Friday, October 16, 2009

The Band Wagon (1953)

The Band Wagon
Director: Vincente Minnelli
USA 1953
111 min
Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan, among others.

Can you believe that I actually saw this film for the first time just yesterday? I have trouble believing that myself. Well, anyway I had to write something about this crazy Technicolor delight!

The year before The Band Wagon, Singin' in the Rain (1952) became a box-office success. There are some interesting likenesses between the two movies:

  • Adolph Green and Betty Comden are the persons behind both the films' scripts.
  • Both films take place in the world of entertainment during eras of extensive changes: Singin' in the Rain takes place in Hollywood during the change from silent films to talkies, The Band Wagon on the stage, where the audience now wants more than top hats and tap dancing.
  • In both movies the first attempt of trying something new becomes a great failure, and only when the persons involved go for something they can and like does it become a success at a second attempt.
Now, do not misunderstand me: Both movies manages on their own, and The Band Wagon is not a blatant copy of Singin' in the Rain. Oh no. I just find comparisons very interesting. No that I finished that off, I can go on with the rest of the film!

The film begins with an auction, where the top hat of the once popular Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire's alter ego: his career was beginning to fade at this time) is sold on auction - no bidders. In the next scene we see a couple of men in a train discussing celebrities, and how they remember the glory days of Tony Hunter. Behind a newspaper is Tony Hunter himself, joining the discussion by stating that he wouldn't go to see Tony Hunter even if he was given $5 for the effort. (That is called self-distance, my friends.)

After having sung the sad "By Myself" (mostly sad because he looks so jolly while singing it) he meets his friends on the platform, the scriptwriting couple Lester and Lily Marton (Betty Comden and Adolph Green's alter egos) played by Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray. I instantly loved Fabray for her exploding energy, Jesus! Oh, and Ava Gardner makes a cameo!

That shoe shining routine is wonderful, but I can't see that it would have made it into a film today...

Lester and Lily has an idea for a Broadway show that they want Tony Hunter to star in to bring his career back on tracks. They also have a popular ballet dancer in mind, Gabrielle Gerard (Charisse, complete with her fabulous legs), and a famous director/actor by the name of Jeffrey Cordova (Buchanan). Cyd Charisse as a ballerina can only look right when wearing a dress red as sin.

I read somewhere that Cordova is a parody of Orson Welles, but I feel that he is a general spoof on all over ambitious directors. He is without a doubt the most hilarious character in the film, and the scene where he imagines Lester and Lily's play as a sort of modern interpretation of Faust is painfully hysterical.

Immediately when Tony and Gabrielle meet they get on the wrong foot with each other because of either ones insecurities if they can live up to the other one's talent. A little dance in Central Park later, they do however come to the conclusion that they can meet half ways and make it a success.

Cordova's Faust play becomes a huge failure as the audience look like they have had a seizure after leaving the theatre. The gang re-writes the whole thing, and the rest of the film contains of a series of entertaining song and dance numbers, including the famous and weird "Triplets" act.

But my absolute favorite scene in the entire film is, as anyone probably could guess, the film noir spoof "The Girl Hunt". It starts of in a black alley with a cool-as-ice Fred Astaire and a cynical narration. Out of nowhere a lady in distress pops out, some gang members beat him senseless and leaving clues behind them. And of course, Cyd Charisse as the femme fatale who is "selling hard, but I wasn't buying". Oh, can it get more perfect than this? Pure joy, all through the scene. Charisse must be Astaire's best dance partner after the Ginger Rogers era, such delight to watch.

I guess all this comes down to this: I adored this film after the first viewing. I will put it in my perfect-films-to-watch-when-I'm-sick-or-when-just-generally-feeling-sorry-for-myself-list, among Gone With the Wind and Singin' in the Rain. But the latter one is a little overused for the moment, I know everything in and out in that film. The Band Wagon simply gets to take it's place for a while.

Now - pic spam! (I want her legs!)


Christopher said...

yay!..One of my big faves and one I'm bound to pull out here again with the oncoming Holiday season..
I love the way the film begins with Astaire singing By Myself..and Ends with him singing it..Even tho he has a happy ending,for a minute there,it makes a good bitter sweet ending..

Kate Gabrielle said...

Ooh I love this movie! The Girl Hunt scene is definitely my favorite-- and it's also great to see Jack Buchanan on screen!

Anonymous said...

For me it's the best musical ever made. The colours are illusionary and the way Mineli sets up the scenery makes you live in the movie as if you are a part of it.
I think that this director is worth for more than he got. This particular video - scene leaves you with an open mouth.

At last I feel happy for your post for another reason also.

Mykal said...

Lolita: I prefer Cyd Charisse over Ginger Rogers as a partner for Astaire. I realize this is nearly blasphemy, but there it is! I think she was the greatest female dancer that ever lived. Legs, legs, legs. She was graceful, athletic, powerful, and dramatic. What a woman!

Oh, and great post! As usual! -- Mykal

Millie said...

Gosh, I ADORE this film!

I too think that Cyd was Fred's best non-Ginger dance partner!

Btw, don't you just love Michael Kidd's choreography?

Christopher said...

no one fills out a green dress and long black gloves like Cyd Charisse!

Sebina said...

I adore this movie, mainly for Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire's chemistry.

When I was 13 years of age, I wanted to be able to dance like Cyd Charisse and I wanted those long beautiful legs too, hehe.

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Lolita said...

Songs that return is a simple and brilliant idea - like in Swing Time with Ginger and Fred singing each other's songs simultaneously.
As for Cyd Charisse in green dress and black gloves... Yikes! She's dangerous!

Kate G:
I regret I hadn't seen the movie before in my life! Well, I fixed that error, at least... ;)

Don Corleone:
Gangsters, yay! Haha. They're very cool too, snapping their finger, spinning around and God knows what. Great choreography!

I was close to make that statement too, but I realized that I didn't feel the necessity to compare Ginger and Cyd - they are miles apart different in their styles! Ginger was best in the 1930's, Cyd in the 1950's! But Cyd is nonetheless the one with the most apparent sex appeal, while Ginger was more classy.
Wow, thanks! ;)

Oh, I forgot to mention Michael Kidd! Yes, totally amazing! Really stunning - pure delight to watch! You can really feel how all moves must have been carefully planned to the last half of an inch!

They DO have a great chemistry! I love the scene where she tells him she's sorry, and he says "No, you're not!", and the quickly responds "No, I'm not!" - it's so snappy and comical.
How about that you and I time travel back to the 1950's and kidnap her legs? We can probably find a mad scientist that can clone the legs too, so we can have a pair each ;)