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The Band Wagon

The Band Wagon

What She said:

She

It may come as a shocker for those who know me, but I love old Fred Astaire movies.  Man that guy could dance.  Sing….eeeehhhh, he gets by.  But there’s not much I enjoy more than watching Astaire at work, tap dancing across an old MGM film set.

The Band Wagon is a 1953 musical comedy starring Astaire opposite Cyd Charisse.  The movie follows the same overall plot as so many other of Astaire’s movies—there’s some sort of misunderstanding involving Astaire and a beautiful and talented lady; they hate each other and love each other at the same time.  In this film, Astaire plays Tony Hunter, a veteran of the entertainment business whose career seems to be on the slide.  Two friends of his, Lily and Lester Martin, believe they have written the musical that will spell Hunter’s comeback.  They bring acclaimed director, Jeffrey Cordova, on board to direct the piece, but Cordova has another vision for the light and happy musical—he turns it dark, overly dramatic, and downright awful.  To make things worse, Hunter has a very hard time acting opposite of the young and stunning Gaby Gerard.  The two are at each other’s throats. 

Not surprisingly, the show flops Hunter and Gerard are forced to reassess their priorities.  They decide to play nice, and of course a romance begins to develop.  However, Gerard is already with the choreographer for the musical, Paul Byrd.  So yeah, it’s forbidden love.  As the investors for the musical walk away, Hunter talks Cordova into letting him return the production to the original vision of the Martins.  It’s a last ditch effort to save face, and he finances the musical himself.  Byrd balks, but Gerard sticks around, and the whole cast and crew become dedicated to making the show a success.

The Band Wagon

The plot sounds complicated—it’s really not—although there’s a notable portion of it that I’m not sure I really got.  Oh well, it was still enjoyable.  The Band Wagon, more successfully than many other of Astaire’s movies, manages to be quite funny.  And it’s not all goofy or cheesy humor.  Some of it is, dare I say, edgy for the time period.  You may not recognize many of the songs from the film, but that’s ok.  They’re pretty good.  Not surprisingly, the best part of this movie is the dancing.  Astaire is as good as ever, despite being in his 50s when this was filmed.  Surprisingly Charisse is able to keep pace with him, and the two seem well-matched.  Astaire was notorious for being an absolute perfectionist, and so I always wonder what the actual dynamic was between the actor and his leading ladies.  Despite an obvious and significant age gap, Astaire and Charisse are convincing and the movie strikes the right chord. 

This is one of the better Fred Astaire movies out there, and I highly recommend it for fans of the actor, his dance work, or musicals in general.

Thumbs up.

 

 

 

What he said:

He

Last Saturday evening we were looking for something to watch and this was just starting on TCM.  Sometimes it’s a good feeling stumbling upon something on old boob tube. It’s a no pressure situation. You don’t have to browse through your personal collection, Amazon, Netflix, or whatever medium you use to watch movies. This was one of those nights.
I also kind of got a kick out of the whole experience because we tuned in early enough to catch one of those pre-movie commentaries that Robert Osborne does for TCM. It’s neat seeing a little account of the actors, the movie, and its place in cinema history. It adds to the movie-viewing experience. It’s one of those magical movie things that tells me I’m about to embark on an adventure for the next couple of hours. I wouldn’t mind seeing something like this before all movies.  I think it’d be pretty cool to be honest.

Drew Barrymore was his guest and she touched on something I could identify with. She mentioned that sometimes she has a hard time watching musicals because of the suspension of disbelief. People don’t walk around singing and dancing in everyday life. I struggle that same problem and truthfully am not a huge fan of musicals; though I will admit there’s some that work for me. Drew (I can call her that because we’re friendly) stated that this was one of the musicals that worked for her, so I was hopeful that it would for me as well.

Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) is a stage and screen actor who has seen better days. It has been a few years since he has performed in any movies and it appears his career might be over. That is until two of his friends – Lester and Lily Marton – have written a play just for him. Lester and Lily (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray) think going back to theater is just what Tony needs to revive his career, and this is the show to help do that. The play is about an author of children’s books who makes his real money writing crime novels. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but that all changes when they bring in producer, director, actor, and all-around ham Jeffrey Cordova.

Cordova (Jack Buchanan) is a very stereotypical theater person; at least what I always thought to be a typical theater person. He’s a big control freak, always turning something into a bigger deal, and always seems to be “on” if you know what I mean. He’s the kind of guy who walks around in a cape or smoking jacket because he likes it, and not because he’s in character. Jack Buchanan was quite amusing in this role. The character always wants more. More lights, more smoke, bigger flames, it doesn’t matter what it is, he wants more of it. He’s not a bad guy at all. He is just a little overzealous at times. Lester and Lily’s musical comedy is eventually turned into a modern interpretation of Faust. In this version of the story, Tony is convinced to write these crime novels, despite the fact that it makes him unhappy, by an evil publicist played by Cordova. Oh and the publicist just so happens to be the devil. It’s quite different what Lester and Lily intended, and what Tony signed up for.

Another problem is the female lead. Gabrielle Gerard is an up-and-coming ballerina. Cordova thinks she’s perfect for the role.  This makes Tony feel a little uneasy, because she is a world-class dancer and he is intimidated by her skills. Gaby (Cyd Charisse) is also intimidated by Tony. She grew up watching his movies and is a big fan. The two get off on the wrong foot, egos get in the way, yada, yada, yada. Can everyone put aside their pride and do what’s best for the show?

I have to agree with Drew again, because this one worked for me. I think it helps that this movie is actually about a bunch of performers. Maybe it is totally baseless, but I can picture performers being a little theatrical in real life, so breaking out into song and dance didn’t bother me here.
The plot isn’t particularly complicated, but it doesn’t matter. It reminds me of Indiana Jones or Back to the Future in that sense. You know the good guys are going to win, but the movie somehow manages to keep you on the edge of your seat despite that. You know something works when it doesn’t throw a whole lot of surprises at you, but you still find yourself entertained by it. Predictability can kill a movie, but throw in some good performances, laughs, and in this case some good song and dance, and you don’t really thinking about that while watching. The Avengers (review here) was another one that fits that description. It’s a fairly cookie cutter plot, but a hell of an entertaining movie.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on December 22, 2012.