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Case Number 12771

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That's Entertainment! The Complete Collection (Blu-Ray)

That's Entertainment!
1974 // 135 Minutes // Rated G
That's Entertainment, Part II
1976 // 129 Minutes // Rated G
That's Entertainment! III
1994 // 113 Minutes // Rated G
Released by Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // January 17th, 2008

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All Rise...

Chief Justice Michael Stailey recreated Gene Kelly's legendary solo song and dance from Singin' In the Rain on stage at age 8. This guy doesn't do anything small.

Editor's Note

Our review of That's Entertainment: The Complete Collection, published March 14th, 2005, is also available.

The Charge

"MGM's Dream Factory created a rich, romantic, compelling world of illusion. And although we may not see anything like it again, we're blessed with memories and miles and miles of film."
—Gene Kelly (1994)

Opening Statement

I won't even attempt to top Judge Bryan Byun's magnificent dissertation on the original standard definition DVD release of That's Entertainment! The Complete Collection from March 2005. Instead, I'll focus on my own personal observations and how much more impressive these films look and sound in 1080p. Unfortunately, there are no new bonus materials over and above what was included in that previous release. So, if you're basing your purchase decision on that alone, you're out of luck.

Facts of the Case

More than 30 years ago, in honor of MGM's 50th anniversary, producer/director Jack Haley Jr. had the brilliant idea to recapture the studios' glory days by documenting its greatest genre—The American Musical—one his father was a proud contributor to. Alongside editors Bud Freidgen and Michael Sheridan, the three dug deep into the MGM archives to bring up over two hours of clips from more than 70 classic musicals dating all the way back to 1929. The result was That's Entertainment!, a phenomenal documentary that captured the hearts of the country and went on to not only become a box office sensation, but give birth to a new genre of nostalgia without which VH1 would still be playing music videos today.

The sweet smell of success, something MGM hadn't tasted in quite some time, became so overwhelming they enticed producer Daniel Melnick and longtime studio composer/arranger/music supervisor Saul Chaplin to start work on a sequel—a concept that was relatively foreign to Hollywood. While still able to tug at the heart strings, That's Entertainment, Part II didn't pack the box office whallop of its predecessor.

While many thought that was the end of it, Freidgen and Sheridan got back on the horse for MGM's 70th anniversary and dug even deeper to honor a once proud studio that was now little more than a historical nameplate on a studio backlot they no longer owned. That's Entertainment! III was a final call to glory, reassembling the few remaining stars from that glorious era one last time to share stories of what it was like to be a part of that magic.

The Evidence

MGM certainly wasn't the only studio producing musicals in its heyday, but Louis B. Mayer certainly had a star powered stable to create some of the most memorable ones. It was a different time. When silent films died and their actors were unable to make the transition, desperate studio heads started mining theatre actors like mad to cast a steady crop of scheduled song and dance films. They tried everyone and most failed miserably. In fact some of the biggest flops came from actors who would go on to have great careers in non-musical roles—Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Liz Taylor, and Clark Cable, just to name a few. But like any numbers game, the more people you try, the more stars you'll discover. Judy Garland and her sisters came to the studio as an act. Mickey Rooney was a 10-year old theatre veteran spotted on stage in New York. Mario Lanza was a truck driver from Philadelphia. Esther Williams was a renowned swimming champ working in a department store. It was the oddest mix of people, but this is how Mr. Mayer and the studio contract system operated. Bring them in, groom them, educate them, train them (singing, dancing, acting), and try them out in various roles and film genres. And it worked, building a stable of talent that included names like Nelson Eddie, Jeanette MacDonald, Bing Crosby, June Allyson, Lena Horne, Debbie Reynolds, Jimmy Durante, Donald O'Connor, Jane Powell, Ann Miller, Ray Bolger, Buddy Ebsen, Cary Grant, Vic Damone, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Greer Garson, Van Johnson, Bob Fosse, and many, many more.

That's Entertainment! The Complete Collection is a time capsule, capturing a once powerful studio on the unsuspecting eve of its demise. That's Entertainment! showcases images from the badly decaying MGM backlot, mere months before it was demolished and sold off to housing developers. Hosted by Frank Sinatra, Liz Taylor (looking very affected), Peter Lawford, Jimmy Stewart, Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Liza Minelli, and Bing Crosby, you see these great talents in a very different light—Liza and Liz before all their health problems; Frank before he became a caricature of himself; and Bing before he passed away.

On the other hand, That's Entertainment, Part II is a well intentioned mess. Most people forget that story plays a huge part in the success of a documentary and this film doesn't really have one. Aside from the obvious desire to further explore the studio's musical history, it gets sidetracked by uncharacteristically meandering into clips from MGM comedies featuring Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers, and Abbott & Costello. Why? I have no idea. It's not like they didn't have plenty of musical-based source material to work with. Add to that a 76 year-old Fred Astaire and 63 year-old Gene Kelly pushing through several new dance routines and you're left with somewhat uncomfortable transition sequences, but they still handle themselves with the same poise and class that made them screen legends. The one remaining oddity on this disc can be found in the bonus materials. "The Lion Roars Again" documents a press junket MGM (now partnered with United Artists) staged to promote not only That's Entertainment, Part II, but other films in production such as Logan's Run and The Sunshine Boys. Interesting, but again not directly tied into the musical history of the studio, unlike "The Masters Behind the Musicals," a mini-doc focusing on the geniuses who brought these films to life. In many ways, it's more engaging than this disc's feature presentation.

But, as Hollywood is notorious for doing, That's Entertainment! III redeems the franchise by going back to the formula that made the first film so successful and juicing it with never before seen musical numbers that were cut from their respective films before release. Often the stories behind these cuts are fascinating to hear—such as Lena Horne losing the role of Julie in Show Boat to Ava Gardner (a non-singer) due to the production code's ban on interracial relationships, only to have Ava's singing voice dubbed at the very last minute by singer Annette Warren; Judy Garland's dropping out of Annie Get Your Gun after suffering a breakdown, giving Betty Hutton the chance to turn in an award-winning performance; and Gene Kelly breaking his ankle during rehearsals for Easter Parade and calling Fred Astaire out of retirement to take his place. This additional layer of history is further enhanced by the "Musical Outtake Jukebox" which features stars like Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, June Allyson, Debbie Reynolds, Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante, Bert Lahr, Marjorie Main, Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza, Mel Torme, Jane Powell, Esther Williams, Yvonne De Carlo, and Lena Horne in numbers cut from their films. It's a fitting bookend to this three film retrospective.

With the American Musical making a well-deserved and long overdue return to Hollywood, it's only appropriate that Warner Bros. update these three wonderful films for a new generation. The most impressive impact of the high def treatment can be found on That's Entertainment!. Going back to the original masters, the colors jump and the grayscale are much sharper. Gone is the Barbara Walters glowing haze seen in many of the older film clips, replaced by a crisp (albeit more easy to spot defects) picture that brings to a life an era far too many of us have since forgotten. The true impact of the restored image won't be felt until the closing credits when you see just how faded and dirty the original clips had become. And yet more impressive than the image itself is the new TrueHD audio mix. The channel separation is fantastic and showcased beautifully from the first bars of the Overture to the last notes of the Exit Music.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for That's Entertainment, Part II. The film stock presents a heavy grain, and while the colors are enhanced, it dates the film horribly. Maybe having grown up in the mid-to-late '70s is having a rebound effect on me, but the abstract geometric stage dressing and cheap special effects only distract from the timeless nature of the film clips themselves. The remastered audio is far from resounding, with a heavy front channel mix whose levels come through softer than That's Entertainment! and doesn't do anything to truly distinguish itself from its own standard definition DVD presentation.

That's Entertainment! III redeems itself and the trilogy by presenting a fresher, more timeless look. Gone are the dated '70s backdrops and oddly designed set pieces, replaced with fond reminiscences from the aging stars who made these films so memorable. The image quality is exactly what we've come to expect from updated modern classics—a step above the original 480p transfer and two steps or more above its original theatrical presentation. The audio falls somewhere between the first two films. Again, not as impressive as the first, but much more enjoyable with Marc Shaiman's fantastic re-orchestrations of these great film scores in full 5.1 surround. Of course, the film clips on all three documentaries vary in image from full frame to cinemascope, and in audio from mono to full surround, depending on how the source material was originally captured.

Closing Statement

The one drawback to That's Entertainment! The Complete Collection are the redundancies which become readily apparent when watching all three films back-to-back-to-back. Other than that, this is a must own piece of film history. If you already own the original standard definition DVD release, don't bend over backwards to swap out your copy for the Blu-ray. However, if you don't own them and received a Blu-ray player for Christmas, this is a great piece to begin your high def collection.

The Verdict

Not the least bit guilty. A few missteps and off-key notes can't detract from the power of the American Musical. They only provide us with more great stories about how these films were made.

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Genres

• Blu-ray
• Comedy
• Concerts and Musicals
• Documentary

Scales of Justice, That's Entertainment!

Video: 94
Audio: 98
Extras: 96
Story: 100
Judgment: 97

Perp Profile, That's Entertainment!

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.55:1 Anamorphic
• 2.40:1 Anamorphic
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated G

Distinguishing Marks, That's Entertainment!

• Introduction by film historian and TCM host Robert Osborne
• "Just One More Time"--Featurette promoting the original theatrical release
• 25th Anniversary in house studio newsreel with keynote by Louis B. Mayer
• "That's Entertainment! 50 Years of MGM"--The film's gala premiere hosted by George and Alanna Hamilton
• Original Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, That's Entertainment, Part II

Video: 90
Audio: 92
Extras: 98
Story: 70
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile, That's Entertainment, Part II

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.40:1 Anamorphic
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated G

Distinguishing Marks, That's Entertainment, Part II

• Introduction by film historian and TCM host Robert Osborne
• "The Lion Roars Again"--1975 press event announcing the sequel and showing off the various films currently in production, such as LOGAN'S RUN, THE ALL-AMERICAN GIRL, and THE SUNSHINE BOYS
• Clip from Feb 20, 1976 Mike Douglas Show live from the MGM Studios with guests Fred, Gene, Ann Miller, Debbie Reynolds, Nanette Fabray, Jane Powell, Hermes Pan
• "The Masters Behind the Musicals" --Featurette on the men and women behind the camera who created the MGM musicals
• Original Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, That's Entertainment! III

Video: 94
Audio: 92
Extras: 90
Story: 98
Judgment: 94

Perp Profile, That's Entertainment! III

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.55:1 Anamorphic
• 2.40:1 Anamorphic
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated G

Distinguishing Marks, That's Entertainment! III

• Introduction by film historian and TCM host Robert Osborne
• "That's Entertainment! III: Behind the Screen"--Making of featurette
• "Musical Outtake Jukebox"-- Featuring 16 numbers cut from various MGM musicals
• Original theatrical trailer








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