We gave it a B
When the first That’s Entertainment! was released in 1974, its very title was a rebuke. A compilation of clips from great MGM musicals, it said, in effect, Keep your Chinatowns and Exorcists — this is entertainment. Twenty years later, Ted Turner owns MGM’s library of classics, the studio is a crippled ghost, and the nostalgia franchise isn’t looking so hot either.
After two previous installments, there isn’t much left in the vault for That’s Entertainment! III to dredge up. Where the film excels is in dusting off rarely seen outtakes, such as Judy Garland singing Annie Get Your Gun‘s ”I’m an Indian Too” before she wigged out and had to be replaced by Betty Hutton. There are also some incredible split-screen comparisons. We see Fred Astaire in two different takes — shot weeks apart — of the same dance routine from The Belle of Broadway and marvel at the otherworldly precision with which his steps match up. We also hear one vocal track — India Adams’ ”Two Faced Woman” — lip-synched by two very different stars: Joan Crawford in Torch Song‘s riotously stupid blackface routine and Cyd Charisse in a scene cut from The Band Wagon.
In TE! tradition, a number of stars, such as Charisse, Gene Kelly, and June Allyson, are on hand to narrate, but only two break through the smothering cue-card piety. Lena Horne recalls with clear-eyed bitterness that the studio ”didn’t know what to do” with a star her color (to prove the point, we see her singing a bubble-bath cheesecake number cut from 1943’s Cabin in the Sky). And Mickey Rooney, perhaps the most unstoppable ham of the century, seems to know how lucky he is to have outlived Andy Hardy.
On a consumer note, MGM/UA Home Video plans to release a longer TE!III’, with entire versions of numbers that are truncated in the theatrical prints. The catch-22 is that you won’t be able to appreciate the wide-screen beauty of many of them on TV. There’s treasure here — not to mention an insane optimism that can still move a viewer — but the proper setting is long, long gone.