On the occasion of the dedication of the world's tallest skyscraper (which I for one would never consider building in earthquake-prone San Francisco, by the way), an A-list party is planned for the top floor. This way to the glass-enclosed elevator, please. Architect Doug Roberts (Newman) and builder Jim Duncan (William Holden) are proud, but they don't know that Duncan's cost-cutting son-in-law (Richard Chamberlain) has compromised safety for profit. Sure enough, when a small fire breaks out, things go really bad really fast, and firemen Michael O'Halloran (McQueen) and Harry Jernigan (Simpson) arrive on the scene holding their hoses.
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The only thing is that Funny Face was not an MGM musical -- it was produced by Paramount. MGM's Roger Edens was shopping around a film version of a play written by Leonard Gershe concerning the life of his friend, fashion photographer Richard Avedon and desperately wanted Audrey Hepburn as the photographer's love interest. But Hepburn was under contract to Paramount and Paramount wouldn't lend her out. Fred Astaire ambled into the mix, but he was no longer contracted to MGM and was freelancing. Eventually MGM's Arthur Freed magnanimously loaned out key figures in MGM creative staff to Paramount -- director Stanley Donen, musical director Adolph Deutsch, arranger Conrad Salinger, choreographer Eugene Loring, cinematographer Ray June -- and the MGM-at-Paramount unit was in place, where it proceeded to put together one of the finest movie musicals of all time.
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With a tagline like "The Greatest Production Since The Birth Of Motion Pictures," you get a little something like the unmanageable monstrosity that Follies ultimately becomes. Structured as a series of unrelated vignettes, directed by different people (not to mention that screenwriting credit list), it's ultimately just a jumble of parts that add up to less than a whole movie.
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The plot is thin, as is common in 1930s musicals: Astaire is a dancer that's just busting at the seams with his art. He shows off some moves one night in his apartment (and what moves they are, making excellent use of the props in the room), only this annoys the hell out of the woman (Rogers) living downstairs. It's one of the few times that a musical actually makes reference to the fact that it's not normal to break into song and dance whenever the mood strikes you, though of course, eventually, Rogers gets in on the act herself.
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That's Entertainment! -- which would spawn two sequels and another DVD of extras (available on the box set, see right) -- is more accurately a celebration of MGM and its legacy of movie musicals. Shot in 1974, the film takes us on a tour of MGM's then-sprawling backlot (which was torn down shortly thereafter), radically contrasting the dilapidated sets with the films that were originally shot on them. Stars like Sinatra, Astaire, Crosby, Kelly, Minnelli, and Reynolds (Debbie, not Burt) are our tour guides, hosting us on our walkthrough the back lot and introducing the clips of past films starring themselves and their friends.
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Maybe it's for the best, though. Missing the wedding winds him up with Penny (Ginger Rogers), who we're sure is going to be a better match for Lucky, because, you know, she can dance. (Here, in a bit of comic kitsch, she's a dance instructor and he's never danced before... though he proves to be an exceedingly fast learner.)
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