Thursday, May 29, 2014

The MGM Parade

I haven't been paying attention to whether TCM's airings of the MGM Parade have been running in the order in which they originally aired on TV back in the mid 1950s, but the TCM schedule says MGM Parade Show #1 will be airing again tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. Having watched it when it aired the other evening, I can't help but think of the show as just another example of why MGM as a studio was ultimately doomed.

George Murphy shows up at the beginning to present a bunch of props from the studio's movies of the past, as well as a mock-up of an MGM photo album/scrapbook, implying that they're going to be looking at the stars of the past. Cut to the famous scene of Judy Garland singing "You Made Me Love You" to a photo of Clark Gable. (Garland had already left MGM by this point, of course.) Already, we see that the studio is stodgy, although that had in many ways been one of the hallmarks of the studio under the leadership of Louis B. Mayer. Dory Schary tried to make a bunch of socially conscious movies, but they were mostly programmers designed to help bring in profit to defray the cost of those bigger-budget Cinemascope musicals. I think many of those musicals were sub-par and old fashioned, such as Hit the Deck which ran last night. Granted, I'm not a big fan of musicals, but a lot the non-Gene Kelly stuff that MGM was putting out in the 1950s tends to come across as stale and overblown to me. (I'm not a fan of Gigi, either, although it does look better than a lot of the other 50s musicals.)

It doesn't help, either, that the MGM Parade looks cheaply produced. It's not just that it's a clip show; those have ridiculously low production costs which is one of the reasons America's Funniest Videos has been able to last as long as it has. But the office George Murphy (and later Walter Pidgeon) presents the shows from looks like it belongs with one of the shorts from the shorts department. For some reason it just doesn't look as good as the office set Walter Pidgeon was in in The Bad and the Beautiful.

The MGM Parade was also a promotional device for upcoming MGM releases, and that gives it another air of cheapness, although to be fair this is something it shares in my view with every "we're hyping our upcoming product!" show, such as the fall prime-time lineup previews that networks sometimes have at the end of the summer. None of the shows really look like watching. I get the impression that with the advent of television, MGM didn't know how to respond. Color and widescreen were two things the studios used, since those were things you couldn't get on TV, but something seems to be missing from MGM's movies even more than the other studios'.

Still, the MGM Parade shows are an interesting look back at the past, and nostalgia would become big business as MGM learned when they produced That's Entertainment! in 1974. Perhaps 1974 being less happy times, with the Watergate scandal and a pretty lousy economy, more people were willing to look back wistfully. By 1974, however, the writing was on the wall for MGM, since they were selling off their backlot.

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