The Band Wagon
(1953) marked the culmination of a series of near-autobiographical pictures Fred Astaire made for MGM following his return from premature retirement in the late '40s. Astaire plays Tony Hunter, a fading film star (his big hit:Flying Down to Panama
) who decides to return to his former glory, the Broadway stage.
(In 1931, Astaire had starred on Broadway with sister Adele in The Band Wagon
, a revue that lent some of its songs to this film.) His playwright-songwriter friends (Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant) hook him up with Broadway's hottest director, Jeffrey Cordova (a nicely hammy Jack Buchanan), who proves that the "new" theater traditions can be an awkward fit with the old. Hunter also finds himself at odds with his prima ballerina leading lady (Cyd Charisse), one of his chief worries being that she seems a little tall.
Along the way, producer Arthur Freed, director Vincente Minnelli, choreographer Michael Kidd, and songwriters Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz treat us to some quintessential MGM numbers: Astaire's solo ode "By Myself," the flashy arcade romp "A Shine on Your Shoes," Astaire and Charisse's romantic duet "Dancing in the Dark," the faux-German drinking song "I Love Louisa," the manic trio "Triplets" (with Astaire, Fabray, and Buchanan in matching baby outfits), the Mickey Spillane-esque "Girl Hunt Ballet," and the classic show-biz anthem "That's Entertainment."
Even if its ending and obligatory romance fall a little flat,The Band Wagon
is one of the classic backstage musicals, a grandiose MGM spectacle that also manages to poke some fun at how grandiose MGM pictures had become.--David Horiuchi