Broadway Melody Of 1940

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Broadway Melody Of 1940 (1940) was the fourth and final film in MGM’s loosely connected franchise of backstage musical comedies. Production of the film was overseen by Jack Cummings, who specialized in musicals, and featured the music and lyrics of Cole Porter. Like so many of MGM’s musicals of the pre-war period Broadway Melody Of 1940 features a number of vignettes that spotlight specific performers’ routines. This effectively renders the film as a kind of quasi-variety show as much as a traditional musical feature. While this may undermine some of the urgency of the drama in the film, this strategy had been integral to the cinema gaining dominance over vaudeville and the music hall.

Today Broadway Melody Of 1940 is best remembered for the epic “Begin the Beguine” finale that gave the cinema the image of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell dancing amongst the stars and into the cosmos. It’s a timeless image that has frequently been re-created over the years; from Lovely To Look At (1952) to La La Land (2016). Suffice it to say that the on-stage numbers in Broadway Melody Of 1940 are the most cinematic and memorable moments in the film.

Journeyman director Norman Taurog pours the sum of his experience making Bing Crosby musicals in the thirties into the ballet-like fantasias of Broadway Melody Of 1940‘s on-stage dance numbers. Taurog achieves a kind of dreaminess in these sequences with his minimalist approach to composition which prefers spot lights and silhouettes. Unlike a most musicals of its day Broadway Melody Of 1940 stages its show stopping numbers in shadow. Often half of the image in these scenes is left pitch black by Taurog which has the effect of casting Astaire and Powell into an ethereal void without any sense of tangible space.

Broadway Melody Of 1940 finds Fred Astaire at his most likable, which is good because it is very much his movie. No performer, before or since, has ever danced across the silver screen like Fred Astaire. But as legendary as Astaire’s work in Broadway Melody Of 1940 is, Eleanor Powell is every bit as light on her feet and graceful. As cliche as this may sound there are moments where it seems that Powell and Astaire just glide across the screen. Unfortunately Powell’s fame hasn’t endured the way that Astaire’s has. Despite her charm, comedic timing, athleticism and grace, Eleanor Powell remains relatively unknown today.