1985 happened 30 years ago and so did I. Now, I’m watching all of the films from the year of my birth. That’s right, all of them.
That’s Dancing! (dir. Jack Haley Jr.) 105 min
Release Date: January 18, 1985
Cast: Gene Kelly, Sammy Davis Jr. Ray Bolger, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Liza Minelli
Writer(s): Jack Haley Jr.
Synopsis: An anthology of the best dance numbers in musical history.
Review: This is the second sequel in the That’s Entertainment series; anthologies that collected Hollywood’s greatest song and dance sequences up to that point (1974 and 1976, respectively). This—the third and final entry—stuck specifically to dance numbers, beginning with musicals in their earliest incarnations and ending with Michael Jackson’s then-new video for “Beat It.”
I knew we’d get to some movies like this eventually. By that I mean, movies I’d never watch outside of the self-imposed guidelines of this column. Musicals are my biggest blind spot as a cinephile, almost to the point of active avoidance, though I’m not totally sure why that is. Singing In The Rain is one of my all-time favorite films and there are other unconventional musicals like Bugsy Malone and This Is Spinal Tap that I really love. So in a way, this movie is actually pretty perfect for someone like me. It’s an hour and forty-five minutes of all killer, no filler material with Gene Kelly and friends narrating and giving context to the various eras and techniques on display. Everything lands because most of it is brand new to me, cherrypicked specifically for its awesomeness. And like any anthology, if you’re not crazy about something you’re seeing, the next segment is only a minute or so away.
But what am I supposed to say about this as a movie unto itself? I flipped for the Busby Berkeley dance sequences—seriously, I’m renting as much as I can after seeing the spiraling tunnel of women in Dames—but this movie can’t get credit for someone else’s work, right? Maybe we should be looking at this as a documentary about the history of dance, but then I’d be way out of my depth as a critic there too.
Here’s what I think: this movie made me appreciate what an incredible dancer Ginger Rogers is, because I finally saw her match Fred Astaire move-for-move in high heels. It made me aware of a silent film directed by Ernst Lubitsch called So This Is Paris, which shows what hundreds of people having an insane party in 1926 looked like. It made me aware of Eleanor Powell, who has some of the sexiest legs I’ve ever seen and was able to do superhuman things with her body. It basically got me to reconsider musicals, which was something I was sure wouldn’t happen. I’m still not sure if that’s the metric of a good movie, but it definitely did something right.
Better Off Dead or The Sure Thing: The sure thing.
Next Up: The Falcon and the Snowman