Broadway Melody of 1940 was the fourth Broadway Melody movie made at MGM, with the last three starring Eleanor Powell. The first she was in was Broadway Melody of 1936, her first starring role, and Broadway Melody of 1938. She is joined in 1940 by Fred Astaire and George Murphy and although many people have commented that Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire do not even remotely have the chemistry of say, Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger, they are both, without doubt, two of the finest tap dancers of their era and it is sheer joy to watch them dance together.
I don’t really remember much of the plot – it seems to me it’s pretty weak – but there is an absolute glut of dancing and the finest example is near the end, when Powell and Astaire dance on a floor that is actually a mirror, with a mirror behind them with light reflected in them. It is completely breathtaking. The song they dance to is called “Begin the Beguine,” written by Cole Porter.
Apparently the beguine is a dance, described as a slow rumba and a cross between French ballroom dancing and Latin folk dancing. It was popular in the ’30s and ’40s and, I read, came from places like Guadeloupe and Martinique. Cole Porter seems to have had his geography a little off, because he composed the song while on a cruise between Indonesia and Fiji. I have also read that it was while on the cruise that he heard a native rhythm that inspired the song.
The song was for his 1935 musical, “Jubilee,” which was extremely popular when it debuted and also contains the great song, “Just One of Those Things.” A fun bit of trivia: the “Jubilee” cast list contains such unexpected names as Melville Cooper (The Sheriff of Nottingham in Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood) and Mary Boland (Mrs. Bennett in the 1940 Pride and Prejudice) and even Montgomery Clift. I wonder if they sang?
“Begin the Beguine” is perhaps most famously played by Artie Shaw and his band, though the song has been recorded numerous times and is one of the great songs of the era. And without further ado, here is Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire dancing to “Begin the Beguine.”