Broadway Melody of 1940
May 3, 2017 | by Jessika Loucks
You will be swept away!
Beautiful dancing is mixed with light hearted comedy in MGM’s whirlwind film “Broadway Melody of 1940.” Starring Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell, “Broadway Melody of 1940” is the fourth and final entry in the Broadway melody series – the first of the series being released in 1929.
“Please don’t monkey with Broadway” – Johnny Brett
This was Fred Astaire’s first major role at MGM after leaving RKO and this is one of the last, major successful films for Eleanor Powell. Powell having been in all but one Broadway Melody film, the original 1929, one definitely goes into this movie with a high hope to be dazzled. So as is always the million dollar question, is it worth your time? Let’s look at the good and the bad.
The movie opens with a beautifully arranged score written by Cole Porter and seemingly goes into the first scene, in which we see Johnny Brett (Astaire) walking down the aisle looking as if to be getting married, or is he? As things begin to unfold we come to find out that Johnny is a hoofer (also known as a dancer).
King Shaw (George Murphy) Johnny’s dance partner, who seems to have a weakness for gambling and drinking, is introduced early on. You can see from the brotherly connection that these two have that Johnny only wants to help and take care of King.
After a fun dance number with Johnny and King, Bob Casey (Frank Morgan of “Wizard of OZ”), a well known agent and welcome comedic relief, is introduced. Bob, along with a beautiful white cape that is on a new girl every night, seems to have his eye on Johnny’s dancing.
Through mistaken identity and secrets the whirlwind of this movie begins.
We are transported to a theater where we meet Claire (Powell), Johnny’s secret crush. Powell does not disappoint in her dance numbers and you instantly fall in love with the sassy Claire Bennett. It is soon obvious that Claire is in need of a new dance partner and Bob Casey has found him! Or has he?
“The more I know about women, the less I know about women”- King Shaw
Auditions are had and I must say some of the acts that are shown are hilarious and some of the most amazing real talent I have ever seen! Through many twists and turns, miscommunications and beautifully choreographed dance numbers we are left with a muddled mess between the three dancers.
Who will win the heart of the beautiful Claire? Will King and Johnny finally get their big break? And who will end up with the gorgeous white cape?
Let me start off by saying none of the dance numbers disappoint. They are outstanding – the most incredible of all the numbers being the end scene! The set for the ending number “Begin the Beguine” cost a whopping $120,000 which would be around $1,600,000 today. This was largely due to a sixty-foot multi-paneled mirror mounted on a revolving track to change backgrounds. That’s a lot of glass!
Though I wouldn’t call this film a comedy there are some very funny scenes and as previously said Frank Morgan is a wonderful addition to the cast. I think the thing that surprised me the most was George Murphy. I was blown away by how well he danced, especially with Astaire being his partner.
“Come on try it, it’s easy” – Claire Bennett
The cast works well together, with no lack of chemistry and I found myself wishing that Astaire and Powell would have made more films together. Their synchronization is AMAZING!
Though not shown in a good light, there is more than one instance where King is very much drunk or is in bed with a hangover. Oddly enough this does add to the plot and I am thankful that it was shown as negative and how it negatively effects your life.
The film originally planned to be shot in Technicolor, but MGM’s decision to stick to black and white was due to the unsettled state of Europe during WWII. I found it a real shame that it was not shot in Technicolor as you can tell by the attention to set and costume detail that it would have been phenomenal to see.
So once again you ask yourself is it worth your hard earned free time? Is it worth 102 minutes of nothing but singing, dancing and lots of sparkly sequins? Well with Astaire and Powell being leads one can say the expectations to dazzle are extremely high and I can say without a shadow of a doubt I was definitely dazzled and not disappointed.
My vote is yes! Though I didn’t feel that this was my favorite Astaire film, it is surely in my top five. The end dance number alone is worth a watch and I look forward to exploring more of Powell’s films.
Both nervous to dance with each other, as Powell stated later on in life in her book “The MGM Story,” the two finally relaxed and the magic began. So sit back, grab some popcorn and be swept away into the dancing fantasy!