|Broadway Melody of 1940|
|Directed by||Norman Taurog|
|Produced by||Jack Cummings|
|Cinematography||Oliver T. Marsh|
|Edited by||Blanche Sewell|
|Music by||Cole Porter|
|Distributed by||Loew's, Inc|
Broadway Melody of 1940 is a 1940 MGM film musical starring Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell and George Murphy (Astaire's first male dancing partner on film). It was directed by Norman Taurog and features music by Cole Porter, including "Begin the Beguine".
The film was the fourth and final entry in MGM's "Broadway Melody" series of films, and is notable for being the only on-screen pairing of Astaire and Powell, who were considered the finest film musical dancers of their time.
Johnny Brett (Fred Astaire) and King Shaw (George Murphy) are a dance team so down on their luck that they work in a dance hall for no money. Meanwhile, Clare Bennett (Eleanor Powell) is a big Broadway star. Owing to a case of mistaken identity, Shaw is offered the chance to be Clare's dancing partner in a new Broadway show, when Johnny's dancing was really what producer Bob Casey (Frank Morgan) saw and wanted. The partnership breaks up, but Johnny still helps out King, who lets his newfound success go to his head. Clare eventually realizes that Johnny, not King, is the better dancer, and she falls in love after having lunch with him. When Shaw gets drunk on opening night, Johnny steps in and saves the show with a brilliant performance, though he lets King think he did it himself. Clare later tells King the truth. Just before the next show, Clare discovers King drunk again, and Johnny becomes the permanent replacement. After the show, they find out that King was pretending to be drunk so that Johnny would get the job.
Broadway Melody of 1940 was based on a story by Jack McGowan and Dore Schary. Schary would go on to be head of production (1948) and then president (1951) of MGM until 1956. The film was originally planned to be shot in Technicolor, but because of the unsettled state of Europe due to World War II, MGM decided to stick to black and white.
The film was the fourth and final entry in MGM's loosely connected Broadway Melody series, which began with the original The Broadway Melody released in 1929, and was followed by Broadway Melody of 1936 and Broadway Melody of 1938. The films were unconnected except for the use of the song "Broadway Melody" (the 1940 entry did not feature the number, although a bit of it can be heard over the film's opening credits), and the fact that Powell starred in the 1936, 1938 and 1940 entries, playing different roles in each. A fifth Broadway Melody film was planned for release in the early 1940s, pairing Eleanor Powell with Gene Kelly, but production was cancelled at the rehearsal stage. Another production was to have been called Broadway Melody of 1944 but was instead renamed Broadway Rhythm. The 1940 entry is considered Powell's last major successful film, as she would go on to appear in a succession of only moderate hits before retiring from the screen several years later. It has the distinction of being the first non-documentary film featuring Powell to be released on DVD.
Fred Astaire had just left RKO, and Broadway Melody of 1940 was his first film for MGM since his small part in 1933's Dancing Lady. Astaire was reportedly slightly intimidated by Powell, as she was considered one of the few female dancers capable of out-performing Astaire. According to Powell in her introduction to the book, The MGM Story, the feeling was somewhat mutual. Powell recalled finally saying to Astaire, "Look, we can't go on like this. I'm Ellie; you're Fred. We're just two hoofers," after which, they got along well, and rehearsed so much they wore out their pianist.
Broadway Melody of 1940 was in production from early September until late November 1939. The set for the "Begin the Beguine" number cost $120,000 to construct. It utilized a sixty-foot multi-paneled mirror mounted on a revolving track to change backgrounds.
The film is alluded to in satirist Tom Lehrer's song "George Murphy", about the dancer becoming a United States Senator:
"Begin the Beguine" was nominated for the American Film Institute's 2004 list AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs, while the film was nominated for the 2006 AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals.