Sunday, 7 May 2017

The Grønmark Blog goes all "friend of Dorothy" - we've been watching That's Entertainment III. Again.

In 1976, I landed two tickets to the London premier of That's Entertainment! Part II, a second compilation film featuring clips from the heyday of MGM musicals, with linking material provided by toupée-wearing old stars, many of whom looked as if they'd been embalmed. I can't now remember why I was given a ticket - something to do with my job as a publicist for the publisher, New English Library - but, thinking about somebody else for once, I had the cheek to request a second ticket, was promptly given one, and asked my mother to accompany me. Like me, she wasn't a great fan of musicals, but she'd been raised on a diet of Hollywood movies in pre-War Glasgow. Oddly - considering she was a former fashion model - she became flustered as we walked up the red-carpeted stairs towards the entrance and press photographers started snapping us. At the end of the screening...

...Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly appeared live and in person in front of the screen and did a brief interview. My mother had met countless international big-wigs - including quite a few royals - in the early '60s, attending diplomatic events with my father during his four-year tour of duty in London. But Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly were genuine royalty.

Anyway, it proved to be quite an evening and I felt I had at last managed to "put something back", as it were.

I never miss That's Entertainment! Parts 1 & 2  when they turn up on television, because they're like musicals with all the boring bits and duff numbers removed. The only problem with them is the oleaginously phoney performances of some of the stars - Peter Lawford and Liza Minnelli (standing in for Mom) are particularly nauseating. That, and the fact that the choice of films is limited to MGM productions - yes, they produced most of the greatest musicals, but it means that the splendid 1930's Warner Brothers musicals (42nd Street, Gold-Diggers of 1933 and 1935,  Footlight Parade etc.) and the great early RKO Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers films (Top Hat, Swing Time, Flying Down to Rio etc.) are absent. Still, let's not ask for the moon when we have the stars.
That's Entertainment III came very late to the party, finally limping onto the screen in 1994 to coincide with the studio's 70th anniversary. Given that the best stuff had already been plundered for the first two parts, Part 3 turned out to be surprisingly watchable, mainly because the producers - in order, presumably, to pad it out and to give jaded punters stuff they wouldn't have seen on TV or video - included a number of sequences which had been cut from the films they'd been intended for. The best of these is Judy Garland performing "I'm an Indian Too" from Annie, Get Your Gun (1950) - with and without war-paint! It's one of two sequences she appeared in before being fired from the production (to be replaced by the wearyingly energetic Betty Hutton). Pity, because for a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, she was in fine form - she was a terrific natural comedienne when given the chance:
Garland's performance of "Mr. Monotony" was cut from 1948's Easter Parade. The song itself was no great loss - although it was apparently cut for being too suggestive and anachronistic rather than for being er...monotonous. But filmgoers were denied the pleasure of seeing the star in the stupendously stylish outfit she finally got to wear for "Get Happy" in Summer Stock:
The dancer Cyd Charisse was one of the most stylish, graceful women ever to appear on a cinema screen. Joan Crawford wasn't. A rather catty sequence from the film highlights the difference between them:
Another great sequence is the one where we catch a glimpse of Ava Gardner in Showboat, singing "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" in her own voice. Annette Warren later dubbed the singing part, much to Ms. Gardner's annoyance - much as Lena Horne was chagrined to lose the part to Ava Gardner in the first place, having already recorded all the songs. I may be biased, but I reckon Ms. Gardner's singing is unexpectedly accomplished: her voice may not be as rich as that of the professional singer who appeared on the soundtrack - but it has a convincingly smoky Southern languor to it:
I'll end with two numbers included in the film which weren't dropped or dubbed - first, here's Fred Astaire performing "Drum Crazy" from Easter Parade (a truly awful song, but a splendid dance sequence):
And here's the great man with the lovely Cyd Charisse, both being utterly bloody wonderful in The Band Wagon: 

Now, in order to restore my reputation, I must go off and do something very butch and heterosexual - like peel a grape.

1 comment:

  1. A very enjoyable post with great clips. Charisse had legs like Sharapova and I have never seen Ava Gardner look more beautiful.

    I can't help feeling that the female stars had a little bit of a raw deal. The Judy Garland story is well-known. Eleanor Powell was forced to give up her career when she married the dour Canadian Glenn Ford and leggy Anne Miller never got the recognition she deserved. As Ginger Rogers succinctly put it :
    "Everybody keeps talking about Fred, but he did not have to dance backwards in a long frock and high heels" So let's hear it for the Sisters!