BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940
Of all the wonderful female partners that the legendary Fred Astaire danced with throughout his career, there was only one whose reputation as a hoofer rivaled his- and the ladyís name was Eleanor Powell. Back in her heyday, Powellís dancing prowess had earned her the title the Queen of Tap, and for good reason. Watching Powell today, one can still marvel at the enthusiasm, athleticism and energy of her dancing, not to mention her charm and beauty that came across on the screen when she was standing still. As for the teaming of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell, it was the kind of cinematic magic that was captured on film only one time in BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 ($20). A cinematically elaborate and stylistically beautiful dance number performed to Cole Porterís classic Begin The Beguine climaxes the film and leave the audience wanting more of this memorable teaming.
In terms of plot, BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 doesnít break any new ground, and proves to be like many other backstage musicals of the period. What elevates BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 above run of the mill is the dancing of Astaire & Powell, as well as MGMís typically high production values and the delightful Cole Porter songs. BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 tells the story of dancers Johnny Brett (Astaire) and King Shaw (George Murphy), who are trying to get their foot in the door on The Great White Way. While doing a specialty routine at a dancehall, Broadway producer Bob Casey (Frank Morgan) spots Johnny and thinks that he would make an ideal leading man Clare Bennett (Powell), who will be starring in an upcoming musical for the producer.
However, through coincidence and a case of mistaken identity, it is King who ends up starring opposite Clare, instead of Johnny. With his former partnerís best interests still at the forefront, Johnny coaches King through the rehearsal process, always finding ways to improve his friendís performance. Of course, Johnnyís selflessness does come with the benefit of allowing him to grow closer to Clare, with whom he is smitten. Complications arise when Clare begins to return Johnnyís feelings, leaving King the odd man out. The cast of BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 also includes Ian Hunter, Florence Rice, Lynne Carver, Ann Morriss and Trixie Firschke.
Warner Home Video has made BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 available on DVD in a black and white presentation that frames the film in its proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. Considering that the movie is now over six decades old, the transfer is very, very nice. BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 isnít one of those movies that have been digitally restored frame by frame, but it is obvious that the image has been cleaned up to a some extent, with only mild scratches and blemishes remaining. Sharpness and detail are quite respectable, so that one can appreciate the extravagant sets and costumes. Blacks are pretty velvety, white are crisp and stable, plus contrast is pretty smooth. There is a noticeable grain structure throughout the presentation that gives the picture a nice, film like quality. Digital compression artifacts are a non-issue on this DVD.
BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 comes with a Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack that gets the job done nicely. I found the track to be reasonably pleasant, but those spoiled by fully digital modern soundtracks, will probably be more critical. One has to remember it was only slightly more than a decade into the sound era when BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 was made, and that recording technology was still fairly primitive. Therefore, the fidelity of the musical numbers is rather limited, coming up short in regards to the higher and lower frequencies. Still, the track has been cleaned up to remove the most glaring instances of background hiss and surface noise, so the musical numbers do come across cleanly and undistorted at normal listening levels. Additionally, dialogue is always completely understandable. A French language track has also been encoded onto the DVD, along with English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which feature access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few nice supplements. Cole Porter in Hollywood: Begin the Beguine is an eight-minute program hosted by Ann Miller that looks back on the production of BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940. The Big Premiere is a ten-minute comedy short featuring the kids of Our Gang, who attend a Hollywood movie premiere. Production notes, cast & crew listing and a theatrical trailer close out the supplements.
BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 is a genuine delight for Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell and Cole Porter fans that climaxes with a classic dance number built around Porterís Begin The Beguine. If you are a movie buff or musical fan, BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 is something that you will want to add to your collection.
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