Directed by Jack Haley, Jr., Gene Kelly, Bud Freidgen, Michael J. Sheridan
Studio: Warner Bros.
Aspect Ratio: varied 1080p (VC-1 codec)
Running Time: 379 minutes
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, 2.0 French, 1.0 Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Release Date: December 18, 2007
Review Date: December 27, 2007
The three editions of That’s Entertainment that make up this package constitute the single greatest collection of magical musical moments in the history of the genre. No, it’s not comprehensive. It represents only impressive numbers from about thirty-five years of MGM films (so no Jolson, no Keeler, no Faye, Temple, or Grable), and due to the depth of talent and the seemingly endless archives of available material, some excellent stuff has of necessity been overlooked. As documentaries, the films also have their faults. There are errors in the narration, and some artistic decisions have been made about adjusting some of the images for modern audiences that should make purists blanch. Still, with “entertainment” the key word, the films all deliver on that notion in spades.
The documentary that started it all in 1974 deserved every bit of the tremendous success it gleaned. Reminding the world of its past musical glory, MGM’s That’s Entertainment picked the most tantalizing morsels from the MGM musical basket and presented them in a loving and wondrous showcase hosted by a group of performers all associated with MGM in one way or another. Some segments showcased specific performers (the MGM big three: Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly along with the one-of-a-kind Esther Williams). Others showcased non-singing stars trying to sing or the move to widescreen, stereophonic spectacles. And some sequences were merely a hodgepodge of numbers without much of a unifying theme.
Clearly the standout star of the first That’s Entertainment was Judy Garland. She had two sequences devoted to her gifts (a solo showcase and also a segment devoted to her teen musicals with Mickey Rooney) and also jumped off the screen in excerpts from her black and white years (“Dear Mr. Gable,” “Singin’ in the Rain”) to her Technicolor star vehicles (“On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” from The Harvey Girls). Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire likewise earned a lion’s share of the credit for outstanding moments from their careers which were sprinkled throughout the film. And performers that might have been largely forgotten by 1974 (like Eleanor Powell in a sizzling tap-off with Astaire to “Begin the Beguine” or June Allyson in a couple of numbers) also got their spotlight moments.
Purists have sometimes been bothered by the careful editing jobs done on almost all of the numbers in order to meet time limitations, but I was bothered much more by the tendency to turn Academy ratio films into widescreen ones on a number of occasions. When the spectacularly elephantine “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” number from The Great Ziegfeld is introduced, narrator Frank Sinatra mentions that “if the number could be filmed today, it might look something like this” at which time the telecine camera zooms in to increase the width of the picture by trimming off the top and bottom of the image. If it were only for that one number, I might have seen the point, but time after time, this happens. The entire Show Boat sequence is compromised in this way (some heads get lopped off in the process), and some numbers like “On the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe,” “The Varsity Drag,” the “Broadway Ballet” or “An American in Paris Ballet” begin in 4:3 and during the number expand ridiculously into widescreen with the careful directorial compositions thrown out the window. The attempts to do this have been done subtly, but for those of us who know the original films by heart, these changes almost amount to sacrilege.
Two years later, after the enormous reception to the original That’s Entertainment, the powers that be at MGM decided on a sequel. Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were brought in to host the film and narrate all the segments. Seeing the two veteran performers reunited in some simple dance routines thirty years after their only on-screen pairing in Ziegfeld Follies is definitely a treat, but the film has the distinct feeling of been there-done that about it. Efforts have been made to extend the theme of the film from being just musical numbers to include comedy bits with the Marx Brothers, famous lines from MGM movies (Garbo’s “I want to be alone” or Franchot Tone’s “I want to run barefoot through your hair”), and a segment on the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn partnership, but the segments are rudimentarily put together and often fall flat.
What’s worse, the film is much too loaded with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire numbers. The men were undeniable geniuses at their craft, but the almost relentless parade of their numbers made the film very Astaire-Kelly top heavy to the detriment of the rest of the film. In fact, at one point, Gene actually says in his narration, “Here you are again, Fred.” That speaks volumes about the film‘s poor overall concept and execution.
And once again, Academy ratio production numbers are violated by being forced into a widescreen frame. No matter how much we might have wanted them to be widescreen films, Annie Get Your Gun, Girl Crazy, Easter Parade, the 1934 version of The Merry Widow, and the Cypress Garden finale of Easy to Love aren’t and showing them as such violates the integrity of the cinematography in each one of those movies.
The original That’s Entertainment may have the lion’s share of classic MGM musical moments, but That’s Entertainment III works overtime with the footage it has left at its disposal. Twenty years after the original film was released, the original premise is resumed by having great MGM stars of the past return to the studio to host segments on a variety of topics. Esther Williams and Lena Horne narrate clips of their work at the studio. Gene Kelly briefs us about the early talkie years while June Allyson talks about the studio’s efforts to find budding talents and build them into stars. Debbie Reynolds discusses the glamour mill at the studio intent on making its fabulous line-up of leading ladies look their best. Cyd Charisse pays homage to Gene Kelly, Ann Miller praises Fred Astaire’s career, while Mickey Rooney does the same with his beloved Judy Garland. Finally Howard Keel takes us into the widescreen, stereophonic last years of the MGM musical.
What makes these segments special this time around, however, is that unseen (at the time) outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage is woven into the fabric of the picture. The frame frequently splits so we can see, for example, how Eleanor Powell’s complex “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” number was filmed in a single take for Lady Be Good or how two different versions of Fred Astaire‘s “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man” from The Belle of New York were filmed though only Fred’s new costume gives it away. Otherwise, he mirrors himself step for step and gesture for gesture. We see an unused barnyard version of “A Lady Loves” from Debbie Reynolds’ I Love Melvin and four outakes of Judy Garland numbers, all of which are highlights of the film. We get to hear Ava Gardner’s singing voice (rather than Annette Warren’s dubbing) paired with her image in Show Boat and see two incarnations of “Two Faced Woman,” one an intriguing mix of dancing chorines and the other a Joan Crawford dud from Torch Song.
Their love for the studio and the pride in their accomplishments come through every last frame of this third film. That’s Entertainment III may not have the best numbers, but these elderly veterans, many in the twilight years of their careers when these bridging sequences were filmed, add a real poignance to the project that makes it for me in many ways the most enjoyable of the three features.
The 1080p transfers (VC-1 codec) handle the tremendous array of different aspect ratios, film stocks, and color processes with variable success. Much of the black and white footage looks overly grainy, not surprising with some of the early talkies but less understandable when dealing with later black and white movies like Girl Crazy or It Happened in Brooklyn. Any time a film’s original 4:3 ratio is violated by zooming in on the image, the sharpness is compromised and the grain structure becomes far more noticeable. On the other hand, footage from Take Me Out to the Ballgame, The Barkleys of Broadway (Ginger’s blood-red fingernails sear the screen), The Toast of New Orleans, Meet Me in St. Louis, High Society, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers looks astonishing enough to make those films instant must-haves on Blu-ray. Seeing faded, blurry clips from the films in the various bonus features also on the disc makes it obvious that much work went into making the clips in the main feature look as good as possible.
Again, clarity and sharpness varies from clip to clip, and once again, the zooming in on the images with Academy ratios softens the picture and magnifies the grain structure. Overall, the quality of the clips seems a bit lackluster in comparison to the other two films, and there are fewer clips that really impress in this feature in terms of high definition sharpness and dimensionality. The few that did it for me included “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” from Easter Parade, “I Like Myself” from It’s Always Fair Weather, and “I Remember It Well” from Gigi. Once again, High Society’s Vistavision image is impressive though Sinatra’s checked coat is riddled with moiré patterns.
For the most part, this film’s footage fares the best from beginning to end in high definition. The host sequences as well as almost all of the black and white clips have a sharpness and sheen that are lacking in the two previous pictures. The lack of a perfect video score is attributed almost entirely to the annoying zooming in on the 4:3 images for widescreen presentation which, especially in the cases of the introductory “Bring on the Beautiful Ladies” from Ziegfeld Follies and Cyd Charisse’s “Two-Faced Woman” outtake, look near-disastrous. On the other hand, one look at Carmen Miranda’s wildly vivid umbrella headdress from Nancy Goes to Rio will let you know how gorgeous these MGM musicals are going to look in high definition once Warners begins producing them.
Each film has its own chapter listing guide inside its individual keep case.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track must deal with a tremendous variance of audio quality from the tinniest and hissiest early talkies to the magnificently surging orchestras for the more recent musicals as well as the orchestras that play the scores for each of the documentaries. Though deep bass is lacking throughout most of each disc, many of the recording sessions for these musicals had different audio stems recorded from separately placed microphones that could be fashioned into stereo surround elements to enhance the listening experience, and they‘re surprisingly effective. That’s Entertainment III features audio levels that seem just the slightest bit soft compared to the volume levels of the other two films.
None of the special features on any of the discs are presented in high definition and all features have been ported over from the previously released standard definition box set of these three films. No new bonus material is included in this set.
TCM host Robert Osborne presents a 4 ¾-minute introduction to the film.
“Just One More Time” is an 8 ¾-minute publicity featurette which has the narrators of the film in alternate takes of their hosting comments paired with some very washed out clips from the film.
“That’s Entertainment: 50 Years of MGM” is a 66-minute television special publicizing the movie featuring George Hamilton and his then-wife Alana interviewing Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Donald O’Connor, Johnny Weissmuller, and Liza Minnelli. There is also 8 minutes of clips from the film.
“MGM’s 25th Anniversary Luncheon Newsreel” is the complete 10½-minute newsreel coverage of the grand silver anniversary luncheon which is only excerpted in the movie.
The original theatrical trailer runs 4 minutes.
TCM host Robert Osborne presents a 4-minute introduction to the film.
“The Lion Roars Again” is only peripherally about That’s Entertainment Part II. It’s only one of six MGM movies getting a big build-up at the 1975 international press conclave to announce MGM’s slate of upcoming releases.
“The Masters Behind the Musicals” is an all too brief overview of the men and women behind the scenes who tirelessly worked to give the MGM musicals their magic. Included in this documentary are interviews with various MGM stars about the lot’s producers, musical conductors and arrangers, choreographers, and directors, many of whom are worthy of their own documentaries. This featurette runs 37½ minutes.
A Mike Douglas Show excerpt that runs 21 minutes finds the affable talk show host at MGM interviewing Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Hermes Pan, Debbie Reynolds, Nanette Fabray, Ann Miller, and Janis Paige about their work at the studio.
The theatrical trailer runs 3¼ minutes.
TCM host Robert Osborne presents a 3½-minute introduction to the film.
“That’s Entertainment III: Behind the Screen” is the best supplementary documentary in the package as the producers and the directors of the film discuss working with each of the star hosts and then the hosts themselves relive memories of their work at the studio which are not rehashes of what they say in the film but rather comments brimming with information and opinions about other studio personnel. The documentary runs 53 minutes.
The musical outtake jukebox features seventeen musical outtakes from an assortment of MGM musicals which runs a total of 49½ minutes. Three of the outtakes are the complete versions of numbers which are shortened in the actual feature: “The Lock Step,” “A Lady Loves,” and “Mister Monotony.” The other outtakes feature such stars as Judy Garland, Bert Lahr and Marjorie Main, Jane Powell, Mario Lanza and Kathryn Grayson, Lena Horne, and Frank Sinatra. Selections can be chosen individually or watched all at once.
The original theatrical trailer runs 1½ minutes.
That’s Entertainment - The Complete Collection makes a most welcome debut on Blu-ray. The films are pure entertainment featuring an assortment of talent which the world will likely never see again. Now all we require is that Warners starts a systematic schedule of high definition releases of many of the classics contained in excerpt form on these excellent discs.