When the “MGM’s greatest hits” compilation That’s Entertainment came out in 1974, it was advertised with the tagline, “Boy, do we need it now!”—a phrase meant to reach all those aging moviegoers who felt alienated by the R-rated sex, violence, and social commentary in the New Hollywood pictures. As a result, That’s Entertainment and its sequels developed a reputation as lazy and reactionary, when it fact the series makes a great primer for MGM neophytes. The first film (airing on Turner Classic Movies today at 1 p.m. Eastern) contains the best loved musical numbers from MGM’s 1940s/1950s golden age, and the 1976 follow-up (airing at 3:30 p.m.) emphasizes more of the comic set-pieces. But even devoted fans of old Hollywood movies can get a lot out of 1985’s That’s Dancing (on at 11 a.m.) and 1994’s That’s Entertainment III (at 5:45 p.m.), which both function more like true documentaries, putting singing and dancing in a historical and aesthetic context. (The latter also features an assortment of outtakes and obscurities, to appeal to the MGM connoisseurs.) As for the criticism that there’s no reason to watch these songs and scenes divorced from their original films… well, a lot of those films were “trunk musicals” themselves, culling the best of older films and plays. That’s Entertainment! is no substitute for watching Singin’ In The Rain, but those 1974 copy-writers were right: It’s a refreshing whirlwind tour through the past.
November 25, 2014 Cable Pick Of The Day