A musical remake of Ninotchka: After three bumbling Soviet agents fail in their mission to retrieve a straying Soviet composer from Paris, the beautiful, ultra-serious Ninotchka is sent to ... See full summary »
In Buenos Aires, a man who has decreed that his daughters must marry in order of age allows an American dancer to perform at his club under the condition that he play suitor to his second-oldest daughter.
William A. Seiter
Tony Hunter, a famous singer/dancer movie star, is feeling washed up and old hat (old top hat, tie and tails to be exact). The reporters are out for Ava Gardner, not him. But his old friends Lily and Les Martin have an idea for a funny little Broadway show and he agrees to do it. But things begin to get out of hand, when bigshot "artistic" director/producer/star Jeffrey Cordova joins the production, proclaims it's a modernistic Faust and insists on hiring a prima ballerina, Gabrielle Gerard, to star opposite Tony, and it's hate at first sight. And her jealous choreographer isn't helping to ease the tension. The show is doomed by pretentiousness. But romance, a "let's put on a show" epiphany, and a triumphant opening are waiting in the wings. After all, this is a musical comedy!Written by
The Bandwagon may yet prove to be the best of backstage musicals. It certainly is Fred Astaire at his best, probably his best film when he did not partner with Ginger Rogers.
Arthur Freed had great success with two previous song catalog musicals, An American In Paris with the music of George Gershwin and Singing in the Rain which utilized the songs that he wrote with Nacio Herb Brown. His source for this film were the songs of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz.
Dietz and Schwartz were an interesting pair of writers. Howard Dietz worked right at MGM in their publicity department. In fact it was Dietz who invented MGM's famous Leo the Lion. Song lyrics were in fact an avocation. Arthur Schwartz was a lawyer who just one day gave up the practice of law to devote himself to songwriting. They wrote some of the best music of the Thirties. After which Dietz devoted himself to publicizing MGM and Schwartz worked with other lyricists.
They wrote revues and this is where the source material for The Band Wagon comes from. In fact one of their revues was entitled The Band Wagon and starred none other than Fred and Adele Astaire. However the team got together again and wrote one new number for the film, the legendary That's Entertainment.
This The Band Wagon is not a revue. The plot concerns an aging musical film star Fred Astaire, talked into coming east by husband and wife writing team Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant. They want him to do a Broadway show to revive his career. They get Broadway wunderkind Jack Buchanan to direct it and later on classical ballet star Cyd Charisse to team with Astaire.
Buchanan is outrageously funny as he first tries to get them to do an avant garde musical about the Faust saga. When that flops, he's a good enough trooper to put ego aside and do some serious rewriting. And this man certainly has one Texas size ego. According to a book on the Arthur Freed musicals, Buchanan was in a lot of pain from arthritis and doing some of those numbers, especially Triplets was agony for him.
That was not the only problem on the set. It was a pretty grim place. Oscar Levant had suffered a heart attack before the production and he was ten times his normal hypochondriac self. And Fred Astaire's wife was terminally ill at home.
Cyd Charisse gauging the mood of her fellow cast members just kept to herself, but Nanette Fabray who is an exuberant personality did not go over well as Miss Perky. She recorded it was one of her worst film experiences.
Still this monumental triumph of a film got made. My favorite of all the numbers besides That's Entertainment is the soft shoe duet that Fred Astaire and Jack Buchanan partner in. It's all grace and elegance and so typically Fred Astaire. And it's probably what most people know of Jack Buchanan. Over in the United Kingdom he was a leading stage and screen performer. Until The Band Wagon was made he was probably best known to American audiences as Jeanette MacDonald's leading man in Monte Carlo.
Cyd Charisse dances divinely as she always does, never better than in the finale, The Girl Hunt Ballet with Astaire. I still wonder why she never starred at MGM with her husband Tony Martin.
When one is asked what the American musical film ideal is, one of the best answers you can give is The Band Wagon.
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