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Film review: That’s Entertainment III

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If you have seen either of the previous "That's Entertainment" films, you know what to expect with "That's Entertainment III" — a compilation of clips from MGM's golden era of terrific musical comedies.

What you may not expect, however, is how fresh and fascinating the material is this third time around. You might be thinking, how much could be left after two previous endeavors? As it happens, quite a bit.

"That's Entertainment!" was a delightful series of highlights from MGM's best musicals, hosted by stars from the era. And "That's Entertainment, Part 2," while not quite up to the first film (and with too many so-so comedy sequences), was an enjoyable followup.

But "That's Entertainment III" — coming some 18 years after "Part 2" — is a wonderful return to form. And this time the emphasis is on behind-the-scenes machinations, including never-before-seen outtakes and discussions of censorship, as well as the expected sparkling song-and-dance sequences.

A number of familiar stars from the era host the film — June Allyson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney and Esther Williams among them. Each is enjoyable, introducing various theme segments. (An interesting sidelight is seeing each of these stars now, a reminder of how much time has passed since the era of romantic musicals.)

But there is no question that the most affecting moments are provided by Gene Kelly, who has been the senior anchor for all three films, and two star performers who seem ageless, the still stunning Cyd Charisse and the still magnificent Lena Horne.

Charisse introduces several delightful moments, including numbers she performed with athletic dancer/choreographer Kelly. Horne, whose segment is arguably the film's most compelling, talks candidly about racism during her star days and shows us a song cut from "Cabin in the Sky" — because the powers-that-be felt audiences would be offended by a black woman in a bubble bath!

There are also many hilarious bits of business here, from comedy scenes (the bizarre contortionists The Rose Sisters) to some of the outtakes, especially a side-by-side juxtaposition of a lip-synced song, "Two-Faced Woman," performed by both sexy Charisse, in a sultry dance cut from "The Band Wagon, and histrionic Joan Crawford, in blackface, which was included in "Torch Song."

There are quite a few numbers shown here that the general public has never seen before, from Debbie Reynolds doing songs cut from "Singin' in the Rain" and "I Love Melvin" to Ava Gardner performing a "Show Boat" tune — before it was decided to have another singer dub her voice (a rather dubious decision, given how well Gardner does on her own). There's even a song-and-dance routine with Judy Garland from "Annie Get Your Gun," which was filmed before she was replaced by Betty Hutton.

And there are, of course, plenty of dazzling moments from some of the greatest MGM musicals — "The Wizard of Oz," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "Singin' in the Rain" and countless others.

The clip choices here and the film's pacing are fabulous. There's no question that the title of this series is apropos — for pure entertainment, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything as rich and enjoyable as "That's Entertainment III."