There's no need for me to righteously defend Lina like I did Lolita, Dora, and Vivien's Blanche. Everyone loves Singin' in the Rain's most adorable dim bulb. If someone doesn't, I have no use for the cretin.
Jean Hagen is a genius. She gave Lina such an awesome mixture of lovable, inane, vacuous vanity that she became, for me, the ultimate role model. Singin' in the Rain features a spectrum of beautiful feemayles for men to go ga-ga over and for girls to imitate. Debbie Reynolds is the wholesome girl next door with a heaping helping of innocent pluck. Rita Moreno is the parody of the Hispanic firecracker, all flashing smiles and hip-wiggling. Cyd Charisse is the emerald-clad, Louise Brooks-maned vixen, the silent flapper femme fatale.
But Lina is the best.
Hagen proved herself in this greatest of all Hollywood musicals that she was one helluva versatile lady. In the opening scenes at her movie's premiere before we hear her talk, she has to project the ethereal love-maiden on the silver screen. Afterward, of course, she's the brassy, screechy, hare-brained screwball. Yet lest we think the clown is the only true role Hagen can play, let's remind ourselves that some of the supposed dubbing that Reynold's character does for Lina's dialogue is actually Hagen's real voice. That's right: those low, dulcet, romantic tones come from Hagen's own mouth. Switching from that to Lina's high-pitched squawking is what them in the biz call a flexible talent.
Beautiful women in films are potentially intimidating to young girls, because all that glamor sometimes comes across so stiff and monotonous; even if someday we do become anywhere near that pretty, can't we at least let loose and have some fun, without fear of, I dunno, breaking our faces or something? Lina makes gorgeous funny and cartoonish. In her ostentatious period outfits, she's less Greta Garbo or Norma Shearer, and more Bugs Bunny in drag. Which absolutely is a compliment--I think if most of us gals are perfectly honest, we'd love to look like a cross-dressing Bugs. That wabbit worked it. Garth Algar spoke the truth.
Lina is really the winner in the end, for all that Singin' in the Rain's plot will have you believe differently. So what if she's publicly humiliated and loses the hand of the incredibly sexy Gene Kelly? She's still a winner because she gives us, the real audience--not that phony 1920s audience that demands authentic talent--so very, very much.
My early sense of humor was molded by her antics, such as probably driving my parents up the wall by chanting, "Cahn't! Caaaaaaayan't!" at the top of my lungs when I was a tyke. I also admire that the lady was never shy in voicing her complaints, a talent I wish I could possess without being unfairly labeled a whiner. Instead, I try (usually unsuccessfully) to merely adopt Lina's voice internally when finding myself in situations where "everybody's pickin' on me!"
And you've gotta love that little something about her inflection when she asks dubiously, "What are you doing?" to a costumer sewing a mic into the voluminous ornament attached to her shoulder. I've aped that phrasing myself a few times when I just don't understand why the officer is gently but firmly pulling me away from feeding Nutter-Butters to that caged tiger at the zoo.
"Gee, this is dumb," is another wistful gem, perfect in almost every situation where I have to balance my bank account or figure out a tip in my head.
Lina didn't let anybody push her around, you've got to give her that. She was strong. She was a fighter. She wouldn't let no one, not even a trembly ingenue, get away with hurling whipped cream into her kisser.
So Lina Lamont: gorgeous, funny, role model, and winner. An immortal in films. All that hard work ain't been in vain fer nuttin'.