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THE BAND WAGON, 1953
Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan.
Washed up film actor Tony Hunter decides to return to his roots and star in a new Broadway musical. However, major script changes, a snobby prima ballerina and a bossy director threaten to derail the production. As everyone scrambles to put together an eagerly anticipated show, egos must be put aside and true feelings expressed in a hilarious attempt to save their careers and relationships.
NOMINATED FOR 3 OSCARS – Costume Design, Music and Writing
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“I tell you, if it moves you, if it stimulates you, if it entertains you – it’s theatre!”
Not even able to auction off his old top hat and cane, fading star Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) must deal with his declining fame and lack of work. And his motto? If you can’t beat ‘em, join em! Dealing with his situation with humour and acceptance he quips, “I wouldn’t go to see [myself] if they were giving away five dollar bills with the ticket!” Returning to New York City, he meets with two old friends, Lily (Nanette Fabray) and Lester (Oscar Levant) who claim to have written the next great Broadway musical. Agreeing to star, Tony and his friends set out to recruit Jeff Cordova (Jack Buchanan), who is currently adapting, directing, starring and producing his own version of Oedipus Rex. As all four meet on an empty stage, a pitch about “a light and intimate show” with comedy and fun turns into a dark Faustian tale, complete with brimstone and torture. Added to the mix, upon Cordova’s insistence, is a talented ballerina, her controlling choreographer, “more scenery than Yellowstone National Park” and a slew of producers invested in a production which has become convoluted and complicated.
Cyd Charisse, in her first starring role is the talented ballerina Gabrielle Gerard. With Astaire she shares a sweet chemistry in acting and especially dancing. Their first meeting is funny, awkward, and wholly enjoyable as they mistake each other’s insecurities for rudeness and snobbery. Is she too tall? Does he think she’s inexperienced? Does she think he can’t dance? And most importantly, are they aware that they’re both falling for each other? What they don’t say drives what they do as they attempt to rehearse amongst exploding sets, falling lights, ridiculous dialogue and rising chaos.
With a tight, clever script written by talented team Betty Comden and Adolf Green (Singin’ in the Rain), the dialogue celebrates and pokes fun at the process of putting together a Broadway production. Choreographer Michael Kidd crafts some of the most beautifully danced numbers in a musical.
Mired with personal sadness and difficulties among cast members, the film was a challenge to produce. Animosity, divorce, illness and painful dental surgery created an interesting dynamic on set. Yet despite all these set-backs, the film shines as a light-hearted and energetic musical with some great characters and entertaining songs.
Astaire is flawless, executing every move with ease and flair. His moves flow and glide while Charisse is controlled and precise. “Dancing in the Dark” showcases their unbelievable skill and serves as the moment when the two characters finally come to an understanding. And it’s all done silently; communicating through movement. Other memorable songs include “A Shine on Your Shoes” showcasing Astaire’s flexibility and energy as well as “That’s Entertainment,” a fun number celebrating musicals. The song went on to become a staple for many shows, sung over and over again by various artists. The most memorable song however, is “Girl Hunt Ballet,” featuring Charisse in a double role and Astaire trying different styles of dance. Tossing the Faustian tale, the cast and crew re-work the story and the result is a sexy, stylish number that makes their show a success. (The number also influenced Michael Jackson’s famous ‘Smooth Criminal’ music video as well as his song ‘Dangerous.’)
Director Vincente Minnelli is an expert behind the camera, creating shots that encapsulate action in the foreground and background while maintaining energy in each scene. As Lily, Lester and Tony walk down Broadway and then climb into a cab; the camera follows them and cranes down inside the car. It’s a gorgeous, moving shot that captures the tone of New York City as well as the easy relationship between these three friends. Minnelli chooses beautiful angles and always keeps the scene visually exciting.
The Band Wagon celebrates musicals the way they were meant to be: light, humourous, large-scale and most of all, entertaining. Astaire’s charm and dance skills combined with Charisse’s beauty and grace deliver a fun ride into the absurd and exciting world of Broadway musicals. A witty script, a talented director and a great cast round out a film that despite its share of difficulties produces an incredibly fun musical about the joy and pain of putting together a musical.
THE BAND WAGON