This is one of those old-fashioned movie spoofs that simply pleases to entertain, and comes out on top even if it is a re-tread of everything we're seeing now on Turner Classic Movies. But back in 1978, cable TV was at a minimum, and if you had local channels showing old movies that TCM shows now (uncut and commercial free, if you didn't already know that...), chances are they were cut and overloaded with commercials. Even into the early 90's, that was the case.
With a loving nod to Warner Brothers' "B" films of the early 30's (particularly the years 1932-1934), "Movie Movie" spoofs both the tough guy movie and the "Let's get through the depression with a song!" movie musical. "Dynamite Hands" is a spoof of boxing movies such as "The Life of Jimmy Dolan" with George C. Scott as the ailing boxing manager who introduces us to the ultra-sexy Harry Hamlin as the champ. Ann Reinking, a rising Broadway star at the time, is playing a spoof of all seemingly bad floozies, with Art Carney as a doctor with bad news. The real life Mrs. George C. Scott (Trish Van Devere) plays the good-hearted librarian who stands by Hamlin even when he goes off on his own with the aid of obvious mobster Eli Wallach.
Then comes the piece-de-resistance...."Baxter's Beauties" (probably a nod to Warner Baxter, the producer in "42nd Street" and "King of Burlesque"). "Dames at Sea" had spoofed "42nd Street" on stage already, and indeed, just around the corner was the triumphant Broadway version of that classic. But in the meantime, we had this. George C. Scott as the broke producer, Art Carney (again as a doctor with bad news), the over-the-top Trish Van Devere as the Bebe Daniels dipsomaniac (and egomaniac) over-the-hill star who just needs to go, Barry Bostwick as the enthusiastic songwriter (a nod to Dick Powell in "Gold Diggers of 1933") and Rebecca York as the Ruby Keeler star-to-be. Barbara Harris takes on the role of the chorus girl with the heart of gold who takes York under her wing and obviously loves Scott from afar.
Like Stephen Sondheim's musical classic "Follies", the songs in "Baxter's Beauties" are total pastiche. The cutesy-wootsie lyrics aren't meant to be taken seriously, and that adds an adorable charm to the story. The choreography and staging for the show within the movie is very lavish, and the sequence where Scott steps in for an unfortunate chorus boy is set up humorously. There's also that tough but sometimes clichéd dialog that might have sounded silly to some viewers, but for those of us who knew then (and know more now) about every essence of these types of films, it was heaven to our ears. Every character is an archetype of Warner Brothers type-casting, and in many cases, you will find yourself pointing out what Warner Brothers contract player would have played that part some 40 years before. (The most obvious casting comes with the two typical Joan Blondell parts, a delight because the same year, she was still working on screen with a small role in "Grease" and a larger part in the soon to be released "The Champ").
Movie history buffs will love the appearance of veteran actor Charles Lane (who appeared in many of these Warner Brothers classics) in a small role. Stanley Donen, the director of many of the great MGM musicals of their golden age, hands this valentine to his audience like a rainbow after a storm. An ironic note about "Baxter's Beauties" (which was obviously named after Warner Baxter who originated the role of the producer in "42nd Street") is that the ending parallels the real-life drama which surrounded the Broadway version only a few years later. The choreography job fell to the legendary Michael Kidd who obviously really understood the trends of the era, even if Reinking's dance number in "Dynamite Hands" seems a bit more adult than something you would have seen even in pre-code Hollywood of 1933.