by Vincent Minnelli with Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan,
Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant, color, 1953, 112 minutes
While some observers rate this
higher than "Singing In The Rain," and "American in Paris," "The Band
Wagon," unfortunately, is a bit slow-going in the middle. It
does have, however, several absolutely sensational numbers.
It is a very good-natured spoof
on the Broadway Theater and because it was written by Betty Comden and
Adolph Green it is very much put on the mark by its fabulous stars,
Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan, Nanette Fabray and Oscar
Its songs are incredible
classics by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz and its superb dance
sequences were choregraphed by Michael Kidd. With Vincent
Minnelli in the director's chair and Arthur Freed producing, this is
the quintessential movie musical team.
It begins with two numbers by
Astaire, who plays Tony Hunter, a fading movie star returning to New
York for a musical on Broadway. As he gets off the train and
realizes that the papparazzi are there not for him but Ava Gardner, he
wistfully sings "By Myself," a very lovely and determined hymn to
nostalgia and fortitude "facing the unknown." Before things
get too serious, however, he is greeted with great whoop-de-doo by
Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant who play writers of musicals.
He promises to join them shortly for dinner and takes a walk
down 42nd Street where he wanders into a large and brightly lit arcade.
He wanders around it, taking fortune cards from a mechanical
fortune lady, viewing himself in a funny mirror, taking pictures of
himself in a picture booth, preparing to throw a ball at a stack of
cans that fly off in all directions as he winds up and vigorously
twisting two handles on a large mystery box. Exhausted but
not defeated, he trips over a shoe-shine man, played by Leroy Daniels, and his stand and gets
right up on the chair and places his feet on the shoe stands and,
da-dah!, instantly transports the viewers to his magic world.
He is excellently accompanied by the shoe-shine man with his
wooden brushes and long rag and his great rhythm that keeps right up
In one of the many interviews
in the many special features in the 2005 two-disc DVD edition of this
film, it was revealed that the shoe-shine man had been seen, and
discovered, shining shoes on the street by Minnelli. To say
that he holds his own with Astaire is almost an understatement.
Like many of Astaire's greatest numbers, and this certainly
is, about half way through the routine, Astaire markedly picks up its
pace just when you think its over and want to start applauding.
By the time he "bumps" into the mystery box and sets off its
phantasmogoria display, the viewers are pretty much speechless.
Fabray and Levant introduce
Astaire to Jack Buchanan, who plays a very successful Broadway
director, perhaps based on Jose Ferrer. Buchanan is English
and a very fine veteran hoofer and he and Astaire don top hat and
tails and walking sticks to do a perfect version of "I Guess I'll Have
to Change My Plan." Again, Buchanan cedes no ground to
Astaire, who, as always, is generous to a fault. Fabray and
Levant had earlier introduced Astaire to Charisse who is drop-dead
gorgeous in this movie, not merely "simply irresistible."
They talk a stroll into Central Park and melt into an
extremely romantic and lyrical version of "Dancing in the Dark," that
many commentators have maintained is the highlight of the film and one
of the most beautiful dance duets in film history. It is
very, very nice and Astaire, again, lets Charisse shine, but this is
actually quite tame compared to the film's great sequences.
Nanette Fabray, a Broadway
veteran who was appearing in her first film, has an incongruous number,
Louisiana Hayride, that she bumps and grinds her way joyously to
"country" heaven. She is a great singer, a great comedian and
a good dancer.
The film modulates itself with
very good, conventional, numbers like "Louisiana Hayride," and "A Shine
on Your Shoes," and once-in-a-generation glories like "Triplets" and
"Triplets" is the film's masterpiece," a
delightful ditty in which Astaire, Fabray and Buchanan are dressed in
baby clothes and appear seated in high chairs singing of their
affection and disafffection for one another. They are
charming and adorable and monstrous and when they jump off their high
stools and start to dance and kick they are formidable.
Fabray explains in one of the special features that this was
an agonizing number that took 18 takes and that each of the triplets
had their legs tied back and wore fake legs and danced in fake legs
with no computer graphics. They all took turns, she said,
falling very painfully, out of their high chairs. The
hilarious number will keep the viewers smiling and chuckling for days.
film ranks 100th in Carter B. Horsley's Top
500 Sound Films