THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! PART III is the third film tribute to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals of Hollywood's "Golden Age" (1928-1958). The documentary is undeniably entertaining, but it suffers from an uneven selection of clips, sloppy historical research, and, ultimately, an
overabundance of riches.
The film is divided into nine segments, each hosted by a former MGM musical star seen "on location" at the famous film studio. Gene Kelly appears near one of the largest soundstages in Culver City to discuss the earliest screen musicals of the 1930s. Esther Williams returns to her "saucer tank"
swimming pool to reminisce about her water carnivals of the 1940s and 1950s. June Allyson drives through the studio gate to talk about how MGM discovered and groomed new talent. Cyd Charisse stands in front of a painted backdrop from BRIGADOON (1954), where she pays tribute to her co-star from
that film, Gene Kelly. Debbie Reynolds appears outside of the wardrobe department to discuss the glamour treatment accorded to MGM's female stars. Lena Horne returns to the recording stage to comment on her personal difficulties in being the lone African-American under contract to the studio.
Mickey Rooney walks around the schoolhouse for child stars and reminisces about his co-star of many films, Judy Garland. Ann Miller steps on to a dance rehearsal hall and pays tribute to her co-star from EASTER PARADE (1948), Fred Astaire. Howard Keel strolls through the film vaults and discusses
the changes in widescreen technology that affected the musical form in the 1950s. Gene Kelly returns at the end to wax nostalgically about a time when, supposedly, "life was simpler and so was the film business."
In 1974, THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! provided nostalgic escape for movie-goers weary of Watergate and Vietnam ("Boy ... Do We Need It Now" was its ad-campaign slogan). PART III, released in a year of comparable disillusion and discontent, made little impact at the box office: perhaps an assemblage of
excerpts from more than 60 MGM musicals is superfluous in an age of video cassettes, channel-surfing, and ubiquitous nostalgia television programming. Nevertheless, the film offers a number of bright spots and surprises.
Apart from the many familiar but still entertaining portions from such classics as ON THE TOWN (1949), SHOW BOAT (1951), and GIGI (1958), the film presents some tantalizing outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage. In one particularly intriguing sequence, director Busby Berkeley works on a
complicated Eleanor Powell dance number in LADY BE GOOD (1941), while the final results are shown simultaneously on the opposite side of a split screen. Outtakes scattered throughout the film include Lena Horne's sexy song in a bubble bath, cut by the censors from CABIN IN THE SKY (1942); Judy
Garland's jazz number eliminated from EASTER PARADE (1948); and Debbie Reynolds's solo torch song dropped from SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952). Best of all is a reconstruction of director George Sidney's brilliant ensemble number from THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946). (The "Collector's Edition" of the film,
available on videocassette and laser-disk, includes additional outtakes, several of which are quite fascinating.)
Unfortunately, while THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! III contains some superior material, its technical and artistic methods are questionable. It's curious, for example, that many of the re-mastered prints in standard aspect ratio have been re-photographed for widescreen, thus cutting off the tops and
bottoms of the images and thoroughly undermining the impact of Howard Keel's section on widescreen technology. Many of the excerpts also seem overly familiar (some even appeared in the first two THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! films, as well as THAT'S DANCING!, MGM's 1985 tribute to Hollywood dance films),
and the approach to history is both slight and inaccurate--just for example, the narration identifies NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER (released in 1949) as a film that provided escape during wartime. Most bothersome, however, is the "seamless" editing style which results in a surprisingly homogenized product.
After so many songs and dances, the spectacle becomes mind-numbing, and the distinctions in directorial styles are blurred.
The only shift in tone comes during Lena Horne's segment, when the star mentions that she had some "bad" experiences at the studio and admits, "I didn't really feel like I belonged in Hollywood." Unfortunately, this is as provocative and political as THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! III gets.
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: G
- Review: THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! PART III is the third film tribute to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals of Hollywood's "Golden Age" (1928-1958). The documentary is undeniably entertaining, but it suffers from an uneven selection of clips, sloppy historical research,… (more)