Wednesday, May 8, 2013

It’s Showtime (1976)

          After the success of That’s Entertainment! (1974), a slew of anthology films celebrating the Hollywood of yesteryear hit theaters, although few successors matched That’s Entertainment! for sheer ebullience and wow factor. Still, even a second-rate offering in this genre, such as It’s Showtime, has value. After all, where else can viewers survey scenes featuring many of Hollywood’s most famous animal performers, from Flipper to Rin Tin Tin, without having to watch entire movies featuring the performers? Because, let’s face it, after plowing through all 85 minutes of It’s Showtime, you’ll probably feel like you’ve seen enough Flipper and Rin Tin Tin to last the rest of your life. In addition to featuring marquee-name animal performers, It’s Showtime presents obscure bits culled from conventional features (meaning those starring human beings), as well as from shorts and special subjects. For instance, the anthology’s opening number features a chorus and orchestra of dogs performing a routine to “Singin’ in the Rain,” and then It’s Showtime shifts to such random sights as funnyman Joe E. Brown cavorting in an office with a lion; Roy Rogers and his trusty steed, Trigger, doing their thing; and a poodle undulating to the accompaniment of stripper music. Some of this stuff is fun, and a lot of it is odd. (In the case of the bumping-and-grinding poodle, “odd” gives way to “disturbing.”)
          Most of the picture comprises themed chapters grouping clips of particular types of animals (e.g. a section of horse scenes set to “The William Tell Overture,” etc.), but A-list critters including Asta (the Thin Man dog) and Francis the Talking Mule get their own stand-alone chapters. Writer Alan Myerson tries to give the clips some sort of narrative flow, starting with lighthearted comedy before moving into exciting action vignettes and finally tearjerker scenes, but even with this care given to the overall arrangement, the enterprise gets boring after a while. The problem isn’t the clips or the execution, per se, so much as the lack of any storyline. It’s Showtime is the sort of picture where the viewer can walk away from the screen for 10 or 15 minutes and miss absolutely nothing of importance. Aditionally, the tearjerker section gets tiresome thanks to the inclusion of overly long excerpts from Lassie Come Home (1943) and National Velvet (1944). It must be said, however, that seeing highlights of Rin Tin Tin’s myriad screen adventures makes a strong case for the noble German Shepherd as one of the great action stars of the silent era. Watching Rin climb walls, knock bad guys off cliffs, leap off rooftops, and such actually generates real thrills.

It’s Showtime: FUNKY

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