• U.S.

Cinema: Peg-Legged That’s Dancing!

2 minute read
Richard Corliss

In dance, the human body defies gravity, time and its own limitations; it is man’s most eloquent leap toward godliness. Almost a century of the art on film –from the cooch dancers of the 1890s to the breakdancers of the 1980s, from the debonair Fred Astaire to the all-pro running back Gene Kelly–has immortalized that leap. So there is no need for this coffee-table film to strain as mightily as it does to present itself as a class act. That’s Dancing! may display Grecian urns to establish the art’s ancient pedigree; it may keep referring to movies as “the motion picture”; its narration may drone on with the doughy portentousness of elegies on Oscar night. But this compilation of a thousand or so flying feet shows its class only when it shuts up and lets Astaire put a shine on his shoes or Busby Berkeley deploy his battalion of chorines in giddily precise formations or the Nicholas Brothers take flight and dare each other to come down first.

Because the producers determined not to duplicate any footage from That’s Entertainment, 1 and 2, some of the best dance sequences in Hollywood history are missing. The segment devoted to MGM musicals offers not highlights but footlights; Astaire’s nonpareil work with Ginger Rogers is stinted (Pick Yourself Up, but not Never Gonna Dance); Cyd Charisse never gets to wrap her mile-long gams around any mere male; and Rita Hayworth doesn’t exist. This is filmed dance with one leg tied behind its back. Still, hobble as it does, That’s Dancing! provides young moviegoers with the chance to see old masters playing God’s music with their feet. R.C.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com