The demise of the MGM movie musical was as sudden as it was unexpected. Indeed, the early fifties had seen the release of four of the most successful and innovative musicals ever produced: AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951), SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), THE BAND WAGON (1953), and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954) were so rapturously embraced by critics and public alike that it seemed inconceivable that this genre, which had flourished since the dawn of the talking picture, wouldn't continue to be embraced by future generations.

It was not to be, for in the space of just a year or two such box- office flops as BRIGADOON, JUPITER'S DARLING, HIT THE DECK, ATHENA, IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER, DEEP IN MY HEART and KISMET would pronounce the movie musical as a thing of the past, thereby instantly destroying the film careers of such luminaries as Jane Powell, Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Donald O'Connor, Cyd Charisse, Ann Blyth, Ann Miller and countless others. The three greatest musical superstars, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly would manage to hang onto their careers by their fingertips until the end of the decade, but only Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, and to a certain extent, Debbie Reynolds would continue well into the sixties by largely forsaking musicals and moving on to drama and comedy.

For almost two decades, the original movie musical was derided publicly as an antiquated relic of the past, but then in 1974, and without much enthusiasm, those in charge of the tottering remains of MGM grudgingly gave producer Jack Haley, Jr. the go-ahead to compile some of MGM's el primo musical numbers into a coherent cinematic form. The result was the first THATíS ENTERTAINMENT, which shocked unbelieving MGM executives by grossing $28 million domestic, upon which the green-light was enthusiastically given for a sequel with new sequences to be directed by Gene Kelly combined with the never-seen but completed musical numbers that had been initially "cut for time." 

"If I see him. I'll kill him" an enraged Kelly publicly declared when he discovered, to his horror, that previous studio head James Aubrey (aptly nicknamed "The Smiling Cobra") had recently destroyed virtually all of the precious unseen footage in order to create more studio space.

As a result THATíS ENTERTAINMENT 2 would have to add some great comedy sequences to the mix, but is chiefly remembered for reuniting Astaire and Kelly in what would prove to be their final display of cinema terpsichory. (The charitable won't count Kelly's appearance in the worst musical of all time, 1980's XANADU, which was "directed" by cinemoron Robert Greenwald, who Kelly called "That rat-faced incompetent" in my presence, an assessment with which I enthusiastically concur, based on my own experiences. When I sheepishly admitted to Kelly that it was, in fact, I who had recommended Kelly to Greenwald for XANADU when the two of us worked together at Paramount, Kelly was very generous ------ he allowed me to live!)

Despite a rapturous critical reception the higher budgeted THATíS ENTERTAINMENT 2 managed a domestic gross of just $17 million, it would be nine years before MGM would release the comparatively weak (not included in this set) THAT'S DANCING (1985), which utilized some clips from other studios to fill out its running time. As it barely made a ripple at the box-office, it was presumed by many that the well had run dry, and the announcement nine years later that there would be a third edition of THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT to coincide with a celebration of MGM's 70th Anniversary was greeted with considerable skepticism ----- was there anything worthwhile left in the well?

They needn't have worried, for thanks to the discovery of some remarkable archival footage, THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT 3 proved to be an invigorating, if little-seen, surprise which, among many other pleasures, included footage of stagehands scrambling to move sets and stay ahead of dancer Eleanor Powell while she flawlessly executed her Fascinatin' River number, and the incomparable Fred Astaire performing the same number (I Wanna Be A Dancin' Man) in two different side-by-side takes!

This THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT COLLECTORíS EDITION is a cause for celebration for musical fans, as it includes two versions of each film (the anamorphic wide-screen theatrical version, which is vastly preferable except in the case of the SHOW BOAT clip which is blown up out of proportion, plus a full-screen version with non-anamorphic widescreen performance segments wherein the SHOW BOAT segments are correctly framed) as well as bonus disc which contains various "Treasures From The Vault".

Visually, this DVD set puts the deluxe laser-disc collection in the shade, the only caveat being that the vastly increased sharpness increases the already considerable grain of some of the Thirties clips, particularly in the case of the first film. The 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound is fine but lacking the powerful bottom end that enriched the laserdisc's soundtrack . When it was first released the promotional tagline for the initial installment proclaimed "Boy, do we need it now."  ------- how little times have changed! 

SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954) would prove to be the last truly original MGM musical to score with the public, but, oh, what a way to go! When a film is as deliriously perfect in every conceivable way as this is, it's very difficult to know where to start in the praise department, but we'll do our best. The great original Johnny Mercer - Gene dePaul songs are sung with enormous skill, charm, and panache by the delightful Jane Powell and the shamefully underrated Howard Keel, easily the finest and most versatile baritone in big-screen history. The original screenplay by Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich and Dorothy Kingsley is witty and smart in a way that invites intense admiration, while the incredibly inventive choreography by Michael Kidd is performed within an inch of its life by a team of astoundingly acrobatic dancer/actors that comprise the greatest dance ensemble ever assembled on film. Finally, SEVEN BRIDES is all seamlessly strung together by director Stanley Donen to the strains of the unmatchable musical arrangements of Conrad Salinger (and others), performed with toe-tappingly terrific gusto by the MGM Studio Orchestra under the direction of the legendary Johnny Green. Folks, it doesn't get any better than this!

As with the previous laser-disc Special Edition, this deluxe two-disc collection includes not one but two versions of this beloved classic: the anamorphic matted widescreen version which was separately shot as protection in case the CinemaScope process didn't take off, and the vastly preferable anamorphic CinemaScope version, both of which look so much sharper in their dvd incarnations that they actually achieve the impossible - they make the inferior Ansco Color process look rather good. The 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound on the 'scope print is so rich and vibrant that it makes the 2.1 stereo on the widescreen rendition pale by comparison.


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