This weekend brought the sad news of the death of Hollywood director Stanley Donen, at the age of 94. Donen directed many fine films, including the wonderfully Hitchcockian Charade, but the focus of the tributes is rightly on an undoubted American masterpiece, Singin' in the Rain, a film that epitomizes Hollywood's Golden Age. The entire movie is a delight, but one scene does stand out, Gene Kelly singing and dancing in the rain after kissing Debbie Reynolds good night. Recently, I picked that scene as my choice for the greatest scene in Hollywood history in a conversation on Facebook, and I asked friends to pick theirs. Many thoughtful choices streamed in, along with a few endorsements of my choice. One of those endorsements perfectly captured the enduring appeal of Kelly's most famous number: "A number of competitors for most iconic moment, from Bogart and Claude Rains at the end of Casablanca to Judy Garland singing 'Over the Rainbow' to King Kong atop the Empire State Building, but for pure, uncomplicated joy that reminds us entertainment does not have to have a message or force us to think, this might be it. . . . Puts a smile on my face every time. Gene Kelly lets it go and nails it."
Indeed he does. And for those in need of a smile, here is that scene, a scene that will continue to be enjoyed after all of last night's Oscar nominees are long forgotten:
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.