by FREDA BRUCE LOCKHART Since first whispers of the new Hollywood triumph, That's Entertainment ("U", Dominion), I've been resisting the temptation to add "-that was" to the title; and not just to complete a cliche. For the substance of this marvellous movie is a remembrance of things past.
It is an anthology of high spots from the great MGM musicals of the Thirties and Forties. What the film does, written, produced and directed by Jack Haley. Jnr. (his father starred in one of the best, "The Wizard of Oz") is to make this pot-pourri of old musicals into
spanning half a century of at least three generations of filmgoers.
Nostalgia is this year's (and last's) prevailing mood in the cinema and "That's Entertainment" is doubly nostalgic. It has the personal nostalgia which brought tears to my eyes repeatedly at the sight of a star, the sound of a song, the start of a sequence remembered from youth. Then there is the larger nostalgia for what the cinema used to be, what it achieved at its best, the nostalgia which justifies the publicity line: "More than a movie. It's a celebration."
Over a hundred stars are listed on the programme. Everybody will spot his own favourites, including many nonmusical stars who just flit by
In the refectoy, or on the "lot," on a ,permanent "New York Street' at Culver City.
Clark Gable isn't remembered for musicals, but a delicious clip has been found (from "Idiot's Delight"?) to remind us that he was a touring "hoofer" before he came into films. There's even a fleeting glimpse of Garbo in the Gable montage, a shot I thought from "The Rise of Susan Lennox" alias "The Rise of Helga", her only film with Gable. Two other stars not usually remembered for their musical efforts, but shown here trying with touching charm, are Cary Grant and Robert Montgomery in very early films. Katharine Hepburn we only see at table, but Joan Crawford of course came into pictures through winning a Charleston contest. We see her here doing a rather wild Charleston with all her proverbial energy and courage, then also in a brief duet with Fred Astaire from "Dancing Lady" (1934).
This brings us to the undoubted heart of the picture, the peak of artistic achievement reached in this period as a
whole: the dancing of FredAstaire.Such a rich treasury of Astaire extracts are here collected including the lovely lyrical dance with a hatstand, and the forgotten joy of seeing him together with that other elegant song-and-dance man, Jack Buchanan that it is surprising to recall that not all Astaire's greatest films were made for MGM but also for RKO and Paramount.
"That's Entertainment" also offers ample evidence of Gene Kelly as a film dancer and choreographer not far behind Astaire in the contribution of a "fancy free" style to the screen. Kelly's "Singing in the Rain" begins and ends this rich entertainment which really is a festival in itself," The other "super-star" of the movie is Judy Garland, whose "clips" are a welcome asset refurbishing her image with the zest and innocent intensity of her own youth and justifying the claim of her daughter Liza Minelli, that "That's Entertainment" is a wonderful tribute to her mother.
At the time I was not a great admirer of MGM musicals and am amazed and delighted to find such a feast, Set song or dance pieces are linked by commentary from James Stewart, Donald O'Connor (another lovely comedian-dancer), Frank Sinatra, a muchmelfowed Mickey Rooney, Debbie Reynolds and ether members of the vast family including Elizabeth Taylor.
Two stars who strike me as better than I had remembered are Jane Powell (there's the great scene from "Seven Brides
for Seven Brothers") and tapdancer Ann Miller so why no "Kiss Me Kate" for Ann and Howard Keel? Perhaps like other treats, they are being saved for a further instalment from MGM's rich archives.
I never cared for the Macdonald-Eddy team, but as we have them Indian lovecalling in "Rose Marie," I longed for Lubitsch's wonderful Macdonald-Chevalier musical "The Merry Widow." And as we did get the immaculate elderly Chevalier with Ilermione Gingolci (as well as Leslie Caron) in "Gigi" grieved for their nostalgic duct "I remember it Well" which would put a perfect finish to the film. But those who don't remember will find only happy surprises. For make no mistake, "That's Entertainment" is no elegiac memorial, but a pick of the cinema at its gayest, liveliest and most fertile period, brilliantly resurrected, revivified and revitalised for today. One of today's most popular British stars is Michael Caine, whom I have liked and admired since "The Iperess File" and "Zulu", though I deplore his growing identification with the most callously brutal type of film hero. The Marseille Contract ("A", Warner West End I), in which he plays a professional killer in Paris, is the kind of picture where a man may be shot silently in the back while dancing. Attempts to catch the master of a drug-ring are so cold-blooded as to make the characters lifeless before they are killed, even in a company of such good actors as Anthony Quinn (for the American narcotics squad), James Mason (for big business) and Maurice Ronet (for the French police).
In spite of Robert Parrish's highly efficient direction, and good Parisian backgrounds, almost the only consolation left to soothe the spectator is 'the always delightful presence of Alexandra Stewart as a girlfriend of Quinn's whose husband is an early casualty. Drugs being the motive, it is surprising to find the picture certified by only a single "A",
Emmanuelle ("X", Prince Charles Cinema) is the kind of pretentious but essentially trashy French Elm it is surprising to find even on the edge of Leicester Square rather than among a programme of "blue" films in the depths of Soho. It is just about as silly as the most risible girls' school story without uniform or rules and with no holds barred. Set in Bangkok it offers a pagoda-like French diplomatic clubhouse and convenient waterfall for nude bathing. At the Everyman Hampstead, on Monday, October 14, "The Go-Between" begins the last half of a "best British" month which ends with Lindsay Anderson's "Iffrom October 21 and from October 28 Hitchcock's "Frenzy". All very much to be seen.