Kosher Movies: Singin’ in the Rain

In traditional Jewish communities, the typical response to someone who asks you how you are is to say “Baruch Hashem, Thank God, well.” A dear friend of mine with whom I used to study Torah texts would utter a slightly different response: “Thank God, fantastic.” My late wife and I thought it was a beautiful answer because it implicitly recognized the notion of being thankful for everyday miracles, for the things we often take for granted. When people ask me why I say “Thank God, fantastic,” I tell them I am thankful that I got up this morning and all my limbs are working, that my health is good today because health is wealth. I give the same response to the cashier at the supermarket checkout line as I do to my friends, both of whom are surprised and appreciative of my answer. The essential life lesson that I am imparting is to always look on the positive side of things. Gaze and reflect on what you have, not what you do not have. This is the subliminal message of the light-hearted musical Singin’ in the Rain.

The plot of this iconic musical is straightforward. Don Lockwood, who epitomizes Eddie Cantor’s famous aphorism that “it takes twenty years to become an overnight sensation,” labors for many years in vaudeville as a singer and dancer and then travels to Hollywood where he works as stunt man. He finally gets a break as an actor in the movies and achieves great success as a silent film star. His co-star, the vapid Lina Lamont, is his polar opposite and Don has to work hard to convey love for her in their silent screen epics.

Things change when The Jazz Singer, the first talking movie, makes silent films obsolete. Lina, whose grating voice is ill-suited for talking movies, becomes a challenge not only for Don but the studio as well. Their dilemma: how to replicate the success of Don and Lina in the new era of sound movies?

The solution comes in the form of Kathy Seldon, a talented chorus girl with enormous singing and acting chops. After a serendipitous meeting with Don which begins badly, she meets him again and they develop a fondness for one another that morphs into love. Things get dicey when the studio decides to dub Lina’s voice with Kathy’s in the next Lockwood and Lamont film The Dancing Cavalier in order to produce a successful talking movie. Everything seems to go wrong, but Don’s friend Cosmo Brown invariably comes up with a suggestion mitigating the problems. He always looks at the sun, not the rain.

Unlike many movies nowadays, the film ends with the lovers “happily ever after.” The iconic expression of this enduring happiness is Gene Kelly’s rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain” as he dances with the rain pouring down on him. It is a classic moment in cinema with both lyrics and scene blending perfectly with one theme of the film; namely, to always look on the bright side of things. Consider the lyrics: I’m singin in the rain / What a glorious feelin’/ I’m happy again/ I’m laughing at clouds/ So dark up above/ Let the stormy clouds chase/ Everyone from the place/ Come on with the rain/ I’ve a smile on my face/ I walk down the lane/ With a happy refrain/ Just singin in the rain.”

There is a blessing that traditional Jews recite when hearing good news: Blessed Art Thou, Lord of the Universe, who is good and does good. Conversely, when you hear sad news, you refer to God as the Arbiter of Truth. The implicit message is that whatever God does is for the good, even if at the present moment it seems sad. That is because Judaism at its essence asks us to view all of life from the aspect of eternity. Therefore, we should always try to be content even on rainy days, even when clouds of sadness overwhelm us. Let us all sing in the rain.

About the Author
Originally from Mt. Vernon, New York, Herbert J. Cohen served in the pulpit rabbinate in Atlanta at the beginning of his career. After six years, he moved into the educational rabbinate and served for 23 years as Principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. In 2010, he and his wife came on aliyah to Israel. His latest book, published by Urim Publishers, is "Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema." He may be reached at rabbihjco@msn.com.
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