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Elizabeth Taylor

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.

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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.

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Me and Maggie the Cat – A very personal appreciation of Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

“I’ve been through it all, baby. I’m Mother Courage.”

“What’s the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? Just stayin’ on it, I guess.”

In 2007, my blood boiled as “Entertainment Tonight” gushed ghoulishly over the possibility that 75-year-old Elizabeth Taylor had a “new boyfriend” — referring to the gay black gentleman who escorted the actress to an AIDS benefit. The interviewer had to kneel to get right in the face of the wheelchair-bound movie star, resplendent in jewels of her own design and a sequined gown just slipping off her shoulder. “Are you ready to be a bride for the ninth time? Would you accept a proposal of marriage?,” baited the blond ditz.

“Marriage?!” shrieked Taylor, her face a mask of mock horror. And then the diva threw back her head and howled like a banshee.

Viewers, of course, were being invited to enjoy the spectacle — and sound — of a blowsy old dame, veteran of so many soap-opera scandals, acting dotty. What could be funnier than pretending the sedentary septuagenarian might be up for connubial hanky-panky?

There was a time when the star of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) would have cut the belittling ditz off at the knees. Her character, Maggie the Cat, would have narrowed her great violet eyes, thinned those lush lips and, wasp-voiced, nailed her victim as a “no-neck monster.” Still, I loved that unabashed banshee howl.

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