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  Broadway Melody of 1940 On With The Show
Year: 1940
Director: Norman Taurog
Stars: Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, George Murphy, Frank Morgan, Ian Hunter, Florence Rice, Lynn Carver, Ann Morriss, Trixie Firschke
Genre: Musical, Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Song and dance man Johnny Brett (Fred Astaire) could do better. At the moment he's employed by a New York ballroom that drums up publicity by holding weddings and Johnny is the man who gives the brides away, though he's not happy about it. With his dance partner King Shaw (George Murphy) they perform just about every night, but with little recognition except from those who they are in debt to, and tonight a man gives Johnny his card - not to arrange a job, but to let him know that he's going to get King to pay up whether he can afford it or not. However, when they take to the floor and go into their routine, there is a talent agent watching, Bob Casey (Frank Morgan), and he's impressed with Johnny; if only there wasn't a mix up and King takes the casting call instead...

The last of the Broadway Melody musicals that had begun way back in 1929, this was probably the best known outside of the original thanks to the pairing of two dancing legends in Astaire and Eleanor Powell. Powell plays, no, not a up and coming performer who gets her big break on Broadway, but an established star who is looking for a new partner for her latest show. Scripted by Leon Gordon and George Oppenheimer from a story by Jack McGowan and future head of MGM Dore Schary, it's a very typical musical of the period, but distinguished by the superb dancing and the songs by Cole Porter, at least two of which you'll probably recognise.

The whole plot hinges on a series of misunderstandings that put strain on the relationship, both working and professional, between Johnny and King. Unbeknownst to anyone but himself, Johnny has loved star Clare Bennett (Powell) from afar and takes every opportunity to see her shows, so imagine how he feels when King gets the chance to work with her instead of him. Casey realises the error only when it's too late, and the result is a not always smooth mixture of comedy and drama, although Morgan is highly amusing as the permanently flustered agent whose trick is to take out young women with the promise of wearing an ermine cape that he retrieves at the end of the evening.

The revue aspect can be viewed when every so often a speciality act is wheeled on, such as a juggler who provides a dazzling display of balance and precision, although there's a neat gag later on when we think yet another such performer is going to do his act and he zooms on riding a unicycle and promptly collapses into the orchestra pit. But the real highlights are the dance numbers, from lighter than air Astaire and the chunkier yet agile Murphy's opening where they dance a duel, to the final, celebrated "Begin the Beguine" marathon on the reflective black stage, the film's most famous scene. The filmmakers hold off from giving us too much Astaire and Powell hoofing in unison, in fact you have to wait over an hour before they get together, but the wait is worth it, with some truly terrific tap dancing. All this and a happy ending too.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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