That’s Entertainment

Movie Information

In Brief: Riding in on the last of the late 1960s/early 1970s nostalgia wave, That's Entertainment positioned itself as a documentary about the Hollywood musical. In truth, it was a two-hour commercial for MGM that presented one seriously skewed version of film history. That's not to say the film doesn't include some pretty impressive (and more than a few clunker) musical numbers — all culled from the MGM library — but it presents a very small fragment of the movie musical genre as if it was the whole story.
Genre: Compilation Documentary
Director: Jack Haley, Jr.
Starring: Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Debbie Reynolds
Rated: G

I will not deny that the film That’s Entertainment (1974) works as a reasonable souvenir package of the MGM musical, but it also presents such a narrow view of the movie musical overall — all the while selling the idea that it’s the ultimate packaging of movie musicals — that I’ve never warmed to it. In fact, I’ve always rather resented its notion that MGM made the best musicals of all. Of course, since it was MGM putting the film together — and strictly from the confines of its own library — that was to be expected. But as a die-hard admirer of the musical film, I feel the need to cry foul. Where are the great Astaire-Rogers dances? Well, they’re not here because those all came from RKO. Instead, we get footage from their one MGM film — and it’s definitely their weakest. Where are the most magnificent of Busby Berkeley’s excessive production numbers? Well, those were done for Warner Bros. — with one glorious outburst at 20th Century Fox. We get Bing Crosby — in clips from his two MGM movies — but all of his best work was over at Paramount. We get footage from MGM’s inferior version of Show Boat, not the one stuck away in their library that was made by Universal. I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point. What the film gives you is MGM’s self-advertising side of the story. Watch it, sure. Enjoy that studio’s contributions to the musicals. (I personally find that a very little bit of Mickey Rooney, Peter Lawford, June Allyson, Kathryn Grayson and Mario Lanza goes a long way.) But don’t buy the idea that it all began and ended with MGM.

The Hendersonville Film Society will show That’s Entertainment Sunday, May 10 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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4 thoughts on “That’s Entertainment

  1. DrSerizawa

    I’m not one for musicals but this I think is worth seeing for anyone without experience with the Golden Age of Musicals. It might warm them to checking out some of the better ones.

    Of course the Golden Age of Musicals is alive once again in Bollywood. Or is it the Bronze Age? Anyhow is it a law in India that all movies have to be musicals? And be overacted?

  2. Ken Hanke

    You see, my feeling — which is based on an aversion to most of these movies — is that it’s much more likely to keep them from ever going to another musical for life.

  3. Jeremy Dylan

    I kind of depends which sort of musical you gel with. I happen to enjoy SWEENEY TODD and SWING TIME, but a lot of people are in one camp of the other.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I think that’s the problem with this — it’s pretty much one kind of musical done one way. Most of these — including the untouchable Singin’ in the Rain — are exactly what I think of when people say they don’t like musicals. I like a wide array of musicals — ranging from an antique like Whoopee! to things from the 21st century. But the MGM musicals…well, I own Cabin in the Sky, High Society (though I am aware it’s not a very good movie), and Silk Stockings. I suppose you could include Ken Russell’s The Boy Friend as an MGM musical, since they released it. Oh, and I have Barkleys of Broadway, but that’s because it came in the Astaire-Rogers set (WB now controls both the MGM and RKO product).

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