The Band Wagon (1953)
On Wednesday, December 3rd, Movies at Mothers returns when we present MGM’s 1953 love letter to Broadway, The Band Wagon, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan, with music by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz
Fred Astaire plays Tony Hunter, a thinly disguised version of himself who has retired from a once successful Hollywood career (the film begins with an auction of his iconic top hat and cane), and decides to travel east to revisit his Broadway roots. He is immediately impressed upon by old friends, Lester and Lily Marton (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray, who are themselves thinly disguised versions of the film’s writers, Adolph Green and Betty Comden), to star in the new musical comedy they’ve written. They’ve managed to attract the interest of Broadway’s newest wunderkind, director, Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan), who sees their show as a reimagining of the Faust legend, and aims to elevate the production to one of high art. Tempers begin to flare as Cordova’s vision becomes increasingly ambitious and he casts prima ballerina, Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse) who unwittingly makes Tony feel a bit old, and inspires his nagging concern that “She’s awfully tall”.
Of the great directors of MGM musicals, none were more possessed of a rich sense of design and color than Vincente Minnelli. Himself a Broadway set designer and costumer before moving to Hollywood, Minnelli’s films are distinguished by their impeccable visual flair. The Band Wagon served as his tip of the hat to Broadway, just as it had for Astaire and writers Comden and Green (On The Town), and it stands as a loving and playful tribute to the pain and joy of “puttin’ on a show”. In its very lighthearted way, the film offers one of the more detailed insider’s look into what it must take to mount so ambitious an enterprise…even when it proves a failure.
The Band Wagon had originally been a Broadway show in 1931, featuring Astaire with his sister and dancing partner Adele (in her final stage performance), though only the title and three of the songs remain from that original production. Twenty Two years after scoring that show, Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz were asked to provide some new songs for the film version, not least of which, “That’s Entertainment” became the tune that defined the entire MGM musical idiom. Additionally, Schwartz created an instrumental for one of the greatest dance sequences in any film; the pulpy “Girl Hunt”, featuring Astaire as a Mickey Spillane-inspired hard boiled dick and Charisse as the leggy Femme Fatale. It’s a stunning fusion of ballet and jazz, with Charisse revisiting a character similar to the one she played opposite Gene Kelly in Singin’ In The Rain the year before. Blink and you may miss a brief appearance by Julie Newmar.
The excitement begins at 6:30 when you can enjoy one of the best dinners in town, followed by the screening at 7:00 PM. Hope to see you there!
Mothers is located at 212 SW. Stark.