MGM: When The Lion Roars (1992) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

MGM: When The Lion Roars (1992)

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Thank god for Ted Turner. There's a lot of bad things you can say about the man-- from his days as a corporate takeover maestro or his attempts to whitewash the Civil War-- but no other single man has done so much to revitalize, re-release, and institutionalize the Golden Age of Hollywood.

His own love of the era led him to buying the MGM and United Artists back catalog in the mid-80's, and his cable empire gave him a place to showcase this massive library of musicals, dramas and comedies. Turner Classic Movies is a godsend for anyone who wants to relive a cinematic world long gone by.

And if I'm sounding overly booming and possibly narratively bombastic, blame the fact that I've just spent six long hours being reminded of this fact. MGM: When The Lion Roars is a puff piece extended ad nauseam. Drawing on the heady footage assembled, we're treated to the studio's narrative: a couple of small studios come together and create something grand.

Like this fire! Totally grand!

There are the men who run the operation, from production chief Irving Thalberg (who had a big hand in The Divorcee) to studio head Louie B. Mayer, and, of course, the stars who made the whole thing happen. There are segments on Judy Garland, Clark Gable, and the like. Some of the surviving members of that age even make an appearance in interviews, including Mickey Rooney, June Allyson, Debbie Reynolds, Jackie Cooper, and a galaxy of others.

All of that combined still delivers a strangely broad experience for such a long documentary. For all of the people it gathers and conflicts it portrays, nothing feels human. We get the cartoons, not the men. And while that's a Golden Age Hollywood kind of story, it doesn't translate very well into the documentary format.

The documentary is emceed by Patrick Stewart. Gadding it up like mad (and strangely looking a lot like Timothy Dalton), Stewart's bombastic narration while atop of an avant garde set is over the top and romantic. He doesn't hide his own love of this era, but, man, is he a damn cheeseball.

But, when it comes down to it, it's not hard to discover what the documentary is about. You love these movies Ted Turner owns. You want to watch these movies that Ted Turner owns.


When the fifth hour of the documentary rolls around, this is cast into sharper relief. The previous owner of MGM's library, Kirk Kerkorian, is portrayed with sad, angry music and his act of selling off the MGM backlot and tearing down its historic sets is done so with grim revelry. Heroic music for Ted Turner as he takes the stage, even making an appearance in this documentary that was crafted by a coincidentally named Turner Pictures. It's hard not to argue the whole film is a promotional piece, and a pretty naked one at that.

But there are still good moments, and the movies selected are, of course, phenomenal. Something like MGM is hard to imagine these days. As much a world unto itself as a company the likes of which may never rise again, it was a unique institution that crafted some of the greatest films ever made. It's too bad we may never know what a documentarian with a more thorough hand and less obvious agenda may have wrought.

Until then, we'll always have books.

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Posted by Danny

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