That's Entertainment! III

(Bud Friedgen, USA, 1994)


The That's Entertainment! compilations of clips from classic MGM musicals are these days caught in a difficult bind.

On the one hand, their strongest impulse is clearly to promulgate a standard view of the Golden Years of Hollywood entertainment: all sweetness, light and innocence, harmless and beautifully crafted amusement.

On the other hand, a certain politically-correct doubt creeps in at the edges of the project: will it still be possible for modern viewers to wholeheartedly enjoy these songs and dances which make such fulsome use of now despised images of women, children and "darkies"?

This third instalment, as might be expected, tries to have it both ways: it's mainly an orgy of mushy nostalgia, but edged with a teensy bit of social comment. (Its progressive side has been celebrated by Jonathan Rosenbaum.)

Although there are yet more clips of Astaire, Kelly and Garland – including fascinating out-take material dredged up from the MGM archive – this anthology knows it has to dig a little deeper into the history of the musical genre.

So there are a lot more women this time, including some fabulous talents, such as Nancy Walker, who never made it as glamorous stars. And watch out for the amazing trio of double-jointed dancers!

The contradictions that sit quietly at the heart of this film are most evident during a bizarre clip of Joan Crawford from Torch Song (1953). Joan is in blackface, but the modern-day narration describes it as "tropical make-up"!

Nonetheless, this segment leads directly, without comment, into a moving testimonial from Lena Horne about how her colour led to exclusion from many major roles, including the lead in Show Boat (1951).

© Adrian Martin December 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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