Combustible Celluloid
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With: Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Peter Lawford, Liza Minnelli, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor
Written by: Jack Haley Jr., Leonard Gershe, Bud Friedgen, Michael J. Sheridan
Directed by: Jack Haley Jr., Gene Kelly, Bud Friedgen, Michael J. Sheridan
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 380
Date: 03/18/2013

That's Entertainment Trilogy (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Words and Music and Happy Feet

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The first two That's Entertainment! films, made in 1974 and 1976, succeeded because of their novelty appeal. These films featured small walk-ons by aging celluloid stars and boasted generous helpings of clips from dozens of MGM musicals. Though the studio made a few truly great films during their heyday, on the whole most of them just aren't that good. So watching some of the numbers out of context may actually improve them.

A clip show is a clip show is a clip show; they're almost always fun but rarely have anything of substance. But That's Entertainment! III (1994) is a different matter. Directed by Bud Friedgen and Michael J. Sheridan, who worked as editors on the previous two versions, this third installment takes a less reverent and a more behind-the-scenes approach.

It includes the usual classic clips from beloved films, but also deleted scenes and alternate casting (Judy Garland was originally in Annie Get Your Gun). One scene juxtaposes two versions of the same musical number ("Two-Faced Woman") -- one with Joan Crawford in blackface and the other with Cyd Charisse in a scene deleted from The Band Wagon -- both lip-syncing the same song.

The movie boldly suggests that the Charisse version works better. An interview with Lena Horne proves most enlightening, as the African American singer bemoans the lack of opportunity afforded her back in the old days. The movie even shows Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers's unobscured dance routine from the opening of The Barkleys of Broadway, which previously took place behind the credits.

Warner Home Video, which now owns most of the old MGM library, has released all three That's Entertainment! films in a new box set, plus a fourth bonus disc. In addition, the new That's Entertainment! III DVD contains at least 10 minutes of bonus footage not included in the theatrical release.

Warner Home Video has also relesed George Abbott and Stanley Donen's Damn Yankees (1958), which, believe it ornot, is a Warner Brothers musical and not an MGM one. It seems stuck inits stage origins, and I didn't really finish watching it, though starTab Hunter attained cult status years later by appearing in John Waters'Polyester.

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