With an inanely cheerful smile plastered across her face, Eleanor Powell, a movie star of the late '30s and early '40s more noted for her vim on the dance floor than her thespian talents or beauty, sings and taps her way through the Gershwins' "Fascinating Rhythm" in 1941's Larfy Be (hod. What makes her smile all the more remarkable is that on the other half of the split screen, we see the number actually being filmed: a frantic freeway of stagehands forklifting away and repositioning sections of the stage only seconds after Powell has passed, curtains being whisked to and fro behind her and cameramen wheeling in closer and closer on the star.
The scene perfectly captures the huge effort, skill and planning that went into creating the onscreen magic of golden-era MGM musicals. One only wishes there were more backstage segments and interviews in Entertainment! Ill, a belated and tired sequel to its 1974 and 1976 predecessors. The movie dutifully trots out such MGM stars of yesteryear as Gene Kelly, June Allyson, Ann Miller, Lena Home, Howard Keel, Mickey Rooney and Esther Williams. But it gives them little to do besides display the wonders of cosmetic surgery, indulge in hokey scripted chatter—Williams describes Tom and Jerry as "more animated than some of my leading men"—and introduce clips from some 100 films, many of which weren't all that thrilling the first time around. The movie does have its moments (Joan Crawford in blackface lip-synching to India Adams' recording of "Two Faced Woman" in 1953's Torch Song and a wan, out-of-it Judy Garland singing "I'm an Indian Too" shortly before she was fired from Annie Get Your Gun in 1949), but the MGM lion's roar is decidedly at half-meow here.(G)