Broadway Melody of 1938
This third entry in MGM's "Broadway Melody" series may not have been the biggest or best, but thanks to a masterpiece of casting it is one of the most memorable of the batch. Signed by MGM in 1935, 15-year-old Judy Garland made her first feature-film appearance under the aegis of Leo the Lion, immediately capturing the hearts of moviegoers everywhere by singing "You Made Me Love You" to a photograph of Clark Gable (a sequence that has since been excerpted countless times in TV and movie documentaries). She later shares a song-and-dance number with gangly Buddy Ebsen, making an impressive entrance in a white midget car (Ebsen would later be cast as the Tin Man in Judy's The Wizard of Oz, only to be replaced by Jack Haley when he fell ill during shooting). The presence of Garland, coupled with several superlative dance solos by Eleanor Powell and a spectacular musical finale, tends to make one forget about the plot, which has something to do with a racehorse owned by heroine Sally Lee (Powell). The horse wins the Grand Steeplechase, the prize money is poured into the stage production previously bankrolled by Steve Raleigh (Robert Taylor), and the Show Goes On. Movies fans of the 1930s with long memories were gratified to see such old vaudeville favorites as Sophie Tucker and Willie Howard in the cast, even if their material wasn't quite up to standard. Interestingly, one of the best comic turns is performed by "professional sneezer" Robert Wildhack -- leaving another famed movie sneezer, Billy Gilbert, with virtually nothing to do! On the other hand, Robert Benchley is his usual droll self, managing to score a comic bullseye despite all the lavish and noisy competition around him. Broadway Melody of 1938 was followed by a 1940 sequel, distinguished by the "challenge dance" between returnee Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire.