That’s Entertainment (1974): Compilation Musical

A compilation film, released by MGM to celebrate its 50th anniversary, That’s Entertainment offers a good lesson in the history of the musical genre.

The film’s title comes from the anthemic song “That’s Entertainment!” by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, which was introduced in Minnelli’s 1953 MGM musical, The Band Wagon.

The film, compiled by its writer-producer-director, Jack Haley Jr., executive produced by Daniel Melnick, turned the spotlight on MGM’s legacy of musicals from the 1920s through the 1950s, featuring performances from dozens of the studio’s famous films.

Archive footage of Judy Garland, Eleanor Powell, Lena Horne, Esther Williams, Ann Miller, Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Jeanette MacDonald, Cyd Charisse, June Allyson, Mickey Rooney, Mario Lanza, William Warfield, and others was featured.

The various segments were hosted by a succession of the studio’s legendary stars: Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Peter Lawford, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, Bing Crosby, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, and Liza Minnelli.

Most of the hosts were filmed on MGM’s backlot, which appears ramshackle and rundown in this film, because MGM had sold the property to developers and the sets were about to be demolished (several of the stars, including Bing Crosby, remark on this during their segments). The most notable degradation can be seen when Fred Astaire revisits the ruins of a train station set that had been used in the opening of The Band Wagon, and when Peter Lawford revisits exteriors used in his late-40s musical, Good News. That’s Entertainment! was the last major project to be filmed on the backlot.

Musical Numbers

“Singin’ in the Rain” Prologue – Cliff Edwards from The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929), Jimmy Durante with Sidney Toler from Speak Easily (1932), Judy Garland from Little Nellie Kelly and the main title sequence from Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor)

“The Broadway Melody” – Charles King and Ensemble from The Broadway Melody (1929)

“Rosalie” – Eleanor Powell and Ensemble from Rosalie (1937)

“Indian Love Call” – Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald from Rose-Marie (1936)

“A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” – Dennis Morgan, Virginia Bruce, and Ziegfeld Girls from The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

“Begin the Beguine” – Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell from Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940)

“The Song’s Gotta Come from the Heart” – Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante from It Happened in Brooklyn (1947)

“It’s a Most Unusual Day” – Jane Powell with Wallace Beery, Scotty Beckett, and George Cleveland from A Date with Judy (1948)

On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” – Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Virginia O’Brien, Cyd Charisse, Marjorie Main, and Ensemble from The Harvey Girls (1946)

“It Must Be You” – Robert Montgomery and Lottice Howell from Free and Easy (1930)

“True Love” – Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly from High Society (1956)

“Hallelujah” – Tony Martin, Ann Miller, Vic Damone, Debbie Reynolds, Jane Powell, Russ Tamblyn, and Ensemble from Hit the Deck (1955)

“Barnraising Dance (Bless Your Beautiful Hide)” from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

“Gigi” – Louis Jourdan from Gigi (1958)

“Thank Heaven for Little Girls” – Maurice Chevalier from Gigi (1958)

“An American in Paris Ballet” – Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, and Ensemble from An American in Paris (1951)

That’s Entertainment! is one of the few documentaries to spawn official sequels—either two or three, depending upon one’s criteria.

In 1976, That’s Entertainment, Part II was released. The idea of multiple hosts was dropped for this production, with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly partnering to co-host the retrospective, which expanded beyond musicals to pay tribute to dramatic and comedy stars as well. The film is highlighted by Astaire and Kelly dancing together on film for the last time.

In 1994, That’s Entertainment! III was released, which featured more retrospectives with a focus on previously unreleased (or rarely seen) material cut from the MGM films.

Gene Kelly is the only individual to host in all four films