Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The sublime dancing team of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell toplines BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 (1940), which has just been released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

I first saw this film as a teen in an MGM musical series at the Tiffany Theatre on Sunset Boulevard. I'm not sure when the last time I saw it was, but it had definitely been a lot of years since my last viewing, and so I was especially delighted to revisit it thanks to the Warner Archive Collection's gleaming new Blu-ray.

In this "backstage Broadway" saga, Astaire and George Murphy play longtime dance partners Johnny Brett and King Shaw. Broadway producer Bob Casey (Frank Morgan) spots Johnny and thinks he'd be a perfect new partner for star Broadway dancer Clare Bennett (Powell), but due to a name mix-up Bob recommends King to his partner (Ian Hunter) instead and the wrong man is auditioned and hired.

Johnny is gracious about the breakup of the act, though he's especially pained as he's had a crush on Clare and been regularly watching her current show from the standing room section. Unfortunately, the big career break goes to King's head, leading to potential disaster for the show, unless Johnny can save the day...

The plot isn't much, with Astaire sidelined a little too much while excessive screen time is devoted to Murphy's obnoxious behavior, but it doesn't really matter given that this is our only chance to see Astaire and Powell partnered. Powell has a winning screen personality, and when she and Astaire get together on the dance floor, it's glorious!

Astaire and Powell have multiple numbers, with the best coming near the end of the movie. I first saw the "Begin the Beguine" excerpt with Astaire and Powell dancing on a shiny floor in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974) when I was around 11 years old. In the intervening years that dance has only become more and more magical. It makes the movie an absolute must-see for musical fans. The moment near the end where the music stops and they just tap their hearts out never fails to give me goosebumps.

Watching the film made me remember a special moment with Powell's son, Peter Ford, whose father was Glenn Ford. It's hard believe it's been almost exactly a decade since I met Peter at the Noir City Film Festival. I've never forgotten that when I told him how much I admired his mother, he smiled and said she was "an angel." Her onscreen persona certainly reflects that.

There was a sort of pleasant reminiscing and familiarity for me while watching the movie on multiple levels. I love what we bring back to a movie on repeat viewings, enriching the experience, such as my memories of THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! and meeting Peter Ford.

Then there's the fun of connecting the dots with other viewing. This was my second film of the week featuring Ian Hunter, following GALLANT SONS (1940) from the same year. It was also the third movie in the last few days in which I saw George Chandler; I singled him out when I recently saw him in a nice part in MAN OF THE WORLD (1931).

This also happens to have been the second film in a row with a leading character having King as a first name, the prior film being THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS (1936).

Florence Rice has a nice role as Morgan's good-natured secretary. The supporting cast includes a number of familiar faces including Lynne Carver, Ann Morriss, Irving Bacon, Mary Field, Joseph Crehan, and Joe Yule (Mickey Rooney's father).

Douglas McPhail, who had a short run in MGM musicals of the late '30s and early '40s, sings "I Concentrate On You" while Astaire and Powell dance. The Cole Porter score also notably includes "I've Got My Eye On You," charmingly performed by Astaire.

BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 was directed by Norman Taurog. It was filmed in black and white by Oliver T. Marsh and Joseph Ruttenberg. The running time is 102 minutes.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray looks terrific, in sparkling black and white. The soundtrack is also excellent.

Disc extras imported from the original DVD release include the trailer, the cartoon THE MILKY WAY (1940), the Our Gang short THE BIG PREMIERE (1940), and a featurette on Cole Porter featuring Ann Miller. A song selection menu enabling easy repeat visits to the musical numbers is also provided.

Don't worry about the story, but pick this up for Astaire and Powell. As Frank Sinatra memorably said of them dancing in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!, "You'll never see the likes of this again."

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Warner Archive Amazon Store or any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger barrylane said...

My personal Eleanor Powell favorite film, Lady, Be Good, featuring more than a few lovely moments from John Carroll and Ann Sother, including the brilliant initial presentation by Ann of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's The Last Time I Saw Paris. Academy Award winner, and quite justifiable.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I've seen LADY BE GOOD a couple of times and have enjoyed it, although for unknown reasons it hasn't stuck in my memory banks all that well. A new viewing is in order! I do fondly recall Powell's remarkable number with the dog.

Best wishes,

7:25 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Just love Broadway Melody of 1940. Like you, I first saw the fabulous ‘Begin The Beguine’ in “ That’s Entertainment” in 1976 - I couldn’t wait to see the whole film!
Surprising that this was really the last starring role Eleanor had.. her subsequent roles were supporting or guest spots. There was supposed to be another ‘Broadway Melody “ film but it never happened.
‘Begin the Beguine’ must be one of the longest production numbers ever. My favourite section is actually the first flamenco style dance Fred and Eleanor do. But the whole sequence is fantastic. Frank Sinatra rightly said, “You’ll never see the likes of this again.”
Also love Fred and George Murphy’s ‘Don’t Monkey With Broadway’. Cole Porter’s lyrics are so witty. - “Move Grant’s tomb to Union Square,And put Brooklyn anywhere!”....

1:48 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Vienna!

I wonder how many of us were introduced to so many key musical moments by the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! films? I like the section you mention too -- that number really does go on a while!

Wish Eleanor had done more, she's so enjoyable.

Best wishes,

7:29 PM  

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