Review: That’s Entertainment

[Originally published in Movietone News 34, August 1974]

I have never counted myself among the musical buffs. It’s mainly been the arousal of interest in a director—Donen, Lester, Minnelli, Cukor, et al.—that enticed me into a theater or in front of a TV screen where a musical was playing. Conversely, taking Groucho’s advice in Horse Feathers, I have more often than not seized on the unwelcome musical interludes in essentially nonmusical films to go make a sandwich or flip over to another channel to check out the credits of the movie starting there. So if I tell you That’s Entertainment is just utterly swell, I’m telling you. And it is. Utterly. There’s nary a ringer among the numbers selected—except for episodes like Jimmy Stewart c. 1936 singing “You’d Be So Easy to Love” without benefit of redubbing, or Clark Gable doing a semi-improvisatory vaudeville song and dance number in the salon of a resort hotel (Idiot’s Delight), and of course those too become marvelous in their very unexpectedness and forgotten-biographical-footnote splendor (Gable is having such an outrageously good time, Stewart an outrageously uncomfortable time). When a sequence has been compressed or otherwise excerpted, it’s been excerpted sensitively and intelligently. And “director” Jack Haley Jr. has exercised impeccable judgment in deciding when to stay with the original 1.33:1 format, when to go with the full 70mm aspect ratio, and when to let the image grow from one to the other. The color has been faithfully transferred (if it hurts your eyes it would have hurt them in 1948, or whenever), and the black-and-white looks more like black-and-white than in any other color movie in my experience. Some of the newly stereophonicked sound is a trifle distracting, the mobility of the voices occasionally getting away from the less agile figures onscreen; but mostly the great care taken with every facet of the technological renovation has paid off many times over.

“It’s more than a movie—it’s a celebration,” say the ads, and for once the ads are right. The sizable audiences attending the film know that; they’re demonstrative, eager to applaud—and while a few camp followers may seem too ready as the titles are coming on, they’re handily overwhelmed by the genuine, spontaneous reaction of the whole house almost immediately. They’re digging the music and the dancing, surely; and some of it is great—as great as anything that’s been made to happen on film. But more than that, I think—and I know, as far as this viewer is concerned—they’re digging the way movies used to happen, the way they used to be big and glorious and unashamed, the way (let’s face it) they’re not, very often, anymore. When Eleanor Powell whirls around an almost immeasurable ballroom that MGM has dressed and populated to the limits of human apprehension, the audience responds to much more than her energy and grace: they respond to, they remember, the fact that that’s what movies—and not necessarily even great movies—used to be, a way that economics and politics (of every description) prevent their being, probably ever again.

And it all looks so fucking good up there on the Cinerama screen—even (maybe especially) the moments when the screen is no wider than 1.33:1 dictates. I couldn’t help wondering (dreaming is surely the word): what would it be like to see, say, My Darling Clementine up there? The Scarlet Empress? Man Hunt? I know what Citizen Kane looks like in 35mm at the Edgemont (but not the Exit, where they won’t forgo their 1.66 apertures), and what She Wore a Yellow Ribbon looked like at the Broadway, and The Informer and Gunga Din and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which isn’t even that good a movie!), again at the Edgemont. Those movies are different on television, they’re different in 16mm on the screen at Bloedel—and they deserve to be seen as big as we see That’s Entertainment at the Cinerama right now. Please, sir, somehow … may I have more?

RTJ

THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT
Commentary, Direction, and Production: Jack Haley Jr. New Cinematography: Gene Polito, Russell Metty, Ernest Laszlo, Ennio Guarnieri. Optical Supervision: Robert Hoag. Editing: Bud Friedgen, David E. Blewitt, Jim Liles. Additional Music: Henry Mancini. Executive Producer: Daniel Melnick.
The Narrators: Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Peter Lawford, Liza Minnelli, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor.

Copyright © 1974 Richard T. Jameson


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