[box cover]

Broadway Melody of 1940

The Cole Porter Collection

  • Broadway Melody of 1940
  • Les Girls
  • High Society
  • Kiss Me Kate
  • Silk Stockings
  • After working together for five years, one would think it would take a lot to break up hoofers Johnny Brett (Fred Astaire) and King Shaw (George Murphy) — never mind the fact that they're broke, and when they aren't tap dancing at a New York theme park, they get a few extra bucks to participate in wedding processionals (they already have the formal suits, after all). But when King thinks he's about to be served a summons for his debts, Johnny decides to take his place. Unfortunately, the man outside the door is Broadway producer Bob Casey (Frank Morgan), who wants to put Johnny in his big show opposite leading starlet Clare Bennett (Eleanor Powell). He winds up sending King's name to the city's leading talent agency, and before they know it, King is starring opposite Ms. Bennett. But King's drinking problem soon creates trouble; even worse, Johnny and Clare strike up a friendship and realize they should be sharing the stage together. Among the most acclaimed of Fred Astaire's musicals, Broadway Melody of 1940 was his first for MGM, just after concluding his RKO contract (where he partnered with Ginger Rogers). And having Astaire free to work for The Lion presented a perfect opportunity to pair him with Eleanor Powell, America's "Queen of Tap" who appeared in the Broadway Melody series' previous two entries ('36 and '38). Nonetheless, it doesn't come as much of a surprise that the movie's plot is threadbare — it's a case of mistaken identity and a simple lovers' triangle on the Great White Way. Then again, it doesn't occupy a great deal of screen time. The picture offers plenty of comedy (most of it plays somewhat flat), while vaudeville performers crop up from time to time, including a hazardous unicyclist, a demented operatic soprano, and a really impressive juggler. But the singin' and the dancin' are what sells the tickets, and veteran studio director Norman Taurog never interferes, utilizing long takes with simple, sweeping motions that follow the principals in head-to-toe framing. It's set to the music of Cole Porter (with a few other composers) — Astaire and Murphy get things going with a duet of "Please Don't Monkey With Broadway," Astaire shows off his chops on the piano with "I've Got My Eyes on You" (complete with his own foot-tapping percussion section), and Astaire and Powell team up with a fun tap in "Jukebox Dance." It all leads to the spectacular finish that comprises the final 20 minutes of the film, a series of dance numbers primarily set to Porter's "Begin the Beguine." Everything from ballet to modern dance is covered, with a grand finale from Astaire and Powell that simply is one of the most impressive tap numbers ever captured on film. Like most Hollywood musicals from the Golden Age, Broadway Melody of 1940 wasn't about to win any awards for the acting or the screenwriting; thankfully, this entry is so entertaining that such elements become completely superfluous anyway. Warner's DVD release, part of the "Cole Porter Collection," features a solid full-frame transfer (OAR 1.33:1) from a source print that is showing some collateral wear, but still looks pleasant with good low-contrast definition, while the audio contains a small bit of ambient noise in the monaural DD 2.0 mix. Supplements include the featurette "Cole Porter in Hollywood: Begin the Beguine" hosted by Ann Miller (9 min.), the "Our Gang" short "The Big Premiere" (10 min.), production notes, and the theatrical trailer. Snap-case.
    —JJB



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