That’s Entertainment! III

From the Chicago Reader (April 1, 1994). — J.R.

This third compilation of clips from MGM musicals — introduced, like its predecessors, by many of the leading performers (June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Lena Horne, Howard Keel, Gene Kelly, Ann Miller, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, and Esther Williams) — has so much pleasure to offer that any purist quibbles seem minor. Not only have writers-directors-producers Bud Friedgen and Michael J. Sheridan, who worked as editors on the two previous films, come up with heaps of wonderful and fascinating new material (excluded numbers from Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon, Cabin in the Sky, The Harvey Girls, Easter Parade, and even I Love Melvin); they’ve also introduced a welcome critical note into the proceedings, demonstrating how dubious some of MGM’s aesthetic decisions were and allowing Horne to voice some of her own misgivings about the bigoted policies that limited her activity. Indeed, after Horne introduces her own clips, her terse introduction to an unused Judy Garland number from Annie Get Your Gun, “I’m an Indian Too,” doesn’t have to allude to the number’s racism because in the context she’s established the evidence speaks for itself. The original screen ratios of the films are generally respected — the rule apparently is broken only when the filmmakers are doing a montage or want the dramatic benefits of a full screen even if it means cropping the image. Among the highlights are some terrific dancing by Eleanor Powell (alongside some fascinating production footage on split screen revealing how one number was done), Astaire and Rogers in the credits sequence of The Barkleys of Broadway, a very funny grudge match between Keel and Betty Hutton in Annie Get Your Gun (virtually unseen for almost half a century), and, strictly as camp, the most grotesque Joan Crawford number imaginable, from Torch Song with Crawford in blackface. She’s seen on split screen with Cyd Charisse, who’s simultaneously lip-synching to the dubbing of the same song, “Two-Faced Woman,” by India Adams (Charisse’s version was cut from The Band Wagon). Don’t be fooled by MGM’s lack of imagination (and its completely misleading trailer) in promoting this cornucopia: it’s the most pleasure-filled Hollywood movie to have come along this year. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, July 22 through 28.

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