Tuesday, February 5, 2013

That’s Entertainment! (1974) & That’s Entertainment, Part II (1976)

          Made to commemorate Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 50th anniversary, That’s Entertainment! is a documentary in name only, since the picture comprises clips from old movies that are introduced—through new, scripted footage—by a group of movie actors closely associated with the MGM studio. Anyone looking for behind-the-scenes gossip or insight will be disappointed, but, as the film’s title suggests, providing information isn’t the point. Rather, That’s Entertainment! offers a massive array of show-stopping musical numbers, including such classic moments as Fred Astaire’s graceful dance duet with Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon (1953), Judy Garland’s plaintive rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz (1939), Gene Kelly’s exuberant performance of the title song in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), and dozens more. The picture also spotlights rarely scene clips, including Clark Gable performing “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in Idiot’s Delight (1939), and features montages celebrating the work of such Golden Age stars as Lena Horne, Ann Miller, and Esther Williams.
          The clips are nearly all dazzling, running the gamut from outrageous Busby Berkeley-directed spectacles to simple vocal performances, and the film’s seven editors did a remarkable job of organizing the material into logical sections while also creating a smooth flow. Writer-producer-director Jack Haley Jr.’s use of MGM stars as hosts works, too, because their participation validates the piece; furthermore, seeing the passage of time through their aging faces and physiques amplifies the nostalgia of recalling a magical era from the past. (Accentuating this effect, many of the hosts are shot walking through decrepit sections of the long-unused MGM backlot.)
          The impressive roster of hosts includes Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Peter Lawford, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, and the late Judy Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, who presents a sweet segment about “Mama.” Each host offers a canned anecdote or two, and then narrates a few minutes of clips, so Haley creates the illusion of old friends sharing memories at a reunion. That’s Entertainment! is total fluff, but it lives up to its title and, in a cheerfully superficial sort of way, provides a history lesson simply by cataloguing the best output from one studio.
          Alas, the film’s first sequel, That’s Entertainment, Part II, is not nearly as charming. Kelly took over the directing chores, and he co-hosts the entire film exclusively with fellow song-and-dance legend Astaire. (Songwriter Sammy Cahn makes an ineffectual appearance during one quick bit.) Kelly and his team cast a wider net for different types of clips, since most of MGM’s best musical numbers were used in the previous film. As a result, this picture features random montages about great movie lines, plus such extended comedy bits as the Marx Brothers’ classic “stateroom” scene from A Night at the Opera (1935). Combined with the lack of organization—the movie jumps around between eras and genres—the inclusion of nonmusical scenes makes That’s Entertainment, Part II confusing and unfocused. Worse, Kelly stages all of the hosting bits as musical numbers. While it’s fun to see Astaire and Kelly hoofing together, their age and a general lack of inspiration makes these original production numbers seem second-rate when juxtaposed with classic clips. Nonetheless, the franchise soldiered on with a quasi-official follow-up called That’s Dancing In 1985 and then an official, made-for-TV threequel called That’s Entertainment III in 1994.

That’s Entertainment!: GROOVY
That’s Entertainment, Part II: FUNKY

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