Review: That’s Entertainment

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

There is a group of films which are meant to be entertaining, are seldom noteworthy, and are usually G-rated. They can be termed entertainment films and customarily offer nothing for something. It is their habit to stay clear of anything that anyone might consider controversial. So extreme is this fear of controversy that they often end up virtually without content. Technical expertise is not generally one of their assets…. With all this on the debit side, it’s surprising that they ever succeed. But successful entertainment films of a special variety were turned out by one studio with remarkable consistency. The studio was MGM. The special films were musicals. To succeed where others failed, MGM had a formula involving two basic elements: use the best talent available, both in front of and behind the camera.

Like a candy sampler offering an assortment of flavorful delicacies, That’s Entertainment contains an assortment of MGM musical morsels, film clips of some of the best musical numbers from MGM films of various eras and aspect ratios. Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, and The Wizard of Oz are among those represented. But numbers from lesser films are also included, one of the most outrageous being from an Esther Williams movie. The original films are improved on in That’s Entertainment by virtue of the original optical soundtracks’ having been replaced with a magnetic soundtrack of much higher quality. In some cases, however, the visuals fare less well the second time around, what with the optical reductions involved in making wide-ranging projection formats from 1.33:1 to 2.35:1—congenial within the same print. Also—a failing that seems to be inherent in many anthology films—the material used to tie the musical numbers together is hardly of equal value. Here some films are presented in chronological sequence; in some cases, players are introduced by their fellows or other admirers in the present day. It is not difficult to ignore the weaknesses of the linking footage in the face of such outstandingly staged, performed, and photographed musical extravaganzas. That’s Entertainment is not only an entertainment film—it’s a fine one.

THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT
Direction: Jack Haley Jr.
The Narrators: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor.

Copyright © 1974 L. Ray Pierre