Directed by: Jack Haley, Jr.
Starring: Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Debbie Reynolds
I will not deny that the film That’s Entertainment (1974) works as a reasonable souvenir package of the MGM musical, but it also presents such a narrow view of the movie musical overall — all the while selling the idea that it’s the ultimate packaging of movie musicals — that I’ve never warmed to it. In fact, I’ve always rather resented its notion that MGM made the best musicals of all. Of course, since it was MGM putting the film together — and strictly from the confines of its own library — that was to be expected. But as a die-hard admirer of the musical film, I feel the need to cry foul. Where are the great Astaire-Rogers dances? Well, they’re not here because those all came from RKO. Instead, we get footage from their one MGM film — and it’s definitely their weakest. Where are the most magnificent of Busby Berkeley’s excessive production numbers? Well, those were done for Warner Bros. — with one glorious outburst at 20th Century Fox. We get Bing Crosby — in clips from his two MGM movies — but all of his best work was over at Paramount. We get footage from MGM’s inferior version of Show Boat, not the one stuck away in their library that was made by Universal. I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point. What the film gives you is MGM’s self-advertising side of the story. Watch it, sure. Enjoy that studio’s contributions to the musicals. (I personally find that a very little bit of Mickey Rooney, Peter Lawford, June Allyson, Kathryn Grayson and Mario Lanza goes a long way.) But don’t buy the idea that it all began and ended with MGM.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show That’s Entertainment Sunday, May 10 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
In Brief: Riding in on the last of the late 1960s/early 1970s nostalgia wave, That’s Entertainment positioned itself as a documentary about the Hollywood musical. In truth, it was a two-hour commercial for MGM that presented one seriously skewed version of film history. That’s not to say the film doesn’t include some pretty impressive (and more than a few clunker) musical numbers — all culled from the MGM library — but it presents a very small fragment of the movie musical genre as if it was the whole story.