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Monday, January 04, 2021

Culling The Rest In Quest Of The Best


 That Was Still Entertainment In 1974



Warner Archives has released The Harvey Girls on Blu-Ray. Having never watched the feature whole, I sat down to it. Prior acquaintance had been a 16mm trailer, or Harvey credits where checking TCM (often) to see if they had done an HD transfer, and most notably, the “Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe” as excerpted in That’s Entertainment!. Latter gives insight to what 70’s editing saw as “good stuff” to take from an old movie that might not go down as well intact. Shaved Atchison left but a fraction for 1974 audiences to enjoy, which raises question: would they tolerate an entire eight minutes the number ran in The Harvey Girls? Had viewer patience so diminished between 1946 and 1974? I looked at That’s Entertainment! to see what other songs were trimmed besides Atchison. Turns out producer Jack Haley Jr. took a cleaver to most. Entertainment’s idea was to highlight as much Metro songbook as 135 minutes would permit. Haley took inspiration from Robert Youngson here, plus his own experience with TV programs built around old footage. Best Of means Best Of, even where it leaves but portion of tunes you are celebrating. I note nothing else of The Harvey Girls turning up in That’s Entertainment!, Parts One or Two (an outtake number included in Part Three less for worth than rarity). Does this mean there was only one great, or even good, song in The Harvey Girls? Suggests that to me, and I bet Haley and crew would have admitted as much. How much music genuinely lasts? Atchison is the only piece in The Harvey Girls that really grabs me. Did that preference come of seeing That’s Entertainment! so many times? I wonder if, outside Judy Garland circles, anyone can name another song from The Harvey Girls.



What is That’s Entertainment! after forty-seven years, over which it has become as much an artifact as musicals it recognizes, a monument to decay that was the seventies, a decade bent on dismantling a Golden Era it pretended to revere. Host segments were shot just ahead of bulldozers that would mow down MGM’s backlot. Leaving ruin on view, they didn’t bother trimming weeds around “Tate College” or Esther Williams’ swimming pool, which I have to take for Haley statement on irony That’s Entertainment! represents. He knew and surely deplored what was going on. A 1970 auction had already decimated the place. Employees that cared heisted much memorabilia, the rest tossed to winds, or landfills. A friend told me of going downstairs at the “MGM Grand” in Vegas to find original double-weight stills from Stroheim’s The Merry Widow among “souvenirs” tourists could buy. Fifty cents got you a John Gilbert-Mae Murray portrait right off the still camera neg. All this as United Artists pasted “Boy, Do We Need It Now!” onto one-sheets for That’s Entertainment!, drab 70’s font, of course. Was anyone more surprised when the compilation became a massive hit, UA’s largest haul for 1974?

Jack Haley, Jr. with Liza Minnelli


It’s mud on dancing shoes I enjoy best where watching now. Frank Sinatra exits the Thalberg building to tell us that while others specialized in “gangsta picthas,” or “horra movies,” no one did musicals better than MGM. He’ll prove it too, or Haley and search crew will, their vault peruse months in the doing, some said over a year. Quality of clips was always the threshold for scrapbooks on screen. This was to be 35mm, so dupey, grainy, faded, was out. Some of scenes look better in That’s Entertainment! than they have since, Blu-Ray or no. Was there loss of negatives since 1974? I heard of an Eastman House fire that claimed a number of Metro titles, though not sure when that happened. That’s Entertainment! jumps between square ratio of old and wide spurts where spectacle or souped-up sound had potential to engulf us. Multi-tracks done when songs were recorded have survived in part, but when were these discovered? The Harvey Girls Blu-Ray uses them for Atchison, Topeka, this a first of stereo spikes through That’s Entertainment!, so is that a digital plus only? To my understanding, there was no Dolby so early as ‘74, so I’d ask, were there magnetic tracks for That’s Entertainment? I had a 16mm airline print with optical plus a mag strip, but never listened to the latter for lacking playback equipment.



Sinatra would return at the end, having saved “the best for last,” a heavy truncated ballet that wound up An American In Paris from 1951. I don’t doubt a lot of viewers besides me said “Oh yeah?,” especially after Frank had shown us Fred Astaire dancing with Eleanor Powell, his “You can sit around and hope …” a most insightful line heard in whole of That’s Entertainment!. Many clips clicked, some drew laughs, with or at, Eddy and MacDonald the most notorious at. Had they dated so much as this? It was only ten years before when elders lined up for revival matinees of Naughty Marietta and others with the duo. How cruel was transition to a cynical age, here unfortunately where That’s Entertainment! made concessions, giving in a bit to hip sensibility that anything old must also be quaint, or labelled such. Some of numbers, like the Astaire/Powell, or all of Gene Kelly … well, you’d not chuckle these off, unless of course, you could do better, which no one by 1974 could. Highlights of That’s Entertainment! was where the audience sat up, shut up, and gasped. Even what they were led to call “camp,” like the Esther Williams stuff, was so breathtaking as to silence mirth.



Peter Lawford, a walking glossary of what the 70’s had done to male fashion (forgive the ascot, but what of his/whose hair?), reminds us that Good News was “everyone’s favorite college musical,” news to me at the time, maybe because no NC station had used Good News since the very early sixties. Then I ask … how many college musicals were there in the whole of movies? Offhand can think of but few (I don't count 30's Paramount, as they seemed more vehicles for vaude or radio comedians). Say what we will in tribute to song-fests past, fact is when they are splayed before us, it’s remarkable how impatient at least I am to see one clip give way to the next. Not a few whizzed past me in fast-motion, my finger pressed upon the quick key. What assurance does that give for getting through whole of the movies being excerpted? If I rush through what’s suppose to be a best number in The Pirate, where’s chance I will sit calmly for the intact feature (also just out on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive, so test is nigh). Haley Jr., and earlier Robert Youngson, were wise enough to realize that if you are going to cut, cut to the bone. Suppose the two ever met? If they did, I bet there were plentiful notes to compare.



Host-stars come off oddly, maybe because it had been too long since they were stars. Better a working player than a living legend, and if you’re the latter, better still to wave and keep moving. Elizabeth Taylor walks down stairs like a grandest dame that ever took bows, her voice wispy, thoughtful as if she had composed her words. (I’ll interrupt with this query: Did any of these monuments speak from other than speech prepared by others? My guess of a sole one who might have: Bing Crosby). Here’s thing about Taylor I find so peculiar: the woman was only forty-two years old. You’d think by her stately demeanor, dignity always dignity, that she dated back at least to Griffith, or shared a tent with Rudy. At mere 42, shouldn’t she have years left for leads? It hadn’t been so long since triumph of Virginia Woolf. She and Burton picking projects for money over merit took its toll. Did everyone wake up New Year’s day of 1970 to decide they simply did not want Elizabeth Taylor anymore, in any capacity? Because look at a string of clucks she did from there forward. Could anything seem so long ago as Fox giving Liz a million and letting her run roughshod over Cleopatra? I’ve heard Taylor referred to as the "Last Star" … better put might be the star who did not last, but maybe it was her kind of star that couldn’t last, other than as wax museum guide. Taylor should have had more fruitful middle years than she got.




Judy Garland was gone but five years when That’s Entertainment! came out, fact more noticeable as all the rest were still around, it seemed. They could even have dredged up Anita Page, had they tried. Garland is a most profound blank space of That’s Entertainment!, her clips among best they offer, her absence a reminder that Hollywood endings were not always happy. Mickey Rooney and Liza Minnelli try to materialize her, and come close, but knowing she won’t be there is sobering aside to festivities. Of “straight” actors saluted, I noted one, Clark Gable. He’s there for a montage, then isolated song/dance from Idiot’s Delight, but what’s so “corny” here as James Stewart describes it? Looks to me like Gable doing a fine and unaccustomed job as hoofer, and that’s the end of it. Stewart tries hard to look back bemused, at himself as well as some others, but comes off like an old man having done “Jimmy” on a few too many occasions (I’m now the age he was here … sobering). Did befuddled JS on talk shows deal Stewart out of starring features? Him in the 70’s seemed as trapped as Frank Morgan in the 40’s. I would have thought (hoped) he had at least a few more Bandoleros in him. And I guess Jim (or his writer) never realized that talkies did indeed wash up Rin-Tin-Tin, at least as a feature-starring lead.



Coolest presence for me was Crosby, older than Stewart (1903 v. 1908), but not self-consciously so. Crosby crosses a backlot bridge, notes fact that things are rundown, but so what? He’s living in the now, makes with offscreen “Bing” as in the Rhythm Boy not so far back, relaxed, a primarily Paramount player here because why not be here, introducing “pastiche” that is High Society. Cheery aspect of Crosby was his using “big” or offbeat words to mild comic effect, did so for candid and informative chats right to the end. But this was no mere showing off … he was erudite for real, being a committed reader with vocabulary to spare. Of others I’ll say less, Astaire the realist as always, as in we were just trying to do a job right, so why the fuss, Donald O’Connor with unfortunate reference to “Mark Spitz,” whoever that used to be (yes, he swam, but who cares now?), Liza Minnelli, still fresh, not yet aboard Studio 54 and other 70’s bobsleds, Debbie Reynolds, martyr to fruitless effort toward a Hollywood museum --- she knew too well how little the town cared about its past.



So if That’s Entertainment! was such a panic, how about bringing back musicals it derived from to greater profit for all? That was tried, UA cooperative with revivals houses willing to take a plunge, a few succeeding, but not enough. Question was which of old stuff was good enough to please in entirety? The Wizard of Oz had floated among MGM Children Matinees, but Oz had always stood alone for appeal. Beyond that were ones less known, would-be users having to face music as in how many musicals were still good enough to put before a current audience? It was a little like would-be revival of a 20’s Broadway play that had swell songs, standards-since in fact, but “book” (story/situation) that dated worse than spent milk. I went to a 1976 revive of An American In Paris with Gigi, all to the good, but what if it had been Brigadoon combined with … The Harvey Girls? Money back please, or a pass to better ones in the future. Like with cartoons, the culling process can be brutal, but isn’t that bedrock truth of all film, old or new? I took the Warner tour, years ago, and the guide, her all of 23 if that, showed us a busy sound stage where TV was being shot, to which wise sage me dryly remarked on great work once done there, but no more. She being wiser sage, alert perhaps to tiresome know-it-all buffs, reminded me and others of the group that there was as much lousy stuff in a venerated Golden Age as we had now (or then --- this was 1989). Truer words never spoken, me properly abashed, but in receipt of a good lesson. If everything old had been great, wouldn’t we have eventually got bored with it?

34 Comments:

Blogger Reg Hartt said...

You have a picture fro9m Erich Von Stroheim's THE MERRY WIDOW. While the Warner Archive dvd has a piano score by chance I found a dvd of the same film with a full orchestral score. Wow! What a difference!

10:25 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Gene Kelly's "serious" numbers always bored the hell out of me. Give me "Good Morning, Good Morning" any day.

The big barn raising number from "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" was always the only clip ever shown anywhere. My wife and I finally sat down to see the whole movie. Terrible. Cheap sets. Dated story. And in Anscocolor for God's sakes! The studio must have realized it wasn't even worth Metrocolor.

And "That's Entertainment" must be the closest Sinatra ever got to Lawford since 1963.

11:15 AM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

A wonderfully insightful post.

I said it before and I'll say it again (sorry!), but the great Nostalgia Craze of the late 60s-early 70s was an important cultural moment, and significantly different from other subsequent (or previous!) nods to nostalgia. And that is mostly because the cultural revolution of that era and its impact were so swift, so pervasive and so ruinous that it left those of the time -- and ever since -- wheeling in its wake.

"What is That’s Entertainment! after forty-seven years, over which it has become as much an artifact as musicals it recognizes, a monument to decay that was the seventies, a decade bent on dismantling a Golden Era it pretended to revere."

Even as a kid seeing TE in theaters (multiple times) I was stricken by its elegiac aspect. Here were pre-cultural-revolution icons trying to make sense of it all, with the very visible evidence of decay all around them. I remember reading a series of letters in written in the early 70s between Irving Berlin and Fred Astaire -- they sounded like lost souls in an occupied country. And ... is that analogy so inapt?

Of course, one of the most interesting after-affects of the Nostalgia Craze was that it fostered an entire generation of cultural outsiders (me among them), more at home in the cultural artifacts of their father's (and grandfather's) age. And, incidentally, generating an army of film historians that managed to keep this material alive when it would have otherwise been forgotten.

Excellent post.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

The Harvey Girls was one of the few musicals I remember turning up in the 1970s on the local station that had a package of MGM pre-48s. (The other was Meet Me in St. Louis.) Those two seemed to run pretty regularly, but little else, musicals-wise. And as I recall the station's less-than-honest advertising of it, anyone tuning in The Harvey Girls could be forgiven for expecting to see a regular ol' western rather than a Judy Garland pic. The station program manager told me at the time that people just didn't watch musicals.

1:34 PM  
Blogger TodBrowning said...

Eastman House fire was 1978. NY Times article here:
https://www.nytimes.com/1978/05/31/archives/fire-loss-at-film-museum-less-than-was-feared.html

2:03 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Wonderful post, John. Brought back some memories:

I think THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! was in production for more than two years. That's how long I waited for it! I first heard about it in promotional announcements on NBC in 1972.

I was working in radio when the film was finally released in 1974, and I went to a downtown Boston house to review it with my two radio colleagues. We sat through its 14 reels almost three times (reluctantly having to bail for home before the subway service stopped) and we loved it. Like you, John, we did wonder about the ending, which Sinatra claimed as saving the best for last. The AMERICAN IN PARIS ballet was certainly ambitious and pretentious, but hardly a good-time number designed to send the audience out with a smile. I would have preferred ending with Gene Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain" number, thus making the tune a pair of bookends opening and closing the picture.

The clip-show format was fairly common on 1970s television, but there hadn't been a theatrical compilation on this scale since M-G-M'S BIG PARADE OF COMEDY in 1964, so we enjoyed observing how the different audiences received THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! The late-afternoon audience was quiet and respectful, mostly older adults who came to enjoy the show at the late-matinée prices. The early-evening crowd was mostly young adults who were dating, and seemed to regard the show as a novelty-comedy judging from all the giggling (they howled with laughter at MacDonald and Eddy, and they started out laughing at the Esther Williams numbers until the sheer spectacle silenced them). The late-evening crowd was older and quieter. Biggest hits for all three audiences were the Astaire-Powell dance from BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 and Donald O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh." I remember we three radio guys passing time between shows by firing trivia questions at each other ("Name five movie Tarzans," etc.). This became a sideshow as the young-adult audience came in, and anyone within five rows of us radius got a sample of our radio show, with audiences members guessing at the answers.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! went nontheatrical shortly thereafter, and I saw two different versions in 16mm. One was full-screen, and one was adapted scope, with the older, square images masked and shrunken to about two-thirds the size of the frame. I thought that was an odd way to present it, since so much of the picture was pre-1953.

There was another M-G-M project along the lines of THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! that was never released. THAT'S COMEDY! (1977) was originated by Bill Scott, voice and co-creator of Bullwinkle, with contemporary comedians introducing the films of older comedians. Scott showed it to M-G-M, which rejected it. He recut it and showed it again -- and M-G-M rejected it again.

One last thought, John -- I'm with you about "everyone's favorite college musical." They can keep GOOD NEWS; I'll take Columbia's START CHEERING or Fox's LIFE BEGINS IN COLLEGE, or even Monogram's LET'S GO COLLEGIATE any day of the week!

2:13 PM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

To Scott MacGillivray ---

Do any prints of THAT'S COMEDY exist????? I would love to see that!

4:07 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

If THAT'S COMEDY! does exist, it's in workprint form in the Jay Ward vaults -- but I suspect that because the source materials were M-G-M properties, M-G-M wouldn't let Ward keep it!

4:58 PM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

Ah.... If THAT'S COMEDY came solely from Metro films, it would probably be a very hit-or-miss affair, at any rate.

Does anyone (please!) know where I can find a copy of a television special called Funny Business, broadcast in the late 70s and written by Richard Schickel? It was one of the best video essays on film comedy I had ever seen.

8:57 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Gershwin, Kern, Porter and Berlin all had Broadway hits in the 20s and early 30s that yielded dozens of standards but throw-away books. Likewise the operetta composers. Very early on Hollywood would fit a famous title and a handful of the songs to a mostly new script, sometimes ringing in other numbers from the composer's catalog. "Girl Crazy" and "Babes in Arms" kept the barest traces of the stage plots (and replaced much of their scores), while "Strike Up the Band" maintained only the title song and none of the original satire.

In time they'd draw comparatively recent song hits from movie musicals and give them new settings: "White Christmas" recycled the song (and the singer) from "Holiday Inn", while "Singin' in the Rain" was conceived as showcase for producer Arthur Freed's own songs from the early sound era. Composer biopics like "Words and Music" and "Three Little Words" were ancestors of the modern jukebox musical, offering an excuse to bring in guest stars to perform greatest hits.

I've seen three movie versions of "The Merry Widow". All had substantially different stories: Von Stroheim's juicy and decadent silent; Lubitsch's clever and naughty version, fitted with new lyrics by Rodgers and Hart; and the meh 1952 Technicolor remake by MGM. None of them is that close to the original stage version, which still holds up well enough in live performance. MGM remade a handful of operettas in the 50s. The newer "Rose Marie" is more mockable than the Nelson and Jeanette version.

9:40 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

That's Entertainment! was frequently shown on broadcast television in the 80s as well as the majority of the color films that were clipped for it. When TNT in Latin America played mostly movies from the Turner vault That's Entertainment! and the second film were also shown frequently. At the same time, most of the films that were compiled became easily available to be seen complete. Despite clips, the Esther Williams shows are rather unremarkable as movies, only saved by the musical segments. Jack Hailey Jr. included several clips from the stars that appear as narrators from movies that, in full, are quite unremarkable.

It is interesting to notice that from 1947 to 1957 there was a quota of movies that could be released in Argentina. For this reasons, most musicals of those years didn't get a commercial exhibition eventually going straight to television or cineclubs. For this reasons, clips from the 50s were surprising to many.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Robert Fiore said...

I certainly recall "Great Big World" as a standout from The Harvey Girls. When I see the epic "Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" I will always say, "And that's what MGM was for." The movie forgets for a moment that Judy Garland is supposed to be a nobody from the sticks as she leaves the train like a queen.

2:13 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Only one or two good numbers in an entire movie musical? Reminds me of all those old-time record albums, where there's one good hit song and all the others are forgettable filler.
That kind of marketing ensures that technical changes like digital MP3s and searchable random-access movie and music discs are felt to be improvements, since they really do help people, by facilitating their skipping and fast-forwarding, to spend far less of their valuable time listening to, watching, or even simply avoiding the dreck.

6:15 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

I'm in the camp that pretty much loathes both Kelly's "Broadway Ballet" and the American in Paris finale, which bloats a charming tone poem into pretentious culture (and don't even get me started on Invitation to the Dance).

I look forward to TCM's "Entertainment-thon" every New Year's Eve, and am always taken by the lightness and precision of Astaire's work and the show-offiness of Kelly's (how many numbers of the former end with him literally leaving the stage--not the frame, but the set--and how many of the latter's end with him grinning wolfishly at the camera, begging audiences to love him for what he just did?)

Some prefer Kelly, but I find him cold and limited. (Look at "The Babbitt and the Bromide"--talk about a truncated number--it's done almost entirely in Kelly's style, which Astaire handles effortlessly. The reverse wouldn't be true.

The thing I always notice in That's Dancing (the death knell of the cycle) though, is that the numbers from the 70s and 80s look far more contrived and dated than anything from the 30s and 40s--or even much of the 20s.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT is a good example of a movie one doesn't have to see to enjoy. I often put on the blu-ray (audio only) when I'm piddlin' around the house doing stuff. Don't have to see it (having done so more times I can count) to enjoy it.

I tried to get my booker to put it in my theatre in 1974. He wouldn't. "Doing no business in rural southern towns," he said. So TE never played where I lived.

And pop in the blu-ray. Check out Sinatra's exit from Thalberg Building at the start. Is that really Frankie in the long shot or a double?

8:17 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

A postscript - Whenever I screen TE and get to the "When I'm Calling You" number, I hit the chapter button and move on. My getting through a Nelson-Jeanette sequence is as difficult as trying to take my meds without water.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

The one strain of undiluted comedy at MGM is found in the cartoons of Tex Avery, Joseph Barbera and William Hanna. The first time I saw THE THIN MAN was midnite by chance on TV. I was falling asleep. It woke me right up. Yes, they really mucked up Buster Keaton (boy, did they muck him up) but the worst is those films made more money at the time than did his great silent features. As far as MGM was concerned they were right.

9:07 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Watching this the thought occurs that the 1970s Fred Astaire could have played an excellent Ebenezer Scrooge. I guess the 1970s Bing Crosby could have done too, now that I think about it. By this age, both of them certainly looked the part, and both of them had the acting skills required.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

I was eighteen in 1974, and I saw TE four times that summer. Never have I witnessed such a riotous reception from an audience of all ages. A young couple behind me kept going "wow!" during some numbers. Laughs were BIG laughs. Best of all was the oohing and ahhing among oldsters who recognized a film or performer with a cheerful sigh. I can't imagine, even after 47 years, duplicating that movie summer. I saw all the subsequent TEs (and That's Dancing), but it never quite hit the same heights. However, one favorite recent memory was the first screening in 2016 of the restored King of Jazz at MOMA. What a lovefest that was!

4:39 PM  
Blogger djwein said...

I don't get all the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT trashing here. I saw it on opening week at the Ziegfeld in NY and was blown away by the clarity and impact of all these numbers on the BIG screen. The audience was wowed as well, sitting enraptured from beginning to end and rising for a standing ovation at the conclusion. The entire film was calculated to impress, with the screen widening for certain segments, like the train arrival in "Atchison, Topeka," even though the original film was in Academy ratio. The editing of TE has never bothered me. The shortening of "The Babbitt and the Bromide," for instance, worked because it concentrated on the dancing, discarding the patter vocals.

Ad regarding "The Harvey Girls," there are numerous enjoyable musical spots aside from the train extravaganza. Angela Lansbury's "Oh You Kid" is a kick; "The Train Must Be Fed" and "Swing Your Partner" ensemble numbers are fun; "It's a Great Big World" still pleases; and for me, the deleted "My Intuition" is a charm song of great pleasure. A shame it was cut as it helps to show the lovers' attraction blossoming.

I was lucky enough to see so many of the original 35mm musicals at the Film Forum and Regency in Manhattan in the late 70s.

5:45 PM  
Blogger RichardSchilling said...

This is such a long overdue analysis of the film. I cannot believe Elizabeth Taylor was only 42 at the time. She already seemed like she herself was from a long-gone era. For me That's Entertainment was a wonderful introduction to MGM's musicals in the pre-VCR days, however now I think I'd prefer a full documentary about the decaying studio sets than the musical numbers themselves lol.

Still, it is important to note the That's Entertainment films served as a necessary reminder - and posthumous restoration of - the reputation of Judy Garland. This was essential, since after 20 + years of relentless media coverage of various bankruptcies, marriages, drunken escapades, and brutal biographies, her reputation by 1975 suffered mightily.

Finally, the 1947 film GOOD NEWS is coming out on blu-ray this month, I say give it another chance, it is so much fun!

6:11 PM  
Blogger Joseph Angier said...

This is all friggin' brilliant, especially because it places That's Entertainment in the proper context: as an artifact of the '70s, not the '50s. I have so much to say about this essay, but I'll give one trivial note here: When I saw That's Entertainment when it opened at the Ziegfeld in NY, it was in 70mm and Stereo, which I assume means there's a magnetic copy of the soundtrack. (Also, I think there were filmmakers in '73 and '74 who were experimenting with Dolby Stereo. When an extended version was released a few years later, it was reported that they restored what were the original Dolby tracks)

7:06 PM  
Blogger tmwctd said...

A brilliant essay, one of your best and hilarious to boot.
I had the chance to watch TE on the (not so) big screen at the oldest movie theatre here in Vienna. Must have been the 80s.
Of course today it has somehow lost its impact as we can all easily access most of the numbers via youtube or popping in a DVD. But it is still top entertainment which of course could only work with abridged numbers. And I agree with Mike - this is a movie to listen to while you do some computer work or read the papers. Works great that way.
I enjoyed the subsequent TEs too although the comedy elements were rather jarring in TE2. Still great things to find in TE3 and a number like "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" did not even make it. "That´s Dancing" was something different, as soon as the modern numbers started I lost interest and I was missing the songs to go with the dance numbers. But it was the only chance then to catch at least a glimpse of "Roberta" which was the only Astaire/Rogers-movie out of circulation then.
The Garland and Gable montages are still heartbreaking and for me the best things about the movie - Haley did a great job on those.
TE is a great starter course for people who want to get acquainted with old musicals. Of course it only gives you the MGM point of view (the MAD magazine spoof pointed this out accurately).
Would certainly go to any movie theatre to watch it again.

And John, just a slight correction: It´s Donald O´ConnOr...

6:33 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Whoops. Thanks for the alert. It's fixed.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...



Eastman House Fire: https://www.nytimes.com/1978/05/31/archives/fire-loss-at-film-museum-less-than-was-feared.html , https://unwritten-record.blogs.archives.gov/2018/12/04/disaster-strikes-the-national-archives-the-1978-nitrate-vault-fire/ , https://www.nitrateville...opic.php?t=16068#p145508 , https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/forty-years-ago-126-million-feet-history-went-smoke-180970977/.

Cheers

11:04 AM  
Blogger Steve Riyake said...

You’re rather rough on HARVEY GIRLS score.. just because only one song became a standard, doesn’t mean the rest of the score is garbage. To get even one standard is pretty impressive.

I think that most of the score is above average.

7:17 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dear John:

"All this as Metro-owner United Artists pasted 'Boy, Do We Need It Now!' onto one-sheets for 'That’s Entertainment!,' drab 70’s font, of course."

You're correct about the drab font -- the ENTERTAINMENT! poster art is basically underwhelming, and its attempt to evoke the 'Broadway Melody' number in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN doesn't quite come off (I sort of like the faces of the presenters all huddled together, though) -- but UA did not actually own MGM. Metro dismantled its worldwide distribution system in the latter part of 1973 and signed a domestic theatrical/television distribution deal with United Artists (CIC had made a deal to handle Metro product overseas). MGM's releasing deal with UA would last until 1981 -- when Metro and Kirk Kerkorian decided to purchase United Artists outright from Transamerica.

Well, we did kinda "need it now" at the time; 1974 was a tough year. A great year for movies, in my opinion, but most were gritty and downbeat in tone, reflecting the day. Here was a sumptuous piece of cake for all, and something a divided nation could actually agree about.

As for GOOD NEWS' reputation as "everyone's favorite college musical," there were a lot of silly if occasionally endearing college related comedies and little musicals in the '30s and into the '40s (and not just at Paramount), usually featuring actors way too old to play students. It's likely that the success of "Good News" on Broadway in '27 (with its great DeSylva, Brown and Henderson score) helped inspire this small genre in the first place (MGM first filmed it in 1930). Anyway, it was sort of a thing back in the day. I guess Fox's PIGSKIN PARADE and RKO's TOO MANY GIRLS (from the Rodgers & Hart Broadway show) are the hardiest and most often shown of the genre, along with Metro's 1947 Technicolor NEWS remake.

The success of ENTERTAINMENT! did at least lead to a partial 1975 theatrical reissue of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. It played Radio City Music Hall for a week in mid-May of '75 and later was nationally booked in some smaller theatres and arthouses. It was pretty wonderful to see this in 35mm (and the Ann Arbor venue where I saw it even correctly projected it in Academy ratio).

I wish THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! was smarter and more graceful -- and even in '74, I was annoyed by Sinatra's smugly elegiac tone, and alarmed by the presence of an unexpectedly weary Stewart (did the rigors of his failed "Hawkins" series permanently take the wind out of his sails?). But the impact it made was considerable. Garland's incredible "Get Happy" performance had hitherto been almost buried in SUMMER STOCK; the number came pretty close to stealing the show in ENTERTAINMENT! Esther Williams at her peak, once again seen on the big screen as she was meant to be. Kelly. Astaire. Rooney. Nearly every clip, each segment, glittered with talent, artistry and wonderful song. And the movie basically cemented the growing reputation of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN as Hollywood's greatest musical.

The amazing thing about the movie is that Haley and associates were actually able to finally decide what scenes and numbers to include; it seems an impossible job, even now. Critics and moviegoers still argue about what was featured and what was omitted in the picture... and it came out in 1974!

Regards,
-- Griff

1:40 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Later in 1974 Fox's television division distributed a videotaped special --obviously inspired by THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! -- called Fred Astaire Salutes the Fox Musicals. Unlike M-G-M's theatrical spectacular, Fox's TV effort was done fast and cheap, with the studio using 16mm reference prints and whatever material was handy -- Carmen Miranda from THE GANG'S ALL HERE singing "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat"... in black-and-white?! I mean, really! Good selection of clips, though: Astaire in his only Fox musical DADDY LONG LEGS (the "Slew Foot" number), Alice Faye, Betty Grable, "The Balboa" from PIGSKIN PARADE, "Slumming on Park Avenue" from ON THE AVENUE with The Ritz Brothers, "Valentine" from FOLIES BERGERE with Maurice Chevalier. That's all I remember offhand, and it fell short of the splendor of THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!, but it was a nice clip show, anyway.

5:04 PM  
Blogger antoniod said...

When I saw THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT in 1974, I was disappointed that it didn't include any 1929-30 Two-Color Technicolor clips. We had to wait for the third, 90s entry for that!

5:43 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Terrific summary of the many THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT offshoots, from Griff (Part One):


Dear John:

Scott MacGillivray's post about Fox's TV compilation, "Fred Astaire Salutes the Fox Musicals," brought back a lot of memories. This was originally produced for ABC's late night "Wide World of Entertainment" 90 minute time slot, and initially aired on October 24, 1974; it was later part of an obscure Fox syndication package of older features and TV movies.

This was, of course, a modestly produced Fox version of THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!, but I liked this, and the ever classy Astaire did a fine job hosting and introducing highlights from a great many Fox tuners, including clips from some pictures that were very difficult to see back in the '70s (and, come to think of it, not that easy to see even today). Marc Breaux, who choreographed (with wife Dee Dee Wood) MARY POPPINS, THE SOUND OF MUSIC and CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, directed and reportedly helped supervise the selection of vintage material. Astaire disarmingly admitted at the beginning of the show that he appeared in only one Fox musical (DADDY LONG LEGS; the show featured clips from at least three numbers from the movie); he described himself as a fan of musicals in general ("the quintessential Hollywood art form"), and provided some good background and patter. Yes, he danced ...a little bit.

I believe the Astaire host sequences were shot on videotape; to my memory, Mr. MacGillivray is correct about the middling quality of the clips. But other than the bizarrely monochrome clip from THE GANG'S ALL HERE (really unaccountable; wonderfully colorful 35mm prints of this had numerous reissue bookings in 1973), the show looked okay on my little Sony back in '74.

The compilation included clips from THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, MEET ME AFTER THE SHOW, JUST IMAGINE, FOLIES BERGERE, THE GANG'S ALL HERE, CALL ME MADAM, CARMEN JONES, HELLO, DOLLY, ONE IN A MILLION, PIGSKIN PARADE, BRIGHT EYES, REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM, SUNNY SIDE UP, ON THE AVENUE, STORMY WEATHER, WITH A SONG IN MY HEART, FOUR JILLS IN A JEEP, PIN-UP GIRL, THE DOLLY SISTERS, HELLO, FRISCO, HELLO, STATE FAIR and THE SOUND OF MUSIC. There were clips from Fox pictures which won the Best Song Oscar, and the oft-seen 1959 newsreel clip of Mr. and Mrs. Khrushchev visiting the CAN CAN was excerpted. [The Russian premier may not have gotten to visit Disneyland, but he did get to see the Fox lot.]

5:07 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Griff:


Some years back, way before the advent of HD, I asked a Fox Video rep about looking into making this available on homevid; hey, it's at least an good, tuneful introduction to Fox's musicals -- and Fred Astaire is the host! But, no dice. It might look more than a little bit primitive today.

ABC had its hands full programming five 90 minute late night time slots every week for its "Wide World of Entertainment" series and over the three years or so that the show was on the air, a few other Hollywood related specials were broadcast. Some of these were quite interesting. In late 1973, the network aired an all-star 50th anniversary tribute to Warner Bros., hosted by Bette Davis and George Segal; this was terribly self-congratulatory in tone and a bit clumsily produced, but it was filled with clips (many of which -- from pre-1948 pix -- probably had to be begged from then-owner United Artists) and Davis was in good humor (and Segal seemed very pleased to be working with her). Many stars appeared briefly, Jack Warner made an appearance, and Jack Benny turned up for some HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT gags.

In the late spring of 1974, the program aired a special devoted to the premiere of THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (MGM was also celebrating its 50th anniversary in '74). Metro had gone all out on the gala premiere of the movie; it seemed like every star in the business was there, and a big party followed. George Hamilton (and then wife Alana) hosted the show, and there were lots of interviews and clips from the movie. There were so many clips and bits of numbers from the picture, I had trouble later persuading my parents to go see the movie! [Dad said, "Oh... we already saw that on TV, remember?"]

Also in '74, there was a salute to Paramount; this was a very good show, and I would think well worth revisiting. Hosted by Jack Benny, Gloria Swanson and Kirk Douglas, this was jammed with smartly arranged and annotated clips (even from pre-'48 MCA-owned Par movies, and the clips mostly looked in excellent shape); a witty overview of a lot of the studio's history and movie highlights. Swanson replicated her entrance at the lot's Bronson Gate from SUNSET BOULEVARD; she showed us the lot and talked about going to work there in the 'teens. Douglas walked around the Par ranch and discussed how it was used back in the day -- and how many movies were now shot on location. Benny talked about the studio's days in the 'thirties, and took us on a tour of the gigantic recreation of the exterior of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, built on three adjoining soundstages for Schlesinger's THE DAY OF THE LOCUST.

In '75, the show aired a 50th anniversary salute to Columbia Pictures. This was hosted and narrated by Orson Welles and in addition to clips, featured some luminaries like Glenn Ford, Rosalind Russell, Sidney Poitier and Frank Capra. Also in '75, there was a tribute to AIP (not terribly well done) and a special entirely devoted to the premiere (and after party) of AT LONG LAST LOVE. The latter was a star-laden celebration of both the Bogdanovich picture and Cole Porter, hosted by George Hamilton; there were almost as many celebrities here as were featured in the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! special. Even Roy Rogers turned up to sing "Don't Fence Me In"! The special was arguably more entertaining than Bogdanovich's film. If Criterion ever decides to do a Blu-ray of the movie, they ought to dig this out of the vaults.

Regards,
-- Griff

5:07 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I always disliked that it focused so much on musicals. Did it do well in Europe? The Great American Musical never traveled so well abroad and made us kids groan on TV in the 70's.

6:26 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Thanks for the additional information about the Astaire special, Griff. I later saw the syndicated version (three times, I think!) and I agree, it's a very enjoyable show. I was just making the point that it was using 16mm TV prints instead of the 35mm vault materials that M-G-M used for its compilation.

The George Hamilton special was interesting -- the only thing I remember about it was that M-G-M alumni were being introduced one by one and taking their places on stage for a group photo... and out came Marjorie Main! That impressed me.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Stewart did seem to age into Foxy Grandpa roles rather firmly in the late 60s where Wayne could atill cowpoke or Fonda play presidents in Irwin Allen movies.

12:36 PM  

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