Synopsis: Legends Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire host this all-singing, all-dancing follow-up to That’s Entertainment!, serving up more of what made the Golden Era of MGM moviemaking great. More – as in musical moments ranging fro Jimmy Durante’s comic Inka Dinka Doo to Judy Garland zinging the song that was her audition to Kelly romancing the City of Light. More – as in the antics of the Marx Brothers. More – as in classic moments with Garbo, Gable or Garson. And more – as in once more for the ages: hosts Astaire and Kelly gracing the screen with song-and-dance magic that’s touching, timeless and above all, entertaining.
eyelights: the interstitial segments with Kelly and Astaire. the non-musical segments.
eyesores: the generic quality of most musical numbers.
“The world is a stage, The stage is a world of entertainment. That’s entertainment! That’s entertainment!”
After the tremendous success of the nostalgia-fest ‘That’s Entertainment!‘, in 1974, MGM decided that they would produce another film like it (it’s just like Hollywood to put out a sequel to a compilation!). Released in 1976, ‘That’s Entertainment, Part II’, changed the format up slightly: instead of focusing strictly on musicals, it would showcase various aspects of MGM’s golden years.
Another notable departure is that, instead of enlisting the help of many of their aging greats to narrate/host the retrospective, ‘Part II’ turns to Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly to do the honours. Then 76 and 63 years old, respectively, the duo would sing and dance together on screen for their second time ever to introduce and bridge the various segments of the film.
These numbers, which were choreographed by Gene Kelly himself (he also directed the film), were staged on basic sets filled with all sorts of tributes to these MGM greats. The Masters of Ceremonies’ introductions were sung to the tune of, or were inspired by, the showbiz classic “That’s Entertainment”, originally from 1953’s ‘The Band Wagon’ – in which Astaire himself had performed it.
‘That’s Entertainment, Part II’ has been described as “stream-of-consciousness”, and that’s probably the polite way to describe it. After the Opening Overture and the credits, which were inventive if mildly corny (the title itself, resting on top of a mountain, is wince-inducing), the film then goes all over the place in a seemingly haphazard fashion.
Furthermore, it’s slightly sloppy in its approach: not only were some bits edited poorly, but Kelly and Astaire actually talk over many of the clips. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if there wasn’t dialogue or musical numbers involved, but that didn’t stop them one bit. And, since the clips are extremely brief most of the time, it spoils things to have them interrupted.
I’m no fan of musicals, so it’s not because I felt like I was missing out. I just find it improper to have two competing audio tracks, and for the hosts to be drowning out that which they’re supposed to be highlighting; it defeats the purpose and lacks a certain respect for the material. Still, there were a number of bits that I found appealing for various reasons.
- “Fascinatin’ Rhythm”, from ‘Lady Be Good’: Eleanor Powell continues to astound with her tap dancing and acrobatic abilities. In this number she was flipped around over and over again and she didn’t appear dizzy or winded at the end of it one bit. Wow. What a pro!
- The stowaway sequence from ‘A Night at the Opera’: I’ve only seen ‘Duck Soup’, many years ago, and it failed to pique my interest in The Marx Brothers. But this clip was an enticing mixture of absurdity and intelligent one-liners. My curiosity is officially piqued now.
- The Laurel and Hardy montage: even if it’s slapstick (not exactly my favourite brand of comedy), I kind of enjoyed watching these two act like goofs. Admittedly, it was a very short montage, so it didn’t test my patience one bit.
- The Songwriters’ Revue: There’s an interesting segment that focuses on characters composing songs on the screen. It’s introduced by an actual composer who pokes fun at how easy composing appears to be in the movies, the way it’s portrayed. That was amusing, although the movie bits themselves were corny, ridiculous.
- There’s a montage of various French performers and Paris-set bits which was cool because Gene Kelly visited a few landmarks in his introductions. And France really looked majestic back then, especially comparatively to North America. I understand why it was a draw.
- “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise”, from ‘An American in Paris’: It’s just some guy in tails and a top hat singing on this massive stairway. But it looks elegant, it has steps that light up steps, and there a couple dozen beautiful women on the stairs and in the chandeliers. Yum! Sexist fun!
- “Now You Has Jazz”, from ‘High Society’: What is there to say about Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong, other than… Wow, such voices!!! And it was nice to see Bing’s natural, emotive performance, after seeing so many artificial ones.
- “Broadway Melody Ballet”, from ‘Singin’ in the Rain’: The number itself didn’t do much for me, but Cyd Charisse did. Whoah… what legs! And boy she’s got moves. She was devastatingly sexy in this one.
- There’s a Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn montage that was fun to watch. I love Hepburn: she had attitude and was a really strong female personality for the time.
- “I Like Myself”, from ‘It’s Always Fair Weather’: Gene Kelly tap-dances on roller skates. It doesn’t sound like much, but you can’t help but be impressed by his incredible skill. And he really made use of the city street set. Very nice.
- “Cypress Gardens Water Spectacular”, from ‘Easy to Love’: Another INSANE Esther Williams bit: the dozens of water-skiers, the water cannons, the acrobatics, the long shots – it all amounts to epic stuff. Assuming that she did all of her own stunts… Wow, she was something!
There was also some noteworthy stuff that didn’t really do much for me:
- “Good Morning”, from ‘Singin’ in the Rain’: Featuring Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly. I hate the number itself, but Reynolds was darned cute.
- There’s a short montage of Frank Sinatra bits, mostly crooning and serenading. It’s alright.
- There was a montage of one-liners at one point, to highlight MGM’s comedy chops. It was okay. I’m not sure which film it was culled from, but The Marx Brothers bit was by far the best of the lot.
- “Take Me to Broadway”, from ‘Small Town Girl’: This is a guy hopping through a quaint little town, through the neighbours’ yards, …etc. It’s annoying as heck, but Bobby Van’s stamina and timing is remarkable. Of course, there’s editing involved; he didn’t jump all of that scene in just one take.
Then there’s the stuff that grated on my nerves:
- An unknown clip from ‘The Broadway Melody’: After a moronic Abbott and Costello clip from ‘Rio Rita’, there’s this sloppy black and white musical bit. It’s not clear to me which musical it’s from, but I suspect that it might be from ‘The Broadway Melody’, MGM’s first musical. This would explain why the dancers were so amateurish. I actually laughed out loud at how crummy that was. Ambition without the necessary skill.
- “Triplets”, from ‘The Band Wagon’: Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray, and Jack Buchanan stink up the screen as three babies doing a musical number. Shoot me now: this is exactly what I despise about musicals. This pained me to watch.
- Bizarrely, there was a montage of people singing farewells overtop shots of various places. It would have made sense at the tail end of the film, but this was inserted at the 1h15m mark – with a full hour to go. It just didn’t make sense structurally; the editor must have been on crack.
- The doe-eyed, but mostly vacant Judy Garland. There was a lot of Judy Garland bits in this film (lots of Astaire and Kelly, too, unsurprisingly), and I found her to be vacant at least 80% of the time. Sure, she had a terrific voice, and those eyes were eternally girlish, but it’s unreal to me how much acclaim she received given how little true passion flows out of these clips. Perhaps I need to see her in live performances or see her act, because it seems like I’m missing something…
‘That’s Entertainment, Part II’ (I don’t know why they didn’t simply call it ‘That’s Entertainment Too!’) ends with Kelly and Astaire singing the featured stars’ names to the tune of… “That’s Entertainment!”. By that point, we’d heard the melody and/or lyrics about twenty times, so you really have to love the tune, or else you’re screwed with this movie. Then they scrolled the credits and Exit music.
This picture wasn’t nearly as popular as its predecessor, possibly because of the change in style and tone. But a similar MGM film called ‘Just Dancing’ would come out in the mid-’80s. Some consider this to be the third part of the series, but, in 1994, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of MGM, they released ‘That’s Entertainment! III’ – featuring none other than Gene Kelly I his last screen appearance.
I have no great love for musicals, but I must say that I enjoy the extravagance of some of them; the crazier it gets, the more likely I will be awe. But singing and dancing alone doesn’t entertain me. I still despise showtunes and hate that characters start dancing in the middle of a scene for no reason. And yet, despite being disjointed and being drawn out, I enjoyed ‘That’s Entertainment, Part II’ to some degree.
Fans of the old MGM classics, though, must truly relish this one-stop all-hits shop. It’s almost (see Part I) as good as it gets.
Date of viewing: April 21, 2014