Pop Culture 101: THE BAND WAGON
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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