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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Movies and Broadway in 1974 were in a state of emergency with the lack
of family entertainment (exclusing Disney, of course) and the state of
society. "Boy Do We Need It Now!", the adds for this compilation of
clips from MGM musicals made between 1929 and 1958 exclaimed. From
"Broadway Melody" to "Gigi", from "Wedding of the Painted Doll" to
"Thank Heavens For Little Girls", from Bessie Love to Leslie Caron. The
docu-musical covers the height of the movie musical era, even though
musicals continued to be made on a regular basis through the mid
1970's, most of them unmemorable even with the few classics thrown in.
MGM continued to make the occasional musical, with film versions of "Bells Are Ringing" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" being highlights, and such later newer classics as "Fame" and "Victor/Victoria". But when you've got Jeanette and Nelson, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell and Esther Williams, to name a few, you focus on that era, and that is what the first of four entries into the "That's Entertainment!" franchise focuses on, with many of the stars providing insight into the behind the scenes of what it was like to work at MGM.
Long before Turner Classic Movies, the former stars of MGM ("More Great Movies!" one pre-TCM promo exclaimed) got together to reminisce and show off the highlights of the past. "That's Entertainment!" focuses on the musicals made at MGM (three of which were Oscar Winners) and with Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli (representing her parents) narrating, it is certainly nostalgic indeed. This was prior to home video and cable T.V. as well, so unless you had a local channel which broadcast them, you had very little chance to see them. No wonder why this was one of the top box office films of the year. Today's younger fans of this genre are too accustomed to DVD and TCM to appreciate what it was like to have this if you didn't have immediate access to these classics.
So in retrospect, getting to see "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" and "Rosalie" on the big screen again with their many extras and Mickey and Judy putting on a show in a barn, Gene stompin' around in the rain as he is approached by a suspicious cop, Fred sailing across the sky while dancing with Joan Crawford, the joy of the arrival of the "Show Boat", Esther descending above a giant pool with smoke all around her and delightful shots of the city of lights with "An American in Paris" and "Gigi", is still a bit of heaven on earth. The delight of the stars to present this years after making these films is never self-gratifying egotism; A lot of hard work was put into making these gems, and now in its 40th Anniversary, "That's Entertainment!" remains one of the top salutes to a golden age that has never been surpassed.
I have a feeling that I speak for much of my generation, maybe MOST of
my generation, when I say that it's hard to take these old musicals
seriously. Always happy-go-lucky, they set themselves up to get
heckled. I did just that while watching "That's Entertainment!". If
you've read my reviews of musicals, then you'll know that I watch them
only so that I can throw out the sorts of comments that Mike, Servo and
Crow hurl at the crummy movies sent them by Dr. Forrester and TV's
Frank on "Mystery Science Theater 3000". Most of the time here, I just
blurted out quotes from other movies ("Army of Darkness", "Monty Python
and the Holy Grail", etc).
Here's a few other things. I noticed that one movie contained a scene of people performing in blackface. "Show Boat" was little more than a whitewash of the Jim Crow south. I recognize the New York song from "On the Town" from the time that "The Simpsons" spoofed it: Bart and Milhouse OD on sugar from an entirely syrup-based Squishee, and sing about Springfield. And then there's "Over the Rainbow". Everyone remembers Judy Garland singing it, but lesser known is that the song's co-writer Yip Harburg later got blacklisted for holding socialist views.
Anyway, my favorite movies from Hollywood's golden age are comedies, gangster flicks, and sci-fi/horror flicks*. Most of the movies here would be a lot more interesting if remade my the creators of "South Park". Or if presented by Elvira.
*Speaking of horror flicks, "The Wizard of Oz" DID scare me when I was little: that scene where the woman turns into a witch in the tornado freaked me out. That movie and "Ghostbusters" are the only movies that authentically scared me.
Created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios in 1974, this film was a tremendous hit, and inspired two followups. The premise is that simple: show excerpts from the famous musicals of MGM, the studio that created the best of them! The film is broken up into several segments, each one introduced by some of the stars of these marvelous films: Liza Minnelli introduces one on her mother Judy Garland, as does Mickey Rooney. Donald O'Connor introduces one on Esther Williams, etc. This is full of so many goodies, that it would be impossible to name them all within the confines of this review. So many great stars are here: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, June Allyson, Lena Horne, Ann Miller, and on and on and on and on. Wonderful film, and a reminder of an era when stars and films had class. I was born in the 90's, and I would rather watch any of these gems featured in this film than some mindless action flick or the dime-a-dozen horror films of today. I truly wish we could go back to this kind of film-making today. As Frank Sinatra says in the film, "You can wait around and hope, but I'll tell you; you'll never see the likes of this again." Until that does happen, watch this exuberant film, and bask in the glory of the MGM musicals. Recommended. 10/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's all there on the lid; buy it for what it says there and you got no kicks coming. It's difficult to see how this could miss; on the one hand it appealed to nostalgics who'd seen most of the clips as full films the first time round whilst on another level it stood a fair chance of reaching a younger audience who had heard of, say, Astaire, Garland, and was eager to see if it was hype or not (DEFINITELY NOT). Inevitably someone is going to beef about the omission of a favourite clip(s) but like the man said you can't please everybody and really there is enough vintage dynamite here to blow the Rapper, House, Garage, whatever brigade out of the water. Easily eight stars.
The one thing Hollywood never gets tired of is celebrating how
"fabulous" it is. "That's Entertainment" is a documentary focusing on
one aspect of this fabulousness; old musicals. It was a great idea,
ruined by good old Hollywood ego.
The Hollywood musicals ran the gamut from "artistic triumph" to "real dog." "That's Entertainment" makes no distinction between the two extremes. One minute you could be watching "Singin' in the Rain" and the next you are watching a clip from "Words and Music." "Words and Music" was a critical disaster. Star Mickey Rooney called it, "A terrible turkey" in his autobiography, yet here it presented as, well, fabulous. They even show the self-contained Lena Horne solo, which could be excised for Southern audiences (what, fabulous Hollywood pander to an audience? 'Fraid so, but they would never admit it here).
In another scene we get a clip of Clark Gable singing "Puttin' on the Ritz." It is the only time in his career that Gable didn't look to be in complete control in front of the camera. In fact, he looks to be in genuine pain. No acknowledgement here that making him do this was stupid though, no, it was fabulous.
the clips are introduced by the stars of the musicals, and also Liza "Have I mentioned in the past five minutes that Judy Garland was my mother?" Minelli. One of the things they all mention is how much they love their fellow performers. Since they are obviously reading from cue cards, their declarations seem insincere.
What's more, we get no behind the scenes info. No discussions of how scenes were staged, how casting decisions were made, what directing a musical was like, nothing. Perhaps they feel that this kind of talk would take away the "magic." Instead, this glaring omission makes it all seem anti-intellectual.
My conclusion is this; "That's Entertainment" is like last years' Oscar night. Hollywood celebrates itself, and tells you that you should too. This time, I couldn't.
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