That's Entertainment! (1974)
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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...
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!
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.
This compilation was probably made because of the way the cinema was changing in the mid-seventies. Although the early part of the decade had seen two particularly fine examples in "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Cabaret", by 1974 the traditional cinema musical was on the decline. There was also a move away from shooting on sets towards shooting on location. Some of the introductory scenes are shot where the musicals themselves were filmed, on MGM's famous backlot which, by 1974, was starting to look very shabby and dilapidated. (It was to be demolished for redevelopment shortly afterwards).
The first part of the film was not particularly interesting, largely because so many of the featured clips were taken from films which are now forgotten and even thirty-five years ago were probably little-known. I also wondered why so much attention was given to Esther Williams, who certainly looked good in a swimsuit but was a very limited actress and whose choreographed water-ballets must have looked hopelessly cheesy by the seventies. One thing that I did learn, however, is that the musical genre was so popular in the thirties and forties that many actors, who today would not be thought of as musical stars, were press-ganged into service, regardless of vocal talent (or the lack thereof). We therefore see clips of the likes of James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Crawford and Clark Gable performing in some very obscure old films. (Stewart and Taylor also serve as presenters). Of these, it is Gable who acquits himself with the greatest honour, but his musical career never took off, apparently because his fans felt that all that singing and dancing was a bit sissy and out of keeping with his he-man image.
Things liven up in the second half of the film, because it now starts to concentrate on the really famous musicals for which MGM is still remembered today. The smug, self-congratulatory tone is still present, but the studio can be forgiven a little self-congratulation when it is talking about films as good as "Show Boat", "Seven Brides for "Seven Brothers", "An American in Paris" and "Singin' in the Rain". These last two, of course, both starred Gene Kelly, who also acts as a presenter. Kelly and Fred Astaire, with their very different styles of dancing, were often perceived as rivals, so it was a good idea to have Kelly present a tribute to Astaire and Astaire present one to Kelly. The most moving moment comes when Liza Minnelli presents a tribute to her mother, Judy Garland, who had died a few years earlier.
"That's Entertainment!" was obviously popular, because it was followed two years later by "That's Entertainment II"". (There were to be two more similar compilations, "That's Dancing!" in the eighties and "That's Entertainment III" in the nineties). The appeal of films like this at the time was probably their nostalgia value for the older generation who could remember the original musicals. Today they seem more like a curiosity, albeit an entertaining one.
As noted in IMDb's "goofs" section, there are some biggies in this film. Most notable was Liza Minneli claiming that Jean Harlow was part of some failed deal to get Shirley Temple to do The Wizard of Oz. I cannot believe this wasn't caught in editing or fact checking. The Wizard of Oz was made in 1939. Harlow died in 1937.
My other fault with this film is that I wish they had acknowledged that many of the dances were edited. For example: they only showed 5 minutes of the 18 minute An American In Paris ballet and it was a hack job of editing. They also seriously slashed the finale of the The Broadway Ballet from Singin' In The Rain and they didn't even show the most famous part of that dance (Cyd Charisse slinking all over Gene Kelly in that gorgeous green dress).
But, I digress.
This movie is a fantastic way to spend 2+ hours. Besides the dance highlights, there are the oddball dances. The oddest of all was Clark Gable hoofing and singing to Puttin' On The Ritz. There was also a 1929 Joan Crawford singing and dancing. I love seeing things that are so unexpected!
My favorite non-dancing moment in the film occurred during the Debbie Reynolds segment. She talked about the famous 25th anniversary MGM lunch where all of the stars were present. I loved how the camera panned the the table to reveal Crawford, Gable, Astaire, Kelly, Hepburn, Sinatra, Barrymore, Tracy, etc. etc.
My favorite dancing moment in the show is the Astaire/Kelly dance from Ziegfeld Follies. Again, this dance is horribly edited, but seeing those two dance together is pure magic. Since they did not dance together again until the sequel to this movie in 1976, seeing them together is a special treat.
MGM had many of the musical stars but not all, so you don't get Shirley Temple, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Julie Andrews and others. However, you do get a ton of great performers like Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, Esther Williams and others. To use a cliché, this is a must-have for music fans. In addition to the above stars, who are remembered in some of their best scenes, you have the incredible sets of the Busby Berkeley movies.
At over two hours, there is a lot of great material in here.
The numbers are all commercial in their nature, designed to appeal to the family-oriented and innocent audiences of the time. There's nothing dark about any of them. Even complex tragedies like "Showboat," the Rogers and Hart Broadway hit of around 1927, is sanitized in its verse and characterizations. Louis B. Mayer had no interest in the working-class dramas of the Warner Brothers. All its output was a warm and cozy as money and talent could make it. If Mayer couldn't get Shirley Temple, after whose drawing power he lusted, he created his own Shirley Temples in Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien.
The numbers (or at least snippets of them) range from exhilarating (the barn-raising dance sequence in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" or Gene Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain") through comically bad (you must hear Robert Montgomery sing in an operetta, or Jimmy Stewart wrestling his way through Cole Porter's undemanding "Easy to Love", or Wallace Beery grumbling uncomfortably for "It's a Most Unusual Day"), to the earnest vulgarity of Joan Crawford's hootchie-cootchie or Esther Williams color-drenched high dives into a sea of fountains, flares, and fireworks.
The guides are Old Faithfuls, familiar to all movie buffs -- perhaps with Peter Lawford near the bottom and Old Blue Eyes near the top. Fred Astaire provides a graceful description of Gene Kelly's gymnastic dancing style, and Kelly does something similar for Astaire's more delicate and more innovative ballroom style.
In a way, that's where the problem lies. Not a BIG problem -- not enough to detract from our enjoyment of these mostly splendid productions -- but a subtle irritation, even if an expectable one. The narration is written by Jack Haley, Jr., son of the Tin Man and ex-husband of Liza Minelli. It seems at times to be aimed at idiots. In "Royal Wedding," to an unexceptional tune, Fred Astaire dances on the floor, then climbs one of the walls and dances sideways, then upside down on the ceiling, then on the opposite wall, and finally back to the floor where this nonsense started. Gene Kelly's narration tells us that "movie buffs have been arguing ever since about how it was done." WHAT movie buffs? Those under the age of ten? There's a condescending quality to the written script that qualifies our appreciation of the overall work. "We've saved the best for last," says Sinatra and we see much of the splashy, complex, and extremely expensive "American in Paris" ballet. I don't think it's "the best," do you? "One of the best," probably. "Good," certainly. But it would have been nice if Haley has let us make up our own minds and not treat us as savages only lately come down from the Nilgiri Hills.
On the other hand, Haley has evoked a poignant sense of nostalgia for the past. The sets on the MGM lot that were once vibrant with faux life, busy with activity, are now shabby skeletons with some shingling still attached -- artistically arranged, to be sure.
I wonder if you need to be old enough to remember the musicals in their original form to appreciate what a loss to vernacular culture that this represents. Man, MGM had billions left in that lot. All they had to do was turn it into a sort of theme park with paid tours. Look at Universal Studios -- flourishing although few movies are made there. As it was, MGM sold out for the short change. They auctioned off all the props and sold the lot to developers who plowed everything under and did was developers do: put up steely buildings surrounded by vast asphalt parking lots.
"They don't make them like this anymore," one of the guides remarks, and he is so right. They couldn't if they wanted to. Not only are the sets gone but just this year we've seen the demise of people like Ann Miller, Cyd Charisse, and Van Johnson.
That's enough bad mouthing, I suppose. This is certainly worth watching. Just for one example, watch the grace and near perfection of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in "Dancing in the Dark" from "The Bandwagon." Watch some of the others. Then go rent the originals.
'That's Entertainment! (1974)' is the first in a trilogy of documentaries tracing the history of MGM as a producer of musicals, telling the story through the compilation of classic musical numbers. What might have been a simple, inconsequential clip-show is offered a vital touch of class through the participation of some of cinema's most beloved stars, including Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Stewart, Bing Crosby, Peter Lawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Liza Minnelli (representing her mother, Judy Garland, who prematurely passed away in 1969), and also some guy named Frank Sinatra. As temporary co-host, each performer offers a carefully-scripted running commentary on the sequences being shown to us, on occasion tossing in details of their own experience. Particularly fascinating is a clip of the 1936 musical 'Born to Dance,' in which Jimmy Stewart demonstrates, for the first and only time, what happens when he is forced into performing a musical number but at least it's not quite as embarrassing as Clarke Gable's cheesy rendition of "Puttin' on the Ritz!"
The most memorable feature of this documentary is how it includes not only the classic musical moments that we all remember, but also a variety of selections that were, as a newcomer, completely unknown to me. I've already developed a list of movie moments that I must experience in their unabridged versions, including Gene Kelly's duet with Jerry Mouse in 'Anchors Aweigh (1945)' and Fred Astaire's mind-boggling waltz across the ceiling in 'Royal Wedding (1951),' which employed a rotating set that inspired a similar sequence in Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).' The actors' introductions, filmed on the soon-to-be-demolished MGM back-lots, are informative and entertaining, though it's rather saddening to see their weathered faces and to know that their glory days were, even then, lost in the past. But perhaps "lost" is the wrong word, because each of these magical musical moments linger in both our memories, and, even when these fail us, in the magnificence of celluloid. Entertainment doesn't get much better than this.
Its very rare indeed to watch such a thoroughly entertaining movie. And it even laughs at itself, particularly when showing the insanity of Esther Williams' mega-productions. These have to be seen to be believed!
"Musicals were fantasy trips for the audiences of their day", intones Frank Sinatra, the first commentator, clearly reading from cue cards. What he really thought is unknown. Most of the musicals from that era were gaudy, extravagant, flamboyant, garish, and escapist. But they did have talent. Jeanette MacDonald's singing, Fred Astaire's dancing, Esther William's swimming, Ann Miller's tap dancing are examples of terrific skill and showmanship, so much so that, by comparison, today's "stars" seem hardly more than opportunistic talking heads.
It's not all self-promotion. Viewers get a taste for some notable flops, like when Joan Crawford "tries" to dance; she was wise to stick to dramatic acting. Then there are all those silent film stars whose later efforts didn't work out too well, as technology transitioned to talkies.
Probably my favorite segment is a big dinner at which actors sit at rows of tables. As the camera pans down the long rows, some familiar faces include: Ava Gardner, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Young, Angela Lansbury, Red Skelton, Walter Pidgeon. But other faces were not at all familiar to me; wish the director had inserted everyone's name as the camera passed by.
My main complaint is the studio's canned script, gushing over its accomplishments. Still, the film offers a good historical perspective of the musical film genre. And to see all those talented people, very few of whom are still with us, is great fun.
I don't know if I can comment much on the merits of the film itself, since I was using it mainly as research. The idea of experiencing a slew of highlights sounds good in theory, but doesn't entirely work in practice. Of course it's fun when you're enjoying the numbers, but although it has the benefit of whetting your appetite for those films, it also makes you wish you were watching them instead. There's a cringe-worthy Twiggy-era comment about "slightly overweight chorus girls" and Liz Taylor looks stoned out of her gourd. But it's an enjoyable overview and there's a candid willingness to discuss their failures.
With a myriad of narrators, the film succeeds since at it said, "Boy, do we need this now." No, it wasn't the depression, but it was Watergate in full view as this great film was shown to audiences.
The film gives us an opportunity to enjoy the many talents that MGM gave us. It is just too numerous to mention.
Of course, I beg to differ with Frank Sinatra. The best of the MGM musicals was not the Oscar winning "An American In Paris," in 1951, as stated. Sinatra and others called that famous scene a ballet scene. That was part of the problem with this film. While everyone danced around Paris, there was absolutely no plot. Please remember that when the film won the best picture Oscar, there was a wave of protests. The academy received a record number of protests. 7 years later, "Gigi" would win the best picture of the year award. There were no protests then because the picture deserved to win.
That being said, the film succeeds as it allowed us to delve into the world of the musical, which helped us to get through the depression and a World War.
The ending credits here were memorable as MGM paid tribute to all those- the writers, directors, song writers, and the stars themselves who gave us such musical delights.
Some of the many highlights: Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald doing the "Indian Love Call"; the incredible tap dancing of Astaire and Kelly; the finale of "Good News"; Joan Crawford singing and dancing (badly); Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and Robert Montgomery doing it even worse; the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musicals; incredible numbers from "Royal Wedding", "Thr Barkleys of Broadway" and "The Band Wagon"; Esther Williams aquatic musicals (truly eye-popping); a huge anniversary dinner for MGM's 24th anniversary; Mario Lanza; Gene Kelly dancing with an animated mouse....the list goes on and on.
I'm only giving it a 9 because it's a bit too long, has its dead spots and there's WAY too many Kelly and Astaire numbers. Also see how beautiful Elizabeth Taylor looks (in 1974) and see the "interesting" outfit Peter Lawford wears.
I saw the DVD which has a beautifully restored picture in breath-taking color. You have to see it that way.