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The host segments for That's Entertainment! constitute some of the final footage to be captured on the famous MGM backlot, which appears ramshackle and rundown in 1973, because MGM had sold the property to developers and the sets were about to be demolished. Several of the hosts, including Bing Crosby, remark on the crumbling conditions during their segments; the most notable degradation can be seen when Fred Astaire revisits the ruins of a train station set that had been used in the opening of The Band Wagon two decades earlier, and when Peter Lawford revisits exteriors used in his 1947 musical Good News.
The title of the film derives from the anthemic song "That's Entertainment!", by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, introduced in the 1953 MGM musical The Band Wagon. The film title is usually expressed with an exclamation mark, but in some contexts the punctuation is dropped, as in the movie poster.
Over the years, under the leadership of Louis B. Mayer and others, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has produced a series of musical films whose success and artistic merit remain unsurpassed in motion picture history. There were literally thousands of people .... artists, craftsmen and technicians .... who poured their talents into the creation of the great MGM musicals. This film is dedicated to them.
-- Opening titles of That's Entertainment!
Unless otherwise noted, Information is taken from IMDb's soundtrack section for this movie
Clips of Howard Keel (as Hazard Endicott) are from the 1950 film Pagan Love Song
Clips of Agnes Moorehead (as Parthy Hawks) are from the 1951 film Show Boat
The film premiered at the Loew's Beverly Theater in Beverly Hills on the evening of May 17, 1974. MGM billed it as their greatest premiere in a quarter century. There was a red carpet from the Loew's Beverly Theater to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for the post-screening dinner and dancing. Also promoted were the 100 movie stars in attendance. Anyone paying $100 per seat for the dinner, could sit at a table with a movie star. The premier also featured several live introductions to the various on-screen segments; it was co-hosted by Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli and featured live stage appearances by Debbie Reynolds, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, and others. The premiere, as an event and a party, was a dazzling success. However, as a publicity event for MGM, it was completely overshadowed; the expected press were all across town covering the breaking news of the Symbionese Liberation Army shootout that night. The film had its New York premiere on May 23 and opened the following day at the Ziegfeld Theatre. The film opened nationwide in June 1974.
The film grossed $25,600 in its first week in Los Angeles and did even better the following week with $45,000. Over the 4-day Memorial Day weekend at the Ziegfeld it grossed $71,164. The film was United Artists' highest-grossing film of the year.
Despite statements made in the original theatrical trailer and promotional materials that such a production would never be repeated, That's Entertainment! is one of the few documentaries to spawn official sequels.
That's Entertainment, Part II was released in 1976. The use of myriad hosts was dropped for this production, instead Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly partnered to co-host the retrospective, which expanded beyond musicals to pay tribute to dramatic and comedy stars as well. The sequel would turn out to be the last time Astaire and Kelly danced together on film.
That's Dancing! was released in 1985. Unlike the two prior That's Entertainment! films, this documentary was not limited exclusively to MGM productions. The film is closely related to the That's Entertainment! series, with shared studio and producers credits, but also since its opening credits contain a card with the title That's Entertainment! III (not to be confused with the subsequent 1994 film).
That's Entertainment! III was released in 1994. The film featured more archival footage, with a distinct focus on previously unreleased (or rarely seen) material cut from the MGM films.
Gene Kelly is the only individual to host in all four films.
All three That's Entertainment! films were released to DVD in 2004. The box set collection of the films included a bonus DVD that included additional musical numbers that had been cut from MGM films as well as the first release of the complete performance of "Mr. Monotony" by Judy Garland (the version used in That's Entertainment! III is truncated). That's Dancing! received a separate DVD release in 2007. The MGM trilogy also received a Blu-ray release in the late 2000s; the bonus content of the DVD box set was spread among the three films rather than presented as a standalone disc.