1 June 2006 | 23skidoo-4
The strangest MGM musical of them all!
The Great Morgan could well be the most unusual musical in the entire MGM canon. Produced for overseas audiences (heaven knows what impression they must have gotten about America from this!), Great Morgan is an extremely disjointed affair, although this is intentional.
The "plot" if you can call it that is Frank Morgan (a top comic actor of his day) is hired to put together a movie using odds and ends from the MGM vaults. He does so by splicing together a string of completely unrelated short subjects and musical numbers, interspersed with a repeated loop of a scene from some melodrama. The effect is not unlike some early David Lynch or Antony Balch film. If this film weren't lost for so many years, I'd have almost considered it an inspiration for Monty Python's disjointed style too.
For MGM musical fans, the main reason for seeing this is for a brief dance routine from Eleanor Powell that had been edited out of one of her films (exactly which one is impossible to say - some sources say Broadway Melody of 1936 but she looks older than she did in that film. And she doesn't look right for the IMDb's guess of 1939's Honolulu, either).
Powell is as sexy as ever, but unfortunately there is a definite air of lack of respect for her and indeed for many of the other performers in this film, which is rather annoying. Powell had actually left MGM by this time, and this was presumably a way of burning off some extra footage while adding a bit of sex appeal to the proceedings. A similar feeling of disrespect is felt when the underrated Virginia O'Brien performs a lively number with Jimmy Dorsey and his band (I think this was probably cut from "Ship Ahoy" which also featured Powell along with O'Brien and Dorsey). As with Powell's segment, the film keeps cutting away to reaction shots of annoyed and bored studio executives who obviously would rather be watching something else.
Not all the segments are musical. A long "Lake Woebegon Days"-style Americana segment about the automobile is quite interesting for automobile lovers, and an overlong but extremely well-filmed segment on badminton provides some attraction for sports enthusiasts, but will leave you wondering "what the heck is this doing here?". The film's other major musical segment, a long Latin-themed vignette that fills up most of the first half of the film, is pretty interminable.
Aside from Powell and O'Brien's segments, the best part of the film is its gag ending.
The Great Morgan (which occasionally shows up on TCM) is a long 57 minutes to sit through for what is basically only a half-hour of worthwhile material (I'm including the badminton short because it was kinda cool, if overlong), but serious MGM musical fans should check out this curio, as should fans of Eleanor Powell. Hopefully, though, the original footage of her dance number still exists somewhere and will one day be shown in a more respectable venue.