Color, 1978, 105m.
Directed by Stanley Donen
Starring George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Red Buttons, Eli Wallach, Harry Hamlin, Ann Reinking, Jocelyn Brando, Michael Kidd, Kathleen Beller, Barry Bostwick, Art Carney, Rebecca York, Barbara Harris
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Three decades before Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino tried to revive the double-feature movie experience with Grindhouse, legendary MGM musical director Stanley Donen tried a similar tactic with his double-feature opus, Movie Movie, which wound up meeting a similar confused fate with audiences when it opened. Different from your standard anthology film, it aspires to present two complete movie experiences, albeit crammed into a running time less than two hours; the idea was to give the audiences their money’s worth, but even by this point the idea went over the public’s head. A love letter to classic Hollywood, it brings together a stable of character actors both young and old for a recreation of Depression-era boxing dramas, World War I stories of airborne heroism, and of course, splashy musicals.
First up is “Dynamite Hands,” in which delivery boy and aspiring attorney Joey Popchuk (Hamlin) has to put his dreams on hold to help out his younger sister, Angie (Beller), whose sight is failing and requires an operation in Europe. That means, of course, that he has to become a prizefighter under the tutelage of Gloves Malloy (Scott) and deal with the underworld racket controlling it, resulting in a string of misadventures and a little bit of heartbreak courtesy of tricky nightclub chanteuse Troubles Moran (Reinking). After a spirited trailer for the nonexistent aviation yarn “Zero Hour,” part two unfolds with “Baxter’s Beauties of 1933,” a salute to the milestone run of Busby Berkeley musicals in the 1930s (and 42nd Street in particular) with Scott returning as dying showman Spats Baxter, who’s up against the clock to put on the biggest show of his life. That means rustling up the finest talent around in unexpected places, especially when leading lady Isobel (Van Devere, Scott’s wife) gets sidelined and opens the door for a new potential star with inexperienced Kitty (York).
It doesn’t take much scratching beyond the surface to see that Donen had a fairly sad-eyed view of human relationships, which was already evident in It’s Always Fair Weather and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers but really came to the forefront with his post-MGM films like Two for the Road, Bedazzled, Staircase, Lucky Lady, and The Little Prince. However, he seems to have dropped his usual jaded outlook a bit here for a piece of pure froth loaded with goofy wordplay and outright indulgence in every Hollywood convention in sight. It doesn’t hurt that the game cast seems to be having a ball, with old pros like Scott and Carney nicely rubbing shoulders with a roster of fresh-faced kids including a spirited turn by a post-Rocky Horror Barry Bostwick as a songwriter vital to pulling off Spats’ scheme. It’s interesting to see Donen aping the Berkeley style here more than his usual colorful fantasias from his studio glory days, and he manages to pull it off with almost as much aplomb as Ken Russell’s magnificent ode to Berkeley, The Boy Friend. There's a lot of fun to be had in seeing most of the cast playing roles in both segments, with Van Devere and Bostwick in particular shifting the most from one to the other. Unfortunately the public’s love affair with nostalgia (which had really been stoked with films like The Sting and the That’s Entertainment! films) had been waning by this point, and by the time it opened, Movie Movie already seemed like more of a curio than a sure-fire hit.
Fortunately time has a way of evening things out, and in this case frequent TV airings managed to build up a decent fan following among young viewers who would go on to become avid TCM fanatics. That’s especially important considering this ITC production was very difficult to see for several decades. After the initial release from Warner Bros. and a brief tenure on VHS in the format’s infancy from Magnetic Video, the film went back into the ITC vaults and languished until its 2016 revival from Scorpion Releasing as separate Blu-ray and DVD editions. Needless to say it looks much, much better than any past version, restoring some much-needed sparkle to a film that hasn't been seen in prime condition in ages. It also restores the original B&W scheme of the first story, which was accidentally transferred in color without any correction on some past versions including several TV airings. Extras include a cute optional 2-minute intro by George Burns and a trio of new video interviews with Hamlin (46 mins.), Bostwick ("Just Shows To Go Ya," 29 mins.), and Beller ("Keeping a Straight Face," 16 mins.), covering everything from Scott and Carney's raucous antics in their trailer the first day of (aborted0 shooting, the intimidation of being around Bob Fosse muse Reinking, the reason the first segment was shot in color but exhibited in monochrome, Bostwick's Tony-winning background, working with legendary choreographer Michael Kidd, and a variety of additional projects including Clash of the Titans, Megaforce, Promises in the Dark, The Sword and the Sorcerer, The Betsy, Surfacing, and plenty more.