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A rousing celebration and nostalgic revisitation of the high points in MGM's esteemed history of song and dance, That's Entertainment! III (1994) features a bevy of vintage numbers and performers, part of a studio legacy that boasted of "more stars than are in the heavens."
Covering Hollywood musicals from their early, often humorous attempts to define the genre in an all-girl jailhouse number or a sexy girls' school shower sequence, That's Entertainment! III soon moves on to examples of the studio's golden age, including an unforgettable opening sequence with Lucille Ball decked out in a shocking pink costume with a whip taming a ferocious group of sequined lady panthers from Ziegfeld Follies (1946). Escapism proves a perennial fixation of these extravagant MGM song-and-dance spectaculars, including the vogue in the late forties and early fifties for the underwater musicals that starred MGM's million dollar mermaid Esther Williams. The swimmer/actress, one of numerous present-day star cameos in That's Entertainment! III, even shows off MGM's saucer tank where she performed her popular underwater routines in films like Dangerous When Wet (1953), swimming with cartoon stars Tom and Jerry.
One half of MGM's most successful musical team, Mickey Rooney, also makes an appearance in That's Entertainment! III to introduce the string of films in which he co-starred with his partner Judy Garland, making them one of Hollywood's most beloved musical couples; the film clips include Babes in Arms (1939), Babes on Broadway (1941) and Strike Up the Band (1940).
Actual appearances by MGM stars like June Allyson, Ann Miller, Cyd Charisse, Lena Horne and Gene Kelly highlight the studio's roster of talent, while a parade of glamour girls like Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Lena Horne and Myrna Loy are testament to the studio's high standards of beauty. In addition to featuring the best in MGM star power, That's Entertainment! III also includes some notable misfires like the attempt to integrate the contortionist dancing act of the Ross Sisters into Broadway Rhythm (1944). The scenes that made film history, including a montage of musicals from legends like Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, are shown alongside scenes that wound up on the cutting room floor, like Lena Horne in a bubble bath from Cabin in the Sky (1943), a scene that was deemed too risque to keep in the completed film because it showed a black woman in the bathtub. Another lost scene features Judy Garland in Indian garb playing Annie Oakley from Annie Get Your Gun (1950), a performance that was later replaced with Betty Hutton in the same number when Garland suffered a nervous breakdown. Other deleted scenes you'll see include Cyd Charisse performing "Two Faced Woman" from 1953's The Band Wagon (you also get to see Joan Crawford in blackface lip-syncing to the same song in Torch Song, 1953), Debbie Reynolds performing a solo of "You Are My Lucky Star" from Singin' in the Rain (1952), and an alternate version of Fred Astaire performing "I Wanna Be a Dancin' Man" in The Belle of New York (1952).
Along with a tribute to Hollywood's high points is an acknowledgement of its darker strains, like racism and censorship and the tragedies that never interfered with the show biz motto of "the show must go on."
Though the musical is probably best remembered for its heyday in the thirties, forties and fifties, That's Entertainment! III also shows the efforts made by the genre to reach a new generation of filmgoers, as in a rollicking clip from the Elvis Presley musical Jailhouse Rock (1957), which bridged the gap between the glamour musical of Hollywood's golden age to the conquering beast that was rock 'n' roll.
Producer: George Feltenstein, Peter Fitzgerald, Bud Friedgen, Michael J. Sheridan
Director/Screenplay: Bud Friedgen, Michael J. Sheridan
Director of Photography: Howard A. Anderson III
Film Editing: Bud Friedgen, Michael J. Sheridan
Cast: June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Mickey Rooney, Ann Miller, Lena Horne, Gene Kelly, Howard Keel, Debbie Reynolds, Esther Williams, Marie Dressler.
BW & C-121m. Closed captioning.
by Felicia Feaster