word out: she has a horribly unpleasant voice, a characteristic masked by her performances in silent films. Aside from an uninformed audience, Lina seems the only one that has failed to make this observation. This scene is the first of a few that uses dramatic irony to clue audiences in to Don and the other men’s motives.
The story’s dramatic irony also contributes to the humor displayed throughout the film. Don’s right hand man, Cosmo Brown, makes many sarcastic comments to characters that usually only the audience can understand, but he takes his comedy past mere mumblings when he mocks Don’s speech therapist. A close up displays both men’s faces, Cosmo’s behind the therapist’s, and as the man reads his tongue-twisters, he is obviously unaware of Cosmo making ridiculous expressions just over his shoulder. This humor is enhanced by the man repeatedly looking over his shoulder only to find Cosmo sporting an expression similar to that of a mischievous schoolboy’s. This sort of comedy appears even in small moments, such as when a police officer suspiciously walks up behind a love struck and seemingly deranged Don just after he finished “Singin’ in the Rain.” The officer’s confusion as to why he finds Don prancing around in the rain brings the musical number back to reality where not everyone breaks off into song and dance.
Perhaps the scene with the greatest presence of dramatic irony is when Lina stands in front of Kathy, exposing her lip-syncing to “Singin’ in the Rain” in front of all her adoring fans. At first, neither Kathy nor Lina realized that the men planned on bringing to light the diva’s lack of talent, but their intentions were soon revealed along with the show’s true singer. But before Lina turns to see Kathy singing behind her, viewers and the audience in the movie can see what the curtain behind Lina reveals and we know what Lina doesn’t, making her shock to the situation all the more satisfying.
In Singin’ in the Rain, the dramatic irony adds not only comical aspects to the film, but also suspenseful moments before all the characters come to know what we know. Even in the shortest moments, the presence of this irony connects audiences to the story and enhances the overall enjoyment of the film.