Broadway Melody of 1936
The story is totally clichéd. The script is lame. The acting is second-rate. Robert Taylor looks puzzled as to how he ended up on this sound stage at MGM when he was supposed to be at Universal filming Magnificent Obsession.
What’s good about it? The choreography is nice. Frances Langford is a pretty good singer. Buddy Ebsen, in his first film, does his trademarked rubber-legged shuffle with his sister, Vilma. They dance to a silly little number called “Sing Before Breakfast.” I’ll bet most people don’t know what a terrific dancer he was before that stupid The Beverly Hillbillies. But in the end there are only three reasons to see this film: Eleanor Powell, Eleanor Powell, and Eleanor Powell.
Wiki says that in 1965 she was named the World’s Greatest Tap Dancer by the Dance Masters of America. I don’t know who they are, but anyone who would argue with that is a fool. (There is no way to be sure that, somewhere out there, someone was or is better, but if so, they were never put in a movie.) She was better than Ginger Rogers, better than Ann Miller, better than Fred Astaire, better than Vera Ellen, better than Gene Kelly. This was her first starring role. Her dancing is beyond belief. She was capable of executing an impossibly tough tap sequence … and then doing it over and over and over again, perfectly each time. Here she does that in one number, and then pretends to be bored and thinking of something else as she taps offstage. Hardly any part of her body but her feet seems to move. She is weightless.
And nobody, no dancer, no figure skater, no one, could spin like Eleanor Powell. In the stunning final number she spins twenty times, by my actual count, at a rate I could barely believe, her head turning and looking at the same point like some sort of machine … and then she added six more spins twice as fast as that! There were at least forty more spins after that, but there was a cut, so she might not have done all sixty-spins in one go, but who cares?
Also, though she was never noted as a great actress, she tosses in a damn good impression of Katherine Hepburn in Morning Glory. Fun fact: She didn’t really want to be in the movie, so she named a price she figured was so outrageous they would leave her alone. They hired her instead.
Lastly, this is the second of four Broadway Melody movies from MGM. None of them had anything to do with each other except the title. And almost all the music was used seventeen years later in the “Broadway Melody” number in Singin’ in the Rain.