Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire jump for publicity for Ziegfeld Follies, 1944. Their musical number in the film, “The Babbitt and the Bromide,” would mark the first time the two would dance together and the second time Astaire would do the piece, having performed it with his sister Adele in 1927’s Broadway musical Funny Face. Ziegfeld Follies was a star-stuffed MGM musical extravaganza directed by Vincente Minnelli and propelled by a corny plot: A dead Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell) looks down from heaven to oversee a new version of his legendary Follies.
Along with Kelly and Astaire, the film featured Cyd Charisse, Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton, Keenan Wynn, Fanny Brice (in her final film), Judy Garland, Lucille Ball, Esther Williams, Lena Horne, Lucille Bremer and James Melton and clocked in at a staggering four hours and 27 minutes. A slimmer 173-minute version previewed in November 1944, ultimately followed by a 110-minute final print released nationwide on April 8, 1946. The film’s North American profits of $5.3 million failed to cover production costs, causing a quarter-million-dollar liability to the studio. Kelly and Astaire’s number, said New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, “settles one point of contention: Mr. Astaire has the reach.” The two would reteam in 1976 for the compilation film That’s Entertainment, Part II.