6ART – MUSICAL
Between the 1920s and 1950s, under the leadership of Louis B. Mayer and others, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a series of musical films whose success and artistic merit remain unsurpassed in motion picture history. There were literally thousands of people …. artists, craftsmen and technicians …. who poured their talents into the creation of the great MGM musicals. This film is dedicated to them.
I remember going to see this with my Dad at the Cinerama when it came out. From a v e r y young age we would watch old movies together on our B&W TV and he would tell me all the stories from behind the scenes. This film really highlights the best of the MGM musical. It’s impossible to include every favourite scene in one movie. This a quite a good mix and using the star narrators was smart.
The early 1970s was a turbulent time in America: the Vietnam War and Watergate had given many in the country little faith in their government. Against that backdrop, MGM thought a nostalgic look at its earlier movie musical triumphs would play well to audiences eager to reminisce about seemingly less complicated times.
The film was the brainchild of MGM’s then head of creative affairs, Jack Haley Jr (son of Jack Haley, the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz). Through a painstaking process Haley and his staff poured through hundreds of past MGM musicals to put together a remembrance of those movies – starting with Ukulele Ike in The Hollywood Revue of 1929, the dawn of talking pictures, ending in 1958 when the studio released its last original musical, Gigi (Maurice Chevalier sings). The film was released in 1974 by United Artists to celebrate MGM’s 50th anniversary. It proved to be a huge box office success and introduced (then) younger audiences to the kind of movies MGM made during the Golden Age of Hollywood. The film was so successful that plans for a sequel quickly took shape. I consider this first film by far the best of the three, though #2 is not too bad. The third is a barrel scrape.
The film offers a comprehensive look at MGM’s classic musicals and is broken up into several segments, each one narrated by a former MGM star (all of whom have since passed away except for Minnelli): Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Peter Lawford, Debbie Reynolds, Bing Crosby, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Donald O’Connor, and Liza Minnelli (representing her mother Judy Garland and at that time married to the film’s director Haley Jr). These host segments constitute some of the final footage to be captured on the famous MGM backlot, which appears ramshackle and rundown during production in 1973, because MGM had sold the property to developers and the sets were about to be demolished.
USA 1974, 135 min, rated G
Directed by Jack Haley Jr