Here we are again, to delve into the movie that teamed up the king of rhythm, Fred Astaire, and the queen of tap, Eleanor Powell (don’t look at me, that’s how the trailer referred to them), Broadway Melody of 1940. The movie also stars George Murphy and Frank Morgan.
In this movie, we find Fred and George as Johnny Brett and King Shaw, a dance team at Dawnland Ballroom. There, they (or rather, Johnny in particular), are discovered by Bob Casey (Frank Morgan), a theatrical producer, but Johnny thought he was a bill collector and gave his partner’s name as his own. So Casey sells King Shaw to his associates as a new partner for their star, Claire Bennett (Eleanor Powell). They like King Shaw, and so use him (even though Casey had meant for it to go to Johnny). On opening night, King Shaw is drunk, so Johnny goes on in his place since he passed out, but nobody knows except Claire, who is furious with King Shaw. So the question remains: will Johnny become the Broadway star he was intended to be?
In a number of ways, this movie is the oddball in the Broadway Melody series. The previous three movies, (1929, 36 and 38) had all featured music by the songwriting team of Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown. This time, the score was provided by composer Cole Porter, with a slight reference to the song Broadway Melody used for a brief portion in the opening credits. Another change here is that star Eleanor Powell, who had headlined the previous two movies, both featuring her as a Broadway newcomer trying to make it big in her first show, is now starting this movie as the “big Broadway star,” with Fred Astaire being the character now trying to make it big.
There is a lot of dancing in this movie, since all three leads were dancers. What makes it odd, is that this might be one of the few movies that Fred’s leading lady actually does MORE dancing in the movie than he does. They both have the same number of routines (and most of them together), but for at least two routines, Eleanor starts off on her own while somebody else is singing, before being joined by Fred.
I think just about all the dancing is fun to watch, but the most famous part of the movie is the “Begin the Beguine” song. Here, we are treated to Fred and Eleanor proving their tap dancing abilities.
In my own opinion, this is the best movie in the Broadway Melody series (and sadly, the last). A few years later, there were plans for another that would have teamed Eleanor with then newcomer Gene Kelly, but those plans fell through (although a little was filmed, including one solo routine for Eleanor that ended up being inserted into the Gene Kelly movie Thousands Cheer). So, I do very heartily recommend this movie if you get a chance to see it.
The movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is about one hour forty minutes in length.
My Rating: 10/10