The Belle of New York
Cast & Crew
In turn of the century New York, pretty temperance worker Angela Collins, who is a member of the Daughters of Right, is hailed as the "Belle of New York" by her Bowery clientele, who admire her singing and her beauty. Wealthy patroness Mrs. Phineas Hill likes Angela, but frowns on the distraction she creates. Mrs. Hill's playboy nephew, Charlie Hill, who has never been near the charity, prefers the joys of café society and the company of beautiful women. On the night Mrs. Hill returns from Washington, Charlie is hosting a bachelor party prior to his wedding to sharpshooter Dixie McCoy. All of the guests are women, aside from Charlie's friend and lawyer, Max Ferris. When Mrs. Hill arrives, she disapproves of the revelry and sends the guests away, not realizing that they are celebrating Charlie's forthcoming wedding. Later, Charlie goes out with one of his friends, Frenchie, and admits that he does not want to get married. While they are driving in an open carriage, Charlie spots Angela singing with the Daughters' band and falls immediately in love. Leaving the understanding Frenchie in the carriage, Charlie approaches Angela, who is also attracted to him, but fears that he is not really in love, which she contends should make someone walk on air. After Angela leaves Charlie, he begins to walk on air and realizes for the first time he is in love. The next morning, after Charlie has failed to show up for their wedding, Dixie storms over to his house, prompting Mrs. Hill to write a $10,000 check to keep her quiet. Although Mrs. Hill is fond of Charlie, she angrily tells Max that she will cut him off without a cent unless he changes. Meanwhile, Charlie has gone to see Angela and shows her his sincerity by walking on air in her office and asking to join the Daughters. Still skeptical, Angela tells him that he must do an honest day's work before she will let him join them. Charlie makes several attempts to get a job, but each time is fired when he is distracted by Angela passing by. Charlie finally becomes a streetcar driver and at the end of the day offers Angela a ride back to the garage. As he then tries to convince her of his love, the couple dances and both start walking on air. Charlie then takes Angela home to see his aunt, who is pleasantly shocked to learn the identity of his new girl. Happy that Charlie has finally found a nice girl, Mrs. Hill offers to pay for their wedding. The night before their wedding, workers and friends decorate the Daughters' meeting house, while a now temperate Charlie refuses all of Max's offers at a bachelor party. Friends of Angela's, though, decide to pay Charlie a visit and wish him well. Starting with police officer Clancy and some of the loyal Bowery bums, Charlie is forced into drinking a polite toast to Angela. After more toasts, everyone gets drunk and Charlie and Max wake up 1:30 the next afternoon. Although the wedding was supposed to be at noon, Max tries to convince Charlie that it is not too late, but Charlie is convinced that he is no good and it is better for Angela that they not get married. At home, Angela is waiting, still in her wedding dress, and says that it is not too late, but Charlie tells her that he is no good. Angela insists that she stills wants to marry a man who can walk on air and kisses him, but when neither starts to levitate, she quickly runs away. Some later later, Charlie goes looking for Angela, who has been avoiding him. Her friend, Elsie Wilkins, who also works with the Daughters, tells him that Angela has left, because she no longer wants to be "too good." When Charlie leaves, the hiding Angela scolds Elsie for making Charlie think she is no longer a good girl, but Elsie hits upon an idea to bring the two back together. She and Angela go shopping for stylish evening clothes and make a reservation at Webber's Casino, where Charlie now works as a singing waiter. Charlie is shocked when he sees them there and tries to make them leave, but they refuse and order champagne. He only brings them soda water, but they think it is champagne. After Charlie performs onstage, he is asked by one of the male diners to deliver a note to Angela. When she reads the note, she is shocked and decides to leave, but when Charlie reads the note, he angrily punches the diner in the nose. A brawl ensues throughout the café, and even envelopes Max and Mrs. Hill, who arrive at the café just before the police. As they all try to sneak out during the melée, Angela and Charlie start to argue and do not notice that they are beginning to levitate until they are outside and are cheered on by the gathering crowd. Finally, Charlie and Angela are married and dance on air in their wedding clothes.
Mary Jane French
Betty Jean Onge
The Mellow Men
Maurice De Packh
Irving G. Ries
Jack Martin Smith
Edwin B. Willis
The Belle of New York
1948 marked Astaire's return to the screen with Easter Parade, and, true to his word, he began working on The Belle of New York shortly thereafter. He was once again paired with Vera-Ellen, his co-star from Three Little Words (1950). Vera-Ellen, perhaps best known for her later role in White Christmas (1954), was recognized as a great talent in the musical dancing genre. The only problem was that musicals were no longer in vogue by the mid-fifties. Vera-Ellen and Astaire were very compatible on and off screen, although she was once to comment of her co-star: "Fred Astaire will never say, though he's always asked, which of his dancing ladies was his favorite partner. If you ask me, he preferred the solo turns."
There was, however, considerable tension between the actress and director, Charles Walters, who was later Oscar® nominated for his work on Lili (1953). He found the actress frustrating to work with - even going so far to liken her to "a piece of moving putty." The feeling seemed mutual: when practicing knee bends during breaks, Vera-Ellen would comply with the director's commands to stop stretching and listen to him...by stopping at the bottom of her bend, making their communication difficult.
The Belle of New York boasted an impressive supporting cast, including Marjorie Main and Alice Pearce. Main, however, was not the first casting choice for her role - that distinction fell to Mae West, but the production could not afford the actress. Main was best known for her portrayal of that lovable bumpkin Ma Kettle in several films, beginning with The Egg and I (1947). Alice Pearce, with her distinctive nasal delivery, was best known for her character Gladys Kravitz on the television series Bewitched. Her performance on the show, however, lasted only two seasons before the actress succumbed to cancer in 1966; her work earned her a posthumous Emmy in recognition. Keenan Wynn, son of Ed, also features in the film. His character work spanned several decades, highlighting such films as Kiss Me Kate (1953), Dr. Strangelove (1964) and Nashville (1975).
Industry legend Arthur Freed stepped in to produce Belle; sporting a resume that included The Wizard of Oz (1939), Singing in the Rain (1952), and An American in Paris (1951), he was a tour-de-force on the set. He could not, however secure the services of Rodgers and Hammerstein to write the score, but he did hire a renowned lyricist: Johnny Mercer, the songwriter responsible for such standards as "Moon River" and "That Old Black Magic." Mercer wrote seven pleasing songs for the film, but none became a bona-fide hit.
In his autobiography Steps in Time, Astaire commented on The Belle of New York: "I liked making it, probably because Vera Ellen and I had some interesting dance ideas to keep us busy. There were five numbers of Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer's which stood out, but the element of fantasy which prevailed backfired on us. One trick which we hoped would prove effective was dancing on air and that above all failed to register...I was on Belle for eight months, beating my brains out, and all I got out of it was - a fortune. There's one thing about having a flop movie at a major studio that has it all over a stage flop. You do get paid."
Critics might not have pegged Belle as a flop but the reviews were mostly lukewarm; Variety commented, "It's all done pleasantly but not of a quality that rates more than passing interest." The film does, however, cater to the dance enthusiast: a remarkable forty-one minutes of the total running time (eighty-two minutes) are dance numbers. Astaire's talent in that arena is never in question, and Vera-Allen is an ideal on-screen partner for him - graceful and weightless. Her voice, however, was another matter: Anita Ellis did the dubbing honors, having performed similar duties for Rita Hayworth in films including Gilda (1946).
Producer: Arthur Freed, Roger Edens
Director: Charles Walters
Screenplay: C.M.S. McLellan (play), Chester Erskine, Robert O'Brien, Irving Elinson
Cinematography: Robert H. Planck
Film Editing: Albert Akst
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Jack Martin Smith
Music: Harry Warren
Cast: Fred Astaire (Charlie Hill), Vera-Ellen (Angela Bonfils), Marjorie Main (Mrs. Phineas Hill), Keenan Wynn (Max Ferris), Alice Pearce (Elsie Wilkins), Clinton Sundberg (Gilford Spivak).
C-81m. Closed captioning.
by Eleanor Quin
The Belle of New York
The vocals for Vera-Ellen were dubbed by Anita Ellis.
Mae West was considered for the part of Mrs. Hill, but was too expensive.
The song "I Love to Beat the Big Bass Drum" was written for the film but not used.
A scene with a dance to "When I'm Out With the Belle of New York," by Vera- Ellen and chorus, was cut from the film.
Based on the first American stage musical to play London's West End, where it was a big hit in 1897.
Fred Astaire had been offered this role and declined it six years earlier.
According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Marge and Gower Champion were to have co-starred in the film. Another Hollywood Reporter news item noted that colored water was used for the film's ice-skating sequence to make the ice look better in Technicolor. During the film, the characters "Angela" and "Charlie" appear to walk on air, and several scenes feature one or both of the characters walking or dancing above the New York City skyline. The ice skating number was part of a musical montage in which Charlie and Angela have photographs taken at the Currier and Ives studio and become part of the seasonal backgrounds. The "Dancin' Man" number, which featured Fred Astaire performing a sand dance, has frequently been cited in modern sources as one of his best solo dances.
Although the onscreen credits acknowledge that the film was "from the play by Hugh Morton," most reviews and modern sources noted that the film bore little resemblance to the original musical play that was a popular success on the London and New York stages. According to Hollywood Reporter news items from the mid-1940s, Arthur Freed was planning to film a musical version of the play, with new songs provided by Harry Warren. Judy Garland was initially mentioned as co-starring with Astaire, then Lina Romay was announced as the production's star. Metro Pictures Corp., which later became M-G-M, produced a silent adaptation of the play in 1919, directed by Julius Stegner and starring Marion Davies (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30). According to modern sources, the 1952 film cost $2,606,644 to make, but grossed only $1,993,000.