"Broadway Melody of 1940 (MGM, 1940) directed by Norman Taurog, with choreography by Bobby Connolly, is the fourth and final musical to bear the "Broadway Melody" name. While the final chapter to any film series usually turns out to be the least successful and appreciated, the last "Broadway Melody" concludes on a very high note. To me it ranks the best of all the "Broadway Melody" musicals mainly because of the fine Cole Porter score and the dancing chemistry between Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell. Let's not forget the third member of the dancing trio, George Murphy.
The plot is simple: Johnny Brett (Fred Astaire) and King Shaw (George Murphy) are a dance team in New York's Dawnland Ballroom. When Bob Casey (Frank Morgan), a well-known musical show author, present at one of their performances, sees the men doing a dance number, he decides he wants to feature one of them, Johnny, in an upcoming show starring professional dancer, Clare Bennett (Eleanor Powell), however, Johnny mistakes Casey as a process server on the trail of King's dress suit, so he identifies himself as his partner, causing King Shaw to get the job instead. Johnny, who is is secretly in love with Clare, regrets his missed opportunity in dancing opposite her when he realizes what he has done, but being a true person looking out for his friend, Johnny is glad for King's show biz break. However, when success goes to Shaw's head instead of his feet, it's up to Johnny to set him straight.
Aside from Frank Morgan's bumbling confusion and female troubles which add to the comedy, there are other amusing scenes in the story, mostly involving acrobat(s), one in particular doing her juggling with plates and balls which involves Astaire. Also in the cast are Ian Hunter as Bert Matthews, the show's producer; Florence Rice, Lynne Carver and Ann Morriss in smaller roles. The well composed Cole Porter score includes: "Don't Monkey With Broadway" (sung and danced by Fred Astaire and George Murphy); "Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep" (Sung and danced by Eleanor Powell with sailors); "Between You and Me" (sung by Murphy, danced by Murphy and Powell); "I've Got My Eyes on You" (sung and danced by Astaire); "Juke Box Dance" (performed by Astaire and Powell); "I Concentrate on You" (sung by Douglas MacPhail, danced by Astaire and Powell); "Begin the Beguine" (sung by Carmen D'Antonio; danced by Astaire and Powell; reprise by The Music Maids); and "I Got My Eyes on You" (sung by chorus; danced by Astaire, Powell and Murphy).
Broadway MELODY OF 1940 became Fred Astaire's first MGM musical since his minor debut in DANCING LADY (1933). After ten musicals at RKO Radio, nine with Ginger Rogers during the 1933-39 period, Astaire was now ready for the big time at MGM, starting off here with lavish sets, glittering black and white photography and shining dance floors, adding to the Astaire style of movie making. Had this Broadway MELODY edition been choreographed by Busby Berkeley, who had recently recruited to MGM from Warner Brothers, the "Begin the Beguine" number would have found Astaire and Powell sharing the grand finale spotlight with close to 100 dancers. Fortunately it wasn't, leaving Astaire and Powell to have the grand finale, lasting about ten minutes, practically all to themselves. Who else but Astaire could have the focus on him and his dancing partner for that length of time and make it so watchable and memorable. The number that precedes that, "I Concentrate on You" in which Astaire and Powell play masked dancers, is also well staged but underrated.
Even for those not familiar with musicals involving creative dancing and a fine score, this movie is sure one to see. As Frank Sinatra once said while narrating over one of the musical numbers of THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT (1974), "You'll never see the likes of this again." It's a shame to say that musicals such as this are now extinct, but fortunately, this, along with the other Broadway Melodies, can be seen and appreciated on cable's Turner Classic Movies or as a video rental or purchase. "Who do you love?" (***1/2)