It's not a masterpiece along the lines of "The Wizard of Oz" or "Meet Me in St. Louis." Some may think it inferior to such MGM glitz as "The Ziegfeld Girl" (which is dazzling and a milestone in the careers of Lana Turner and Judy Garland).
But it is what it is and entertaining and joyful make up a lot of that.
It's the first and only time that MGM paired tap queen Eleanor Powell with Fred Astaire (fresh at MGM from some dazzling films at RKO with Ginger Rogers). Nevertheless, the unique pairing produced one of the great musical moments in film history (more below).
It's also unique in that it's one of the few times Alfred Newman, longtime 20th Century-Fox music department head and master composer/conductor (he's possibly one of the greatest conductors EVER) supervised a musical film at another studio prior to taking over at Fox in 1940. Newman previously supervised the music, along with Roger Edens, for MGM musicals "Born to Dance", and "Broadway Melody of 1936", plus various films for both Fox and Samuel Goldwyn.
The plot, today, seems typically trite for that period. Astaire, a great hoofer in a lousy gig, has a crush on Powell, a big Broadway star. He sneaks in to her shows to see her do a production number when he's not performing with his partner, George Murphy. One night, as he and Murphy are dancing, a bumbling fool of a Broadway angel -- adeptly portrayed by Frank Morgan -- sees the two tappers and gets real excited about the prospect of forwarding Astaire to auditions to co-star with Powell in a new show. Astaire, trying to help his buddy out, and having mistaken Morgan for a bill collector, gives Morgan his buddy's name when they meet. Later, it's Murphy who gets a call to go audition and Astaire helps get him ready. Murphy lands the role and his head swells, and Powell learns that it's Astaire who...and on and on and lots of backstage drama ensues until magic time.
George Murphy is endearing in this film -- both as a wannabe tough guy and as a sensitive slob afraid of failure. Murphy had risen to "leading man" status in a number of MGM "B" pictures, and I sense (rightly or wrongly) a bit of 'make-or-break' urgency in his portrayal that I attribute to his finally getting a leading role in a big MGM musical with Powell and Astaire. To me, he seems more comfortable when he's playing tough with Astaire than he does when he's actually singing and dancing with Powell (who probably intimidated him as she was a much bigger star than he).
Morgan's character has a buddy, too -- a white chinchilla cape that seems to have quite a history on the shoulders of starlets he either dates or encounters during the film.
The music is Cole Porter and it's miraculous.
The overture is amazing. The pacing of the music must have been a great challenge to the musicians that made up the MGM orchestra of the late 30s and early 40s (it was not the world-class outfit that Johnny Green would pull together at the end of the decade). From the opening notes, you get a sense of great urgency -- all the pictures about NYC and Broadway you ever saw all rolled into one hyperkinetic several minutes of music.
Astaire and Murphy totally nail the "Don't Monkey With Broadway" number and it's a wonderful routine! While the number was meant to be typical of the entertainment to be found in NYC at that time, you still have that paradox of "would Astaire really have been dancing for peanuts"? Just like you had to ask, "Wasn't Liza just too good to be performing in that little cabaret"?
The audition number between Murphy and Powell -- "Between You and Me" -- is MGM glitzy and glamorous with a heavy dollop of kitsch...all the ramps for sliding and jumping and twirling (to show off the costume, dontcha know). The sincere looks between Powell and the suddenly shy and nervous Murphy are well worth a grin.
Eleanor Powell was not a great actress. She was, however, a brilliant tap dancer. Today, some wouldn't have kind things to say about her dancing style, especially going from tap to toepoint. But the fact remains that she was a MAJOR star at MGM and Astaire thought her amazingly gifted (sadly, she didn't have his creative flair for invention). Eleanor danced pretty much the same way in each film, with her signature backdrop-handtouch to the floor. She had a tiny voice, but a beautiful face with a gorgeous smile and she made the world seem magical.
She did everything asked of her...with smiles and determination and earnestness.
The "I've Got My Eyes on You" number Astaire does on the empty stage, using Powell's powder puff as his dancing "partner" is inspired. And he and Powell give us a glimpse of what's coming when they do that little tap number at the outdoor cafe.
But let's be absolutely clear about the merits of this film. Its place in cinema (musical) history is assured with the finest tap dancing display ever committed to film...and possibly ever created for any medium...and that is the "Begin the Beguine" number toward the end of the film. It's a jazzy arrangement and Astaire and Powell -- reflected in a black shiny floor -- tap their hearts out in one of the most dazzling terpsichorean displays of athleticism and art ever seen. It's an AWESOME number.
The earlier artsy stuff is a little too cute (along with the meant-to-be-sincere delivery of lines by Powell in those backstage moments as Astaire worries with Murphy). "I Concentrate on You" has been better served in many other films, so it's operatic presentation here should not be mourned.
But it's more than made up for by the glittering delights and leaps to delirium provided by Astaire and Powell AND Murphy when they're tapping.
The film was a major effort and preserves a moment in film history that will never be equalled."
Ellie and Fred finally together on DVD!!
S. Copeland | carrollton, TX USA | 03/16/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you love the movie "Chicago", you will love "The Broadway Melody of 1940". It's got the best tap dance sequences in movie history and a Cole Porter music score. The best dances in my opinion are "Begin the Beguine" and "The Jukebox Dance". This infamous movie musical stars Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell; two of the best dancers of the 20th century or any century. The story is cute, and typical: boy meets girl, they put on a show and fall in love.The chemistry between Powell and Astaire is notably tense, but as the movie goes along it gets better. For history buffs: Ms. Powell and Mr. Astaire were perfectionists; outstanding in their craft. Eleanor Powell was the only female dancer at MGM to choreograph all her routines, and Fred Astaire at times did his own or with Hermes Pan. They were in awe of each other; but during rehersals for this movie, they stopped all the formal talk
and got down to hoofing like two hoofers should.Enjoy this movie...you will NEVER see dancing like this again!"
INCONSISTANT IMAGE QUALITY - A REAL LET DOWN!
Nix Pix | Windsor, Ontario, Canada | 04/22/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
""Broadway Melody of 1940" was MGM's final film in a series that began with the original Oscar-winning movie from 1929/30. After nearly a decade of big time hits with Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire made the trek from RKO to MGM to star opposite the best tap dancing lady of them all - Eleanor Powell. The two hoofers are ably assisted in the comedy portion of this fun-loving movie by costar George Murphy and the inimitable Frank Morgan (the wizard from "The Wizard of Oz"), here, playing a bumbling Broadway producer. The plot, generic by any standards, has Astaire mistaken for Murphy and falling in love with Powell. What sets the production apart is a series of mind-boggling dance routines capped off by a mesmorizing set piece to the tune of Cole Porter's evergreen hit, "Begin The Beguine".
Warner's DVD suffers from an inconsistently rendered picture. The opening credits are clear as a bell. So is the opening musical number "Please Don't Monkey With Broadway". But then we get into scene upon scene of low contrast, bad shadow and shutter flickering that creates a distraction impossible to overlook and made all the more evident by more than a hint of edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details. Contrast levels are particularly bad during Astaire's solo "I've Got My Eye On You" as well as Murphy and Powell's art decco dance number "I Concentrate On You". The one saving grace on this disc is that none of the above mentioned problems intrudes on the film's climactic show stopper "Begin The Beguine". It remains an untainted spell-binding display of tap dancing from two professionals at the top of their game. The audio on this disc is mono, as originally recorded, but extremely well represented with low background hiss and little distortion.
Extras: A toss-away featurette hosted by Ann Miller and a theatrical trailer are the only things worth mentioning.
Bottom Line: Disappointing - considering Warners usual sterling efforts for classic movies on DVD. Let's hope that this disc, along with "High Society" and "Kiss Me Kate" are flukes and not what is going to become the norm for a studio with such a rich film heritage, worthy of great pains in preservation."
You will never see anything like this again!
Richard A Schauer | Kent,, WA USA | 02/21/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Over the years this movie has usually been panned. Today, with availability on VHS, then on laser disc, and now on DVD this film is getting the acclaim it deserves. This is one of my favorite Astaire films, the first time I watched it I knew I would be watching it again and again. The true test of a classic filmThe movie was panned, not for the dancing, but for the story. The story involves mistaken identity: Eleanor Powell is a musical star looking for a dancing partner. Fred Astaire and George Murphy are dancing partners trying to make it to Broadway when Eleanor Poewll's agent - manager - Frank Morgan sees their act. He wants Fred Astaire for Eleanor's new partner but through a mixup George gets the part. Of course, everything works out by the end of the film and we have a happy ending. I didn't think the story was so bad or sentimental or whatever but let's face it, who cares? Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell in top form with Cole Porter music, who could ask for anything more?The final big number is Begin The Beguine and it will knock your socks off. It is quite long, about twenty minutes as I remember. The last part was seen in That's Entertainment and when Frank Sinatra introduced it he said: "You'll never see its like again.""
Thank god for film!
Miss Mazeppa | San Francisco, CA United States | 05/02/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Because it can capture brilliance like this and hold it there forever. If I had to be shipwrecked on a deserted island with a DVD player and only one Fred Astaire musical number, I would want it to be "Begin the Beguine". To me, this is the most outstanding Hollywood production number ever made! Now, you can see it in all its glory in crystal clarity on this excellent DVD.From the minute you hear the familiar tune being sung by an exotic siren, you are lulled to a breathtaking black & white world of mirrored-floors, starlit ceilings, giant foil palm trees, very deco Egyptian-esque female dancers and Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire. The number is "told" in two parts: the first being a more Spanish style of dance, with a Latin tempo, and the two dancers dressed in beautiful costumes, especially Eleanor's flowing pleated gown. The second half of "Begin the Beguine" is a total 1940 Big Band swing number introduced by an Andrews Sisters-like quartet. Fred and Eleanor come tapping out in modern day clothes and perform a swing tap number that is truly astounding. Pure fluid movement. What is so appealing is they look like they are loving every minute of it! Their precision and synchronization will leave you breathless.But wait, there's more! The film also has these musical numbers, too: "Don't Monkey with Broadway", "All Ashore", "Between You and Me", "I've Got My Eyes on You", "Jukebox Dance" and "I Concentrate on You". The story may not be that good, but who cares? There are some special features, notably a short documentary narrated by Ann Miller about the making of the film.RUN, don't walk to your nearest DVD store and get "Broadway Melody of 1940"!"