Probably the best thing I can say about the Hendersonville Film Society showing That’s Entertainment! III (1994) is that there isn’t a “Part IV” to threaten me with. (That the movie grossed about one-tenth of its budget killed that idea.) OK, I admit it — this series has been a fly in my ointment, a thorn in my side and a burr under my saddle since the first one crept into theaters at the tail-end of the nostalgia boom in 1974. It isn’t that I don’t like MGM musicals — though by and large that’s true — it’s that the films purport to tell you the history of the musical film, when in fact all you get is propaganda for MGM that shoves all other studios aside. This practice also eliminates nearly all of the most innovative and important musicals in film history. Entertainment? Maybe. Acceptable as film history in something claiming to be a documentary? Not even close. Part three is more of the same — only with lesser material, material we never should have seen in the first place, retreads of previously mined titles and occasionally some oddities from unfinished, recast or recut movies. Some of this is interesting. Some of it is something else again.
Mostly we’re in the realm of June Allyson — perhaps the most saccharine performer ever — as well as Ann Miller and Esther Williams. For the truly masochistic, there’s Mickey Rooney in drag as Carmen Miranda, mugging for all he’s worth. Most of it’s just flat and lacking in charisma — or it’s the same old stuff over again. We get scads of footage of Eleanor Powell tap-dancing up a storm, yet she’s unable to project any notable personality. (This goes unremarked, of course.) The best stuff consists of footage from an aborted early Technicolor musical, or seeing Judy Garland in one complete sequence from Annie Get Your Gun (1950) before she was replaced by Betty Hutton. There’s also footage that probably never should have seen the light of day, but apparently did end up in theaters — like the contortionist Ross Sisters in their only movie. That they only made one movie is easy to understand. That they made the one is far more remarkable. That no one saw it in production, and didn’t put an immediate stop to it, is more remarkable still. I will concede that you’ve never seen anything like it, but that you would want to is baffling.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show That’s Entertainment! III Sunday, Nov. 24, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.