Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940)
Broadway's Got Talent
I've not seen any of the earlier "Broadway Melody" movies but if they are anywhere near as good as "Broadway Melody of 1940" then they are going to be well worth a watch. To be honest "Broadway Melody of 1940" is a rather strange movie because on one had you have a story, a story of confusion and romance which one of its stars, Fred Astaire, was certainly comfortable with. But then thrown into the mix are several stand alone scenes which see acts perform such as Herman Bing who creates silhouettes, Carmen D'Antonio who does a comedic opera performance and the absolutely amazing Trixie Firschke whose juggling and ball skills are simply out of this world. It makes it a weird but also very entertaining movie especially when you have Fred Astaire dancing with Eleanor Powell who amazingly out shines Astaire when it comes to impressive dancing.
Johnny Brett (Fred Astaire - Shall We Dance) and King Shaw (George Murphy) have been trying to make it as dancers for years and know each other inside out. So when Johnny discovers that a debt collector is looking for King he pretends to be him so it would invalidate any writ, except he mistakes a talent agent for the debt collector and in doing so sets up King for a chance of the big time as dance partner to Clare Bennett (Eleanor Powell). Whilst he secretly loves Clare, Johnny would rather help his friend have a shot of the big time than let him know the truth when he discovers the mix up.
The storyline to "Broadway Melody of 1940" is the sort of confusion inspired comedy which Fred & Ginger did so well and as such is very simple. To sum it up King Shaw ends up being picked to become the dance partner of Clare Bennett but in fact it was really his own dance partner Johnny Brett who should have been her new partner. The confusion comes from Shaw being in trouble with money lenders but to save him Johnny pretends to be him only to mistake a talent scout for a debt collector. Sounds more complex than it is and it is pretty obvious that by the end things will not only have become even messier but also sorted themselves out.
But whilst the overall outcome is pretty predictable the path it weaves to get there makes for plenty of fun from Johnny being a huge fan of Clare through to tensions rising between Johnny and King as success goes to his head. As already mentioned "Broadway Melody of 1940" has that feel of a Fred & Ginger movie and as such if you have seen any of their movies such as "Top Hat" you will have an idea what to expect, except there is no Ginger but Eleanor Powell instead. All of which means there is plenty of comedy and of course plenty of musical numbers and some terrific songs many of which were written by Cole Porter.
The thing which takes you aback is the stunning dancing which to be honest you expect from Fred Astaire but this is Astaire on a completely different level delivering sheer brilliance especially in the memorable dance he does where he pretends he is dancing with Clare. But I can't believe I am going to say this but even the great Fred Astaire is outshone by Eleanor Powell whose dancing is so beautiful, so effortless and elegant yet as sharp and snappy as that of Astaire. The first time we watch her dance is just mesmerising especially when you have other dancers throwing her through the air at speed, or doing 100s of spins whilst going around in a circle. It means that when Astaire and Powell share a dance it is a treat, an exhibition of expertise by two dancers who were not only at the top of their game but also each others equals and challenging each other to be even better.
All of which makes "Broadway Melody of 1940" a pretty stunning movie and one which only gets better by the quirky acts which seem to be thrown in. It sort of feels weird when suddenly we get a scene which is built around an act with little to do with the actual story but watching Carmen D'Antonio do her whacky opera is just wonderful. But the real show stopper is Trixie Firschke the juggler who does things with a ball that you wouldn't believe was possible, spinning it on her head by whipping her head around and bouncing it on a bar which she holds in her mouth, it is just spell binding to watch.
What this all boils down to is that "Broadway Melody of 1940" is brilliant from start to finish be it the romantic confusion comedy inspired storyline or the music of Cole Porter. And you can't not be spell bound by the dancing of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell who wow every time they take to the floor be it together or individually. Plus whilst they're quirky the moments where acts perform such as Trixie Firschke juggling and balancing a ball just add to the over all enjoyment.
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