That’s Entertainment! III

M-G-M understood the musical from the beginning. Early footage shows this, and a number called “The Lockstep” from an abandoned Technicolor project shows a conception not to be rivaled until Ken Russell’s The Boy Friend. The backdrop is tier upon tier of jail cells, each with a girl in front of it, swaying.

After this, musical numbers are set out of context back-to-back, and gradually reveal the powers that be at M-G-M brought to bear on every scene. The manner of singing in front of the camera in a highly articulate style is common practice at the studio, and some of the most amazing dance numbers ever recorded are all seen to be products of a generous, industrious group of artists who make sure it’s brought off.

Cut numbers are the prize. A number cut from The Band Wagon looks a little bit like Black Tights. The “March of the Dogies” cut from The Harvey Girls is an amazing inspiration. One can imagine the director Ossie Davis’s jaw dropping at the sight of Lena Horne singing in a bath of bubbles but not used in Cabin in the Sky, what a piece of footage! Judy Garland’s sultry Irving Berlin number, “Mr. Monotony,” in which she appears to imitate Frank Sinatra, wasn’t used in Easter Parade.

There are other treats from the vaults, most notably a view behind the camera as an Eleanor Powell number is staged on a breakaway set. The way this scene is filmed, with forklifts slowly removing pieces of the stage as the camera advances, has an uncanny similarity of tempo with the computer-deactivation scene in M-G-M’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

A quick overview of films it would take days to watch in succession, and a great pleasure to see the tank Esther Williams swam in (with portholes for the camera).