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The Band Wagon(1953)

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teaser The Band Wagon (1953)

SYNOPSIS

Song-and-dance man Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) is caught between his fading film career and an uncertain future when his friends Lester and Lily Marton (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray) offer him the chance for a Broadway comeback. Their show about a children's book author who moonlights as a writer of detective stories spirals out of control when Broadway wunderkind Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) signs on as director and co-star. While Tony struggles with this stressful comeback vehicle that could end his career forever, he also finds himself falling in love with dancer Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse), a partnership that might sustain him for life. But first, the show must go on!

Director: Vincente Minnelli
Producer: Arthur Freed
Screenplay: Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Cinematography: Harry Jackson
Editing: Albert Akst
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Preston Ames
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Fred Astaire (Tony Hunter), Cyd Charisse (Gaby Gerard), Oscar Levant (Lester Marton), Nanette Fabray (Lily Marton), Jack Buchanan (Jeffrey Cordova), James Mitchell (Paul Byrd), Thurston Hall (Col. Tripp), Robert Gist (Hal Benton), Ava Gardner (The Movie Star), Leroy Daniels (Shoeshine Boy)
C-113m. Closed captioning.

Why THE BAND WAGON is Essential

After the success of musicals built around the songs of George and Ira Gershwin (An American in Paris, 1951) and his own songs written with Nacio Herb Brown (Singin' in the Rain, 1952), producer Arthur Freed next turned to the songs of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz as the basis for a new musical. The pair were famous for writing some of Broadway's greatest revues of the early 1930's, including 1931's The Band Wagon that would lend its title and many of its songs to Freed's new concoction.

Both the theater and film versions of The Band Wagon would share the same star, Fred Astaire, but in much different roles. For the movie, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green (On The Town, 1949 and Singin' in the Rain) created a character not far removed from the real Fred Astaire in Tony Hunter, a former Broadway hoofer who has found his fame declining after years in Hollywood. "We were very nervous in the beginning about Fred's character," said Comden, "because it was based in so many ways on his actual position in life." Astaire, however, found the part delightfully written and agreed to lampoon his own image. The Band Wagon also mined a more serious side to Astaire's image that proved to be beneficial when he made the transition to character parts in 1959 with On the Beach.

Reality provided the inspiration for other roles. Comden and Green inserted caricatures of themselves into the story as the bickering playwrights portrayed by Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray. Jos Ferrer, who had recently staged several Broadway shows simultaneously, was the basis for pretentious director Jeffrey Cordova. Freed's first choice to play Cordova was Clifton Webb who turned down the role as too minor but suggested instead Jack Buchanan, considered Britain's answer to Fred Astaire. Cyd Charisse, a sensation in the Broadway Melody number in Singin' in the Rain, graduated here to leading actress to complete the cast. Although she would make only one other film with him, Silk Stockings (1957), Cyd Charisse would become one of Fred Astaire's most popular dancing partners.

In many ways, The Band Wagon was the summation of director Vincente Minnelli's love of musicals. Where most of his other musicals (Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944; An American in Paris, 1951; Gigi, 1958) forged new ground for the genre, this film embraced the best that could be accomplished within its limitations. More than any other backstage musical, it celebrated the accomplishments of performers at their best.

Eighteen Dietz/Schwartz tunes from their past productions were chosen for The Band Wagon but Freed felt something was missing and went to the songwriters for a new addition. "In the script this director, Buchanan, is saying that practically anything you can do will work if it's entertaining. I want a 'There's No Business Like Show Business,'" Freed told the pair. Forty-five minutes later they returned with The Band Wagon's most famous number, "That's Entertainment."

"The show must go on" would have been a more appropriate motto for the shoot. Astaire's wife was seriously ill during the film's production, Jack Buchanan had to work his scenes around painful dental operations and Oscar Levant had his usual hypochondria increased by having an actual heart attack shortly before filming. One particularly difficult number was "Triplets." It required Astaire, Fabray and Buchanan to dance on their knees. Fabray later said, "it was just a long day of pain, terror and anxiety."

The musical's biggest number was, thankfully, much easier on the dancers. Associate producer Roger Edens saw a Life magazine article on hard-boiled detective writer Mickey Spillane and decided to spoof it with "The Girl Hunt" ballet. Michael Kidd, star choreographer of Broadway's Guys and Dolls, was brought in to bring some of that show's lowlife flair to the piece. Kidd was scared to show Astaire the muscular moves he had planned for the ballet, knowing it was so alien to the elegant Astaire style. To his surprise, Astaire loved it and later called it one of his favorite film dances.

The Band Wagon is the most frequent rival of Singin' in the Rain for honors as producer Arthur Freed's best musical. In some ways, the pictures are mirror images of each other. Both are about song-and-dance men whose careers are jeopardized. Both feature a production that starts out as a disaster and becomes a hit. And in both films, saving the production and the leading character's career parallels the personal salvation he finds through love. The Band Wagon, however, is the darker of the two films, set on a fading Broadway with a focus on old age and retirement to add to the leading character's professional and personal problems.

The Band Wagon was the last musical from both producer Arthur Freed and director Vincente Minnelli to be shot and released in the conventional screen ratio of 1:33:1. All of their later musicals would be shot in wide-screen process.

The Band Wagon provides musical theatre buffs with their only opportunity to see Nanette Fabray in a musical, the genre that made her a star on Broadway in such '40s and '50s shows as High Button Shoes and Love Life.

by Brian Cady and Frank Miller

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teaser The Band Wagon (1953)

The putting-on-a-show musical was a Hollywood staple, dating back to the first musical to win a Best Picture Oscar®, MGM's The Broadway Melody (1929). Other outstanding examples include 42nd Street (1933) and Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933). Broadway variations include Rodgers and Hammerstein's Me and Juliet and Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate, the latter filmed in 1953. Fred Astaire's first film, Dancing Lady (1933), is another example, though he wouldn't make a similar themed musical until The Band Wagon (1953).

Like The Band Wagon, the previous film adapted from the Howard Dietz-Arthur Schwartz revue, Dancing in the Dark (1949), added a plot about a Hollywood actor whose career had declined. In the earlier film the role was played by a non-singing, non-dancing William Powell. The film featured four numbers from the original, all of which would turn up in The Band Wagon: "Dancing in the Dark," "Something to Remember You By," "New Sun in the Sky" and "I Love Louisa."

The film's one original song, "That's Entertainment," provided the title for a trio of compilation films that revived interest in the MGM musical in 1974, 1976 and 1994. Numbers from The Band Wagon were featured in all three films.

Fred Astaire's appearance as one of the narrators of That's Entertainment! (1974) was filmed on the train station set used for his opening number in The Band Wagon. His appearance was introduced with a brief clip of his singing "By Myself" there. By that time, of course, the set had fallen into disrepair, a sad reflection of MGM's declining stature within the industry. He would write in his autobiography "the set was a mess. All the windows on the train were broken. Nobody had tried to sweep or clean up. It was just a wreck. The Twentieth Century Limited looked so black and dreary. As I walked along, I noticed that the carpeting was torn, and the seats of the train were missing. But I suppose nothing should last forever."

In a curious parallel of the film's plot, later in their careers Comden and Green tackled a project of "meaning and stature" similar to what Jeffrey Cordova made of the on-screen musical in The Band Wagon. The result was A Doll's Life, a musical sequel to Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. It was one of the biggest disasters in Broadway history.

by Frank Miller

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teaser The Band Wagon (1953)

Like another of Fred Astaire's biggest hits, Top Hat (1935), The Band Wagon opens with the titles shown over his trademark top hat and walking stick.

Although far from the long-past-his-prime entertainer he portrayed in the film, Fred Astaire was coming off a box-office flop, The Belle of New York (1952), when he started work on The Band Wagon.

One parallel to Astaire's career that did not remain in the script was a movie exhibitor's reference to Tony Hunter as "box-office poison." Astaire had been among several stars -- including Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford -- stuck with that label in the late '30s and was quite sensitive about it.

Freed had always planned to use Ava Gardner in a cameo as the glamorous film star whose arrival at Grand Central Station upstages Astaire's. Studio head Dore Schary was never a Gardner fan and instructed the studio's publicists to announce that swimming star Esther Williams would play the role. Freed insisted on Gardner, however, and she ended up doing the scene.

The scene in which Lester and Lily Marton (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray) greet Astaire at the train station as the Tony Hunter Fan Club was based on a real event in writer Adolph Green's life. He was returning to New York after an out-of-town failure when his writing partner, Betty Comden, greeted him with a sign reading "Adolph Green Fan Club."

Early in the film, Astaire leaves his friends to go find the New Amsterdam Theatre. That was the theatre at which he had performed in the original The Band Wagon in 1931. In fact, Green first saw him perform in that show.

For the "Shine on My Shoes" number, Fred Astaire wanted to dance with the bootblack. They found the real thing in Leroy Daniels, a dancing shoeshine man working in downtown Los Angeles. He also inspired the 1950 hit "Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy," recorded by Bing Crosby and country-western star Red Foley. Daniels would make only a handful of films, ending his career as a bootblack in 1985's Avenging Angel. He also had a recurring role on the hit sitcom Sanford and Son.

Director Vincente Minnelli wanted to button the end of "Shine on My Shoes" by having an arcade machine erupt with noise and color. Smith designed a combination calliope and rocket launcher for a cost of $8,800.

Jack Buchanan had introduced Astaire's first song in the film, "By Myself," in the stage show Between the Devil.

In England, where he was a star, Buchanan received co-star billing alongside Astaire. In other areas, he was billed as a featured player.

During previews, the mostly young audience gave Buchanan, whom most had never heard of, their highest approval rating, 78 percent. Astaire came in at 66 percent, lower than Cyd Charisse (71 percent) and Nanette Fabray (71 percent). The only principal player given a lower rating was Oscar Levant (46 percent).

Astaire and Charisse had not worked together since Ziegfeld Follies (1946), in which she had danced around him -- but not with him.

The simple dress Charisse wore for "Dancing in the Dark" was a copy of a dress costume designer Mary Ann Nyberg had bought in Arizona for $25. Since the dress was no longer being made, it had to be copied in the studio costume department, where it took $1,000 to get it right.

After his fight with Fabray, Levant goes to a bar across the street from the theatre. In the background is a poster for Every Night at Seven, the musical the brother-and-sister act played by Astaire and Jane Powell take to London in Royal Wedding (1951).

In the original script, Astaire's temper tantrum was written, "I am not Nijinsky. I am not Marlon Brando -- I'm just Mrs. Hunter's little boy, Tony -- an entertainer." When the legal department asked Brando for permission to use his name he refused, taking offense at the suggestion that he wasn't an entertainer. They changed it to "song-and-dance man."

As one of the visuals representing the show's disastrous opening in New Haven, Minnelli used a favorite painting of his, Arnold Boecklin's "The Isle of the Dead." It had also inspired a 1945 horror film from producer Val Lewton.

The song "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan" was originally about a man contemplating a love affair and included the line, "Why did I buy those blue pajamas, Before the big affair began." It was even nicknamed "The Blue Pajama Song" when Clifton Webb performed it in The Little Show in 1929. In 1953, however, the Production Code wouldn't allow any celebration of an illicit affair, so the lyrics were made more innocuous.

Although Michael Kidd was the film's choreographer, Astaire staged his own duet with Jack Buchanan to "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan."

Oliver Smith modeled his design for "I Guess I'll Have to Change my Plan" on the work of modern painter Paul Klee. This triggered another battle with the MGM art department.

The three clues Astaire investigates in the "Girl Hunt Ballet" were inspired by Rudyard Kipling's 1897 poem "The Vampire": "A fool there was, and he gave his share/For a rag, a bone and a hank of hair."

The sets for the "Girl Hunt Ballet" include posters for the movie The Proud Land. That was the name of the big-budget film that destroyed the leading character's career as a producer in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Minnelli's previous film.

As part of the ceremonies when Astaire received the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1981, Charisse repeated her closing speech from the film, a tribute to Tony Hunter as a showman and the man her character loves.

James Mitchell, who plays Charisse's boyfriend and the show-within-a-show's original choreographer, was himself a dancer, most notably as the dancing Curly in Oklahoma. Two decades later, he would debut as corrupt tycoon Palmer Cortlandt on the daytime drama All My Children.

by Frank Miller

Famous Quotes from THE BAND WAGON

"I can stand anything but pain." - Levant as Lester Marton, in a reflection of the actor's own hypochondria.

"Kids, you're geniuses! It's brilliant, contemporary, perceptive -- this show is a modern version of Faust!" - Jack Buchanan as Jeffrey Cordova, taking over the show.

"Just like Faust, this man is tempted by the devil. And his compromise, his sellout, must end in eternal damnation."
"That'll leave them laughing." - Buchanan and Levant.

"There is no difference between the magic rhythms of Bill Shakespeare's immortal verse, and the magic rhythms of Bill Robinson's immortal feet." - Buchanan leading into "That's Entertainment."

"We're not fighting! We're in complete agreement! We hate each other!" - Nanette Fabray at Lily Marton settling an argument with Levant.

"Tony, you're showing me one-eighth of the iceberg, and I want to see eight-eighths. Now, go out there and give it to me." - Buchanan directing Fred Astaire as Tony Hunter.

"Did you ever try spreading ideals on a cracker?" - Astaire (and others), delivering one of the show-within-the-show's worst lines.

"I am not Nijinsky. I am not Marlon Brando -- I'm just Mrs. Hunter's little boy, Tony --a song-and-dance man!" - Astaire blowing up at Buchanan.

"I've learned one thing in the theater and it's this -- one man has to be at the helm and the rest take orders." - Astaire taking over the show-within-the-show.

"She came at me in sections. More curves than a scenic highway. She was bad, she was dangerous. I wouldn't trust her any farther than I could throw her. She was selling hard, but I wasn't buying." - Astaire's narration of "The Girl Hunt Ballet."

"The show's going to run a long time. As far as I'm concerned, it's going to run forever." - Cyd Charisse as Gaby Gerard, pledging her devotion to Astaire at the film's end.

Compiled by Frank Miller

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teaser The Band Wagon (1953)

The Big Idea Behind THE BAND WAGON

After the success of An American in Paris (1951), built around the songs of George Gershwin, and Singin' in the Rain (1952), which used several of his own songs, MGM producer Arthur Freed set out to produce another song catalogue musical. This time he drew on the work of composer Arthur Schwartz and lyricist Howard Dietz, the latter head of publicity for MGM's parent company, Loew's Inc. Among their hits included in the film were "Dancing in the Dark," "By Myself" and "I Guess I'll Have to Change my Plan."

Initially, Dietz had turned down the chance to work with Schwartz. The lyricist had made his Broadway debut in 1924 working with the great Jerome Kern on Dear Sir. Schwartz was unknown at the time -- a lawyer planning to quit his firm to focus on music. When he wrote Dietz saying he'd like to try working with him, Dietz told him he didn't want to work with an unknown. The lyricist's next two shows were flops, however, so he was lucky to get a job writing songs with Schwartz for 1929's The Little Show. Their collaboration was so successful they would go on to write over 400 songs together.

The project's original title, taken from a Dietz-Schwartz hit that would end up in the movie, was I Love Louisa.

To create a movie around the songs, Freed set up a team including director Vincente Minnelli, writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green, composer/arranger Roger Edens, dancing star Fred Astaire, choreographer Michael Kidd, designer and stage producer Oliver Smith, and musician, wit and sometime actor Oscar Levant. The picture would mark the third for Kidd (he had done uncredited work at Warner Bros. in the '30s and re-staged the musical numbers for Where's Charley? in 1952) and the first for Smith, both well established on Broadway.

The Band Wagon (1953) was the first musical for Minnelli since An American in Paris, 18 months earlier. Much of his time between the two pictures was spent on a musical version of Huckleberry Finn that ended up being canceled. He also directed one of his biggest dramatic hits, the Hollywood tell-all The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).

Astaire was no stranger to Dietz and Schwartz's songs. The last show in which he had co-starred with his sister, Adele, was the songwriters' 1931 hit The Band Wagon. Minnelli had made his debut as a Broadway director with one of their shows, At Home Abroad in 1935.

Smith had been brought to MGM by Gene Kelly, who wanted to work with him on a proposed dance film called Invitation to the Dance. Sensing the film would be a disaster at the box office (he was right), Smith begged Freed to assign him to another film.

Creating a plot to connect all the songs proved a special problem because all of the Dietz and Schwartz songs had been written for musical revues. After weeks of listening to the songs and the theatrical reminiscences of their colleagues, Comden and Green came up with what seemed like the only logical choice, a movie about putting on a Broadway musical. Like Astaire, the leading man was a musical star in the middle of his career, conflicted about whether to continue working or retire. Other reflections of the star were his fear of dancing with a woman taller than him, his concern about his age and his problems working with ballet dancers. They even referred to the character's trademark costume as "perhaps the most famous top hat and stick of our generation." At first they were concerned that Astaire would think it hit too close to home -- to raise the stakes they had made the character a has-been -- but he loved the idea.

To carry the film's comedy, they created a married writing-performing team. Although Comden and Green were married to others, the roles were clearly modeled on themselves. Minnelli, however, thought the couple was based on Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, while Smith thought they were Oscar Levant and his wife, June.

Another key role was Jeffrey Cordova, a pretentious actor-director who would take on the musical and almost ruin it. Their inspiration for the character was Orson Welles and Jos Ferrer, who had recently wowed Broadway by staging four shows while appearing in a fifth.

The first actor approached to play Jeffrey Cordova was Clifton Webb, who had starred in The Little Show. Having risen from the supporting ranks to leading man status despite his advanced years and lack of sex appeal, Webb refused to take the secondary role. He suggested they talk to Jack Buchanan, an English song and dance man often dubbed "the British Fred Astaire." Before testing him, Freed also considered Vincent Price and Edward G. Robinson.

To play the married songwriters, Freed cast Levant, who had never played a married man on screen before, and Broadway star Nanette Fabray. Fabray had headlined Love Life and Arms and the Girl, two shows choreographed by Michael Kidd.

Cyd Charisse had been at MGM since 1944 without making the transition to stardom. She had been the original choice to play Astaire's first dancing partner in Easter Parade (1948), but a broken leg ended that and brought Ann Miller to the studio as her replacement. Then pregnancy had cost her the female lead in An American in Paris, a role that made Leslie Caron a star. In 1952, however, she scored a hit as Gene Kelly's sultry dancing partner in the "Broadway Rhythm Ballet" in Singin' in the Rain. As a result, Freed cast her as Astaire's dancing partner in their new film. Before accepting her, Astaire, like his character in the film, checked to make sure she wasn't taller than he.

Edens chose the songs to be included in the evolving screenplay, but Freed felt they needed something more. Inspired by Cordova's pep talk about the importance of entertainment in the theatre, he asked Dietz and Schwartz to write a new song for the film that would be another "There's No Business Like Show Business" (the show business anthem written by Irving Berlin for Annie Get Your Gun, 1950). The team went off and wrote the song in half an hour.

Freed decided that I Love Louisa no longer fit the script they were developing. Instead, he proposed The Band Wagon, the title of Astaire's previous Dietz and Schwartz show. Since 20th Century-Fox had bought the film rights (using the score only in their 1949 Dancing in the Dark), he had to buy the title from them for $10,000.

The film's musical climax, "The Girl Hunt Ballet," was just a note in the script. Comden and Green expected to create a plot for the ballet later, but Edens felt they should turn to the songwriters for that. Dietz and Schwartz wrote a song called "The Private Eye," but it didn't work in rehearsals. Then Eden saw a Life magazine spread about hard-boiled writer Mickey Spillane and decided to do a send-up of his work. Dietz wrote some musical themes for him, and Edens turned them into the ballet's score. Minnelli then asked Alan Jay Lerner, who had written the script for An American in Paris (1951) and would later write Gigi(1958) and the Broadway smash My Fair Lady, to write the narration. He did it for no screen credit or money, just for the fun of it. He was credited on the soundtrack album, however, triggering a complaint from Minnelli, who felt that he deserved the author's credit. His name replaced Lerner's when the recording was reissued on 45 rpm, which triggered a protest from Comden and Green. Freed dismissed the latter out of hand.

by Frank Miller

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teaser The Band Wagon (1953)

Some controversy has arisen about who actually designed the sets for The Band Wagon (1953). Preston Ames, the credited art director (with art department head Cedric Gibbons, who took a credit on every MGM film) claims he did the sets, with Oliver Smith only designing the musical numbers. But Smith and set decorator Keogh Gleason claim that everything had to be approved by Smith, who went against many of Gibbons long-standing policies on design and color.

The film's set was anything but happy. Astaire was dealing with his wife's terminal illness and Minnelli was concerned about his ex-wife, Judy Garland. Her increasingly erratic behavior on the set of A Star Is Born. (1954) at Warner Bros. was the talk of the town. Buchanan was undergoing dental surgery. Smith and Mary Ann Nyberg, both newcomers to MGM, were at war with the art and costume departments, respectively. And Oscar Levant was recovering from a heart attack, which made him more acerbic than ever.

The film's original cinematographer, George Folsey, had worked several times with director Vincente Minnelli and was used to his methods. But as Minnelli's perfectionism put the production behind schedule, Freed replaced Folsey with Harry Jackson, borrowed from 20th Century-Fox, in the hope that he could speed up Minnelli's production.

Beyond economy, the production had to move quickly to finish with Buchanan before his three-month contract expired. To move things along faster Minnelli concentrated on dialogue scenes for a week, then handed production reins over to Kidd so he could stage "That's Entertainment!" and "Triplets."

During rehearsals of "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan," Astaire and Buchanan were supposed to perform a series of tricks with their hats and walking sticks. They kept dropping them, however, which inspired the joke that ends the number, in which they fail to catch their hats, throw away their sticks and walk off arm in arm.

On Broadway, "Triplets" had been performed by three very different looking actors and had failed. For the film, Kidd made the three performers look exactly the same size by having specially made baby shoes fit over the performers' knees. Their real feet and legs were covered with black velvet stockings, and the set's floor was black. The actors then danced on their knees. It was so strenuous they could only perform 20 minutes at a time. Originally, the number was to have featured Astaire, Buchanan and Levant, but the latter claimed ill health and Nanette Fabray took his place. The day before it was filmed, Fabray had an accident shooting "Louisiana Hayride." She jumped onto a barrel that hadn't been properly reinforced and fell through, tearing up her leg. She was on Novocain while filming the trio number.

"The Girl Hunt" ballet was the last number filmed. In contrast to the tense atmosphere on the set during the rest of the film, this sequence was a joy for all involved. Astaire was happy to be developing a new dancing character as the hard-boiled detective, and everyone seemed energized. Minnelli had promised producer Arthur Freed that he would shoot the ballet in three days, to keep costs down. Instead he finished it in seven at a cost of $314,475. The sequence ran 13 minutes.

The first cut of The Band Wagon ran two hours and 29 minutes. To get it down to less than two hours, a more convenient length for exhibitors, Freed had to cut four musical numbers. These included a Levant-Fabray duet, "Sweet Music," and a portion of "The Girl Hunt Ballet" in which Charisse and Astaire dance out a telephone conversation. One cut number traced the development of a song ("Got a Brand New Suit") from Fabray's introducing it to Astaire in rehearsal to his final rehearsal of it just before learning it's been cut. The sequence was supposed to help motivate his character's temper tantrum upon learning that. Another cut number, Charisse's "Two-Faced Woman," re-surfaced that year performed by Joan Crawford in Torch Song (1953). They simply staged a new number to the vocal tracks recorded by India Adams, who dubbed both actresses. The two numbers play side-by-side in the musical compilation film That's Entertainment! III (1994).

During editing, MGM's New York executives, concerned about the publicity for 20th Century-Fox's wide-screen process, CinemaScope, told Freed to have the film printed with a wide-screen image. Freed convinced them that to do so with a musical already shot in normal aspect ratio would mean cutting off the dancers' heads and feet during musical numbers. They relented, but the first CinemaScope release, 20th Century-Fox's The Robe (1953), would become the year's top-grossing film.

The Band Wagon's final budget came to $2,169,120, slightly more than the cost of An American in Paris (1951).

Originally, union rules forbid non-union production designer Oliver Smith from being credited on the film. Freed pushed his membership through, however, so he could receive credit.

Appalled (or titillated) by Charisse's thigh-baring costume in the "Girl Hunt Ballet," the Legion of Decency labeled the film "Morally Objectionable in Part for All."

by Frank Miller

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teaser The Band Wagon (1953)

After the success of musicals built around the songs of George and Ira Gershwin (An American in Paris) and his own songs written with Nacio Herb Brown (Singin' in the Rain), producer Arthur Freed next turned to the songs of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz as the basis for a new musical. The pair were famous for writing some of Broadway's greatest revues of the early 1930's, including 1931's The Band Wagon that would lend its title and many of its songs to Freed's new concoction.

Both the theater and film versions of The Band Wagon would share the same star, Fred Astaire, but in much different roles. For the movie, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green (On The Town, 1949 and Singin' in the Rain, 1952) created a character not far removed from the real Fred Astaire in Tony Hunter, a former Broadway hoofer who has found his fame declining after years in Hollywood. "We were very nervous in the beginning about Fred's character," said Comden, "because it was based in so many ways on his actual position in life." Astaire, however, found the part delightfully written and agreed to lampoon his own image.

Reality provided the inspiration for other roles. Comden and Green inserted caricatures of themselves into the story as the bickering playwrights portrayed by Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray. Jose Ferrer, who had recently staged several Broadway shows simultaneously, was the basis for pretentious director Jeffrey Cordova. Freed's first choice to play Cordova was Clifton Webb who turned down the role as too minor but suggested instead Jack Buchanan, considered Britain's answer to Fred Astaire. Cyd Charisse, a sensation in the Broadway Melody number in Singin' In The Rain, graduated here to leading actress to complete the cast.

Eighteen Dietz/Schwartz tunes from their past productions were chosen for The Band Wagon but Freed felt something was missing and went to the songwriters for a new addition. "In the script this director, Buchanan, is saying that practically anything you can do will work if it's entertaining. I want a 'There's No Business Like Show Business,'" Freed told the pair. Forty-five minutes later they returned with The Band Wagon's most famous number, "That's Entertainment."

"The show must go on" would have been a more appropriate motto for the shoot. Astaire's wife was seriously ill during the film's production, Jack Buchanan had to work his scenes around painful dental operations and Oscar Levant had his usual hypochondria increased by having an actual heart attack shortly before filming. One particularly difficult number was "Triplets." It required Astaire, Fabray and Buchanan to dance on their knees. Fabray later said, "it was just a long day of pain, terror and anxiety."

The musical's biggest number was, thankfully, much easier on the dancers. Associate producer Roger Edens saw a Life magazine article on hard-boiled detective writer Mickey Spillane and decided to spoof it with "The Girl Hunt" ballet. Michael Kidd, star choreographer of Broadway's Guys and Dolls, was brought in to bring some of that show's lowlife flair to the piece. Kidd was scared to show Astaire the muscular moves he had planned for the ballet, knowing it was so alien to the elegant Astaire style. To his surprise, Astaire loved it and later called it one of his favorite film dances.
Upon release, The Band Wagon became both a critical and commercial hit. Bosley Crowther in The New York Times called it "one of the best musicals ever made."

Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay: Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Art Direction: E. Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Harry Jackson
Costume Design: Mary Ann Nyberg
Film Editing: Albert Akst
Original Music: Adolph Deutsch
Principal Cast: Fred Astaire (Tony), Cyd Charisse (Gaby), Oscar Levant (Lester), Nanette Fabray (Lily), Jack Buchanan (Jeffrey), James Mitchell (Paul Byrd), Robert Gist (Hal Benton).
C-113m. Closed captioning.

by Brian Cady

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teaser The Band Wagon (1953)

The Band Wagon (1953) grossed over $5.6 million during its initial release (on a budget of $2.1 million). It was the top-grossing Arthur Freed musical, ranking between Singin' in the Rain (1952) and Gigi (1958).

"'BAND WAGON' A RARITY: LITERATE MOVIE MUSICAL" - Otis L. Gurnesey, Jr., New York Herald Tribune.

"The apotheosis of the backstage musical." - British Arts critic Clive Hirschhorn.

"The Comden-Green script isn't as consistently fresh as the one they did for Singin' in the Rain, but there have been few screen musicals as good as this one...When the bespangled Charisse wraps her phenomenal legs around Astaire, she can be forgiven everything, even her three minutes of "classical" ballet and the fact that she reads her lines as if she learned them phonetically." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies.

"No mistake about it, a review of The Band Wagon at the Music Hall boils down to a collection of superlatives. It is the best musical of the month, the year, the decade, or, for all I know, of all time. For my money it's better than An American in Paris [1951], which was good enough." - Archer Winston, New York Post.

"There was some instinctive hesitation in the mind of this reviewer the other day when he came out and said The Band Wagon might be one of the best musical films ever made. Lofty comments of that nature sometimes have a way of popping up a few weeks or months later and causing the maker's face to turn bright red. But another inspection of the picture, which is now on the Music Hall's screen, and a hasty review of the record emboldens us to let the comment stand. As a matter of fact, we'll make it stronger: It is one of the best musicals ever made." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times.

"The Band Wagon represents the best efforts of the movie industry in producing musicals. Talent, energy, imagination all came together in the early 1950s to produce a number of fine musicals. Among the best of them is this classic film..." - Daniel J. Nash, The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers.

"Extravagant MGM musical, directed with much flair by Vincente Minnelli. It starts out slowly but keeps getting better and better as great musical numbers keep piling up." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic.

"One of Minnelli's best musicals...More importantly, it parades a stream of brilliant Howard Dietz-Arthur Schwartz numbers. Astaire is superlative in several items, notably "By Myself" (a solitary introspection that opens the show with a purr)...All this and witty dialogue too. A treat." - Tom Milne, TimeOut Film Guide.

"Simple but sophisticated musical with the bare minimum of plot, told mostly in jokes, and the maximum of music and song...Level of technical accomplishment very high." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.

AWARDS & HONORS

The Band Wagon won Oscar® nominations for Betty Comden and Adolph Green's original screenplay, Adolph Deutsch's musical score and Mary Ann Nyberg's costumes. It lost to Titanic, Call Me Madam and The Robe, respectively.

Comden and Green won a Writer's Guild Award nomination for Best Written American Musical, but lost to Lili.

The Band Wagon was voted on to the National Film Registry in 1995.

Compiled by Frank Miller & Jeff Stafford

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