You really would think that no other film musical documentary could possibly top THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT. Come on--it's got personal appearances by a host of stars, and some of the most famous and best-loved clips ever. Including, you know, the singing in the rain bit from SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. Could it get any better?
Well, THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT II certainly tries its darned hardest to be better. Not a single clip is repeated from the first film in the trilogy, and watching this film really makes you realise just how much talent was all focused in the one studio from the 30s through to the 50s. Judy Garland admiring Fred Astaire's Easter bonnet in EASTER PARADE, Garland and Astaire sailing up the avenue as 'A Couple Of Swells' in the same film, Gene Kelly and Garland dueting on FOR ME AND MY GAL, Ann Miller and Bob Fosse in KISS ME KATE, a montage of musicals before colour, a Garland tribute, a Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn love-fest... this film unabashedly brings them all (and much much more) together. There are a couple of clunkers, of course, like Bobby Van hopping like a maniacal rabbit-freak through the town, or the token Esther Williams number. But as you listen to Garland sing 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas', or Frank Sinatra croon his way through 'I Fall In Love Too Easily', and see Gene tap dance on skates as naturally as if he had been born with them strapped on... again you're struck with just how special an era this was in film-making, one that unfortunately is lost to the rest of us except through video and DVD.
And I know that this isn't the most popular of opinions, but I think THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT II not only matches but far surpasses the original. There was nothing special about the first film--its only gimmick was the coup it had managed in bringing all these glorious film legends back together to talk about their work. The only caveat was that the incredible personalities behind the stars just couldn't shine through except with some pretty special people... otherwise, they were all reading off a pre-written script. Kind of dampening, really.
THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT II, on the other hand, is a small but successful exercise in creativity: from the title sequence through to Gene Kelly's direction of the new footage between himself and Astaire. It's also a delight for fans of both Astaire and Kelly when these two dancing men, you know... dance together again. Sure, they're not as nimble and quicksilver as they used to be, and some of the lyrics they're singing are--well, the only word for it is corny. But there's no denying that both these men have a kind of screen charisma that doesn't disappear with time, and having them both onscreen together, singing... now that really *is* entertainment as it should be. In the final scene they tell us that the best films have the audience leaving the film with a glow. How right they are.
Quite simply, THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT II is sheer, perfect nostalgia bottled and kept simmering, just waiting for an audience. About the only flaw with it is that it simply couldn't be better than its source material... but that's also what's so good about this film. It makes you want to go out and rent all the others... and still watch it over again just to revel in Astaire and Kelly being onscreen together for the first time since 'The Babbitt and The Bromide' in ZIEGFELD FOLLIES almost three decades ago.
What more could you ask for?
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