That's Entertainment! (1974)
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In fact, I remember the first time I saw it. I was sixteen, and I saw it at a matinee showing, with my Mother, at the now-defunct Cooper Theater in Denver, Colorado. I think what amazed us the most about the film was that, after almost every number, the audience burst into prolonged applause. You'd think it was a concert instead of a movie! But that's the appeal that these timeless musical moments have. You don't just watch this movie, you're PART of it.
As Frank Sinatra says at the outset of the film, "You can wait around and hope, but you'll never see the like of this again."
An affectionate tribute to the great movie musicals that became a great movie musical itself. See it! See it! See it!
Well, it works. No two words about it. These clips of song-and-dance routines that will stay with us forever were made with one sole purpose--to entertain. And entertain they do. From 'Singin' In The Rain' through to 'Showboat', 'High Society', 'Seven Brides For Seven Brothers'... the film is a catalogue of the best and brightest of MGM musicals, and the stars. Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly deliver tributes to each other, Liza Minelli and Mickey Rooney talk about the magic that was Judy Garland, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds and Peter Lawford--with a lovely stint by Bing Crosby and a hilarious interlude by James Stewart--bring us through the decades singing and dancing. The clips picked were great, of course. How could you go wrong with segments dedicated to Astaire, Kelly and Garland? The clips were all perfect, with some rarer items popping up like Cary Grant singing 'Did I Remember?' and enough of the classic ones to make one feel like pulling out all the tapes and watching them through again.
There are a couple of things that keep me from giving this documentary top marks. Firstly, a general complaint that really isn't quite fair: seeing these clips just don't compare to watching them in their original films and the proper contexts. I hope that people who watch this film as an introduction to movie musicals actually go out and rent them afterwards, because there really isn't anything more brilliant than SINGIN' IN THE RAIN or ON THE TOWN. Secondly: it would have been much more engaging if the actors invited to speak on the programme hadn't so evidently been reading off pre-written scripts. Some fared better than others, with Taylor being the spaced-out worst, and Stewart acquitting himself admirably with his trademark drawl and charm. Astaire and Kelly are both still immeasurably attractive onscreen, but even they can't quite pull off the image of camaraderie the words they speak impart to their previous relationship. (Not to say that they were rivals--the opposite extreme isn't true either. They were simply professionals, and acquaintances.) It'd have been just that much more fun if these legends had been allowed to speak off the cuff.
All said, if you want to introduce someone to the magic that was the movie musical, there's really no need to go further than THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!. It's a catalogue of stars and talent, song and dance, and extensive proof that we won't ever see the likes of all this again. More's the pity for those of us who weren't there when film history happened, all to the songs of Berlin and Gershwin and the toe-tapping of Astaire and Kelly...
The compilation is very, very broad and includes performances by both the still-famous and once-famous, and gives us the opportunity to see some magical moments without having to wade through the entire genre or assess whether or not you actually want to sit through an obscure film in order to see one five minute musical moment. While it includes performances by the delicious Lena Horne (performing "Honeysuckle Rose" before a sophisticated set of drapery and mirrors), the brilliant Elenor Powell (with several offerings, the most memorable being "Begin the Begine" with Fred Astaire), and a host of others, most of the collection revolves around four MGM superstars: Gene Kelly, Esther Williams, Fred Astaire, and Judy Garland. The tribute to Esther Williams is particularly welcome, a marvelous array of some of the most beautiful and beautifully surreal scenes ever put to film; the tribute to Judy Garland, touchingly introduced and narrated by daughter Liza Minnelli, is also particularly well done.
But the real feast here is of musical oddities and rarities. In its search for musical talent, MGM put almost every star under contract through their musical paces--and the result is often truly bizarre. Among the most memorable of these is Joan Crawford, who believe it or not was considered a jazz dancer of some note during the 1920s, and here she (introduced by an emcee as "the personification of youth, beauty, joy, and happiness) sings and then athletically stops through "Got A Feeling For You." Robert Montgomery looks awkward trying his hand at light opera; Jimmy Stewart sings pleasantly but unspectacularly; Jean Harlow belts out "Reckless;" and Clark Gable gives a remarkably charming throw-away performance of "Puttin' On The Ritz." It is all tremendous fun.
Of further interest is the fact that most of the narrators have filmed their scenes on the MGM backlot--which was on the verge of demolition when this compilation was made in 1974. It's fading glory is touching, nostalgic, and offers a final glimpse of what was the world's greatest film studio before it entered its final decline. A drawback to the compilation is that at the time it was made few if any of these films had been restored; some of the oldest film clips are in rather poor condition and the brilliance of Technicolor is somewhat reduced in certain scenes. But even with this problem, THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT is a feast of brilliant colors, costumes, spectacular dance numbers, and beautiful sounds, enough to delight any long-time musical fan and convert newcomers to the genre.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
As co-presenter and M-G-M alumni Frank Sinatra mentions in the first segment of the picture, "When it came to musicals, M-G-M, they were the champions" This is far from just a hollow boast when you consider the wealth of unquestionable evidence which is then provided to substantiate his claim.
Sinatra shares the limelight with fellow M-G-M greats such as Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Lawford, James Stewart, Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Conner, Debbie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Liza Minelli and a visiting dignitary from Paramount, Bing Crosby as they all present mini segments of the picture explaining just how and why M-G-M musicals had qualities their rivals could only ever dream of emulating.
James Stewart's segment is fascinating to watch as he presents some long forgotten clips of well known dramatic actors (including himself) who were press-ganged into musicals, some with surprisingly good results. Robert Taylor, Robert Montgomery, Cary Grant and Clark Gable are all put through their musical paces for our viewing pleasure, and what a pleasure to watch it is.
Mickey Rooney, follows up with a tribute to his close friend and frequent co-star Judy Garland and his tenure of the movie is crammed with clips from their many movies together including one or two Andy Hardy gems. This tribute to Garland is later fortified by her daughter Liza Minnelli as she offers her own personal and moving tribute.
In my opinion however the highlight of the movies has to be Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, who in effect, do a mutual 'back scratch' as each fill their own segments with statements and clips which modestly declare the other dancer the 'best in the business' Whether or not this was a reflection of their own true feeling's or just Hollywood cheesing it up is immaterial. It does nothing to detract from the pure genius both dancers poured onto the screen throughout their careers only a sample of which are presented to us here.
Bing Crosby who spent most of M-G-M's golden age across the street at Paramount, all but rounds off the movie with various clips including a couple from his only two movies in the M-G-M's musical back catalogue before he hands the reins back to Sinatra for the final epilogue.
These clips represent an era long since passed and it is indeed touching to see these screen giants of yesteryear gather together for the last time in what amounts to their final roar. This is made even more touching by the fact that so many of them have since passed on.
We are indeed lucky to have their testament left behind on film, so that future generations like my own children who were born long after these gifted and talented performers had either died or retired, can look upon and aspire to their genius.
Whether it is in black and white or colour, whether you're 8 or 80 you will find these clips as entertaining and as fresh today as they must have seemed at the time.
Never has the title to a film been more appropriate and what's more you would be hard pushed to find anyone who would dispute it.
The result was so breathtaking and brilliant that two further sequels followed; one almost immediately, and the third after a gap of twenty years, in time for MGM's seventieth birthday. This first compilation shows us sequences from 'An American In Paris', 'Singin' In The Rain', 'The Harvey Girls', 'Hollywood Revue', and on, and on. It has special segments devoted to Astaire, Kelly, Garland, Garland with Rooney, and, er, Esther Williams. It should give any viewer the appetite to seek out full movies they haven't seen, and to reflect with affection on those they have.