Musical Monday: Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Broadway Melody of 1940 – Musical #83

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Norman Taurog

Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, George Murphy, Ian Hunter, Frank Morgan, Lynn Carver, Florence Rice, Ann Morriss, Trixie Firschke, Irving Bacon (uncredited), Herman Bing (uncredited), Gladys Blake (uncredited), Mel Blanc (uncredited), Joe Yule (uncredited), Hal Le Sueur (uncredited), Douglas McPhail (uncredited), Charlotte Arren (uncredited)

Producer Bob Casey (Morgan) sees down on their luck dance team Johnny Brett (Astaire) and King Shaw (Murphy) and is interested in Johnny. However, due to a mix-up in names, he hires King Shaw to star alongside top Broadway star Clare Bennett (Powell) in her next show. King’s work ethic is lacking, and Johnny has to help cover up for his faults.

• The last of the four “Broadway Melody” films
• Fred Astaire’s first film with MGM since 1933 after he left RKO, where he made his last film with Ginger Rogers for 10 years.
• Originally set to be filmed in Technicolor, but since World War II had begun in Europe, it was shot in black and white for economic purposes.
• The number
• Juggler Trixie Firschke’s only film appearance.
• Carmen D’Antonio was dubbed by Lois Hodnett in “Begin the Beguine.”

• Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire dancing together
• Eleanor Powell’s “All Ashore” number
• Fred Astaire and George Murphy dancing together
• Trixie Firschke juggling
• Cinematography Joseph Ruttenberg and Oliver T. Marsh

Notable Numbers:
• “Beguine the Beguine” performed by the Music Maids
• “Please, Don’t Monkey with Broadway” performed by George Murphy and Fred Astaire
• “All Ashore” performed by Eleanor Powell
• “Jukebox Dance” performed by Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire

George Murphy and Fred Astaire performing in “Please, Don’t Monkey with Broadway.”

My review:
When it comes to the best dancers on film, Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell are two of the best. They were each other’s equals when it came to skill and perfectionism.

Astaire and Powell were paired only once, in “Broadway Melody of 1940,” and it was probably the best film for both of them. Since they were each other’s equals, their dance numbers are impressive, lavish and show what both can do.

Astaire and Powell were both in different stages in their careers. The film Astaire made prior to “Broadway Melody of 1940” was “The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle” (1939); the last film he would make with frequent co-star Ginger Rogers for 10 years. He continued making musicals throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire performing “Begin the Beguine.”

For Powell, she was nearing the end of her career, who became more interested in retiring and raising a family. After “Broadway Melody of 1940,” she starred in four more films and had two film cameos. Her last film appearance was in 1950.

The third lead, George Murphy, is sometimes put down like a dancer and actor, but I’ve always found him pleasant and enjoyable to watch. Astaire is a better dancer than Murphy, but they both match steps and put on an enjoyable number with “Please, Don’t Monkey with Broadway.” True to form, Murphy plays a performer who gets the short end of the stick.

“Broadway Melody of 1940” was the final film of the four-film musical “Broadway Melody” series and the best. When considering all four films, it’s incredible to see how film production and direction had progressed.

Consider “Broadway Melody of 1929,” which some today would consider archaic. “Broadway Melody of 1940” was only released 11 years later!

Every dance number in “Broadway Melody of 1940” is a show-stopper. Murphy and Astaire’s duet “Please, Don’t Monkey with Broadway” is highly entertaining and fun. And then Eleanor Powell makes a startling and impressive entrance into the film (and the number) in “All Ashore” by sliding down a pole. We even get to hear Powell do a little of her own singing in “All Ashore;” she was usually dubbed by Marjorie Lane. Astaire and Powell do a bit of contemporary-boogie dancing in “Jukebox Dance” and the reprise of “Begin the Beguine.” “Begin the Beguine” isn’t just one of the best numbers in the film, it’s one of my favorite musical numbers of all time. With the reflective floor and stark black and white contrast between the set and costumes, the film just glitters.

We also get to see Powell, who was trained in ballet dancing, show her versatility in a ballet number, “I Concentrate on You.”

This film also includes a few more bizarre specialty numbers, with Trixie Firschke performing a juggling act and Charlotte Arren, as the auditioning comedic opera singer. The scene with Arren is really the only weak aspect of this film. This was the only film for Firschka and Arren.

“Broadway Melody of 1940” is even more glittering with the costuming from Adrien and Valles and jewelry by Eugene Joseff.

As far as movie musicals go, “Broadway Melody of 1940” is a must-see and one of the best movie musicals ever released. The plotline isn’t spectacular, but the dancing will blow you away.

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