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The Bandwagon, That's Certainly Entertainment

Updated on November 4, 2011

That's Entertainment

The Bandwagon is a musical comedy made in 1953 and starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan. It is as uplifting and joyful as anything Hollywood ever produced in those days and bears comparison to the great MGM musical made a year earlier, Singing In The Rain.

The film was written by Comden and Green and Alan Jay Lerner (although uncredited), directed by Vincente Minnelli, and produced by Arthur Freed. The film popularized the song "That's Entertainment!", which has become a standard.

Although not a major box-office success the film was well received critically and was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Color, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (for Comden and Green). In 1995, The Band Wagon was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It is currently ranked at number 17 on the American Film Institute's list of best musicals.

Original Trailer

Basic Story Line

Fred Astaire plays the singer, dancer and movie star Tony Hunter who is worried that his career might be on the slide.

His good friends Lester and Lily Marton (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray) have written a comedy show which they believe is perfect for his comeback. Tony agrees and signs up, but the trio's plans are baulked by the director, Jeffrey Cordova (played by Jack Buchanan), who makes significant changes to the basic structure of the show making the light comedy into a dark, melodramatic reinterpretation of the Faust legend, with himself as the Devil.

Tony is also uneasy about the choice of his female costar, star ballerina Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse). He feels intimidated by her classical background, youth and beauty. Unbeknownst to him, she is just as insecure in his presence, awed by his long stardom. When they first meet they argue fiercely, and then, in the scene where the movie's magic first begins to work, they make up wordlessly in the "Dancing in the Dark" sequence under a full moon in Central Park.

Almost everything that can go wrong in a theatrical production does so. The opening night is a disaster, but Tony persuades Jeffrey to let him convert the production back into what the Martons had originally envisioned. That proves to be a hit on its Broadway opening. Afterwards, Gaby lets Tony know that she has fallen in love with him.

The final part of the movie forsakes any adherence to plot altogether and simply strings together a series of songs and dances, the numbers being performed in the new show. The movie ends with reprises of "By Myself" and "That's Entertainment," with the whole cast joining in on one of Vincente Minnelli's patented grand finales. As befits a musical comedy, Tony and Gaby declare their love for each other and the film's feel good factor is complete.

Cast List

Tony Hunter - Fred Astaire

He wasn't particularly handsome, nor did he have a singing voice comparable to so many of the romantic crooners of his day. But Astaire didn't need those standbys -- he could dance like no one else. George Balanchine and Rudolph Nureyev rated him the greatest dancer of the twentieth century, and he is generally acknowledged to have been the most influential dancer in the history of film and television musicals. He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute. His films with Ginger Rogers transformed the movie musical forever, and in them he proved that he wasn't just a dancer -- he was a talented light comedian too. His stage and subsequent film career spanned a total of seventy-six years, during which he made thirty-one musical films.

Gabrielle Gerard - Cyd Charisse

Born in 1922 as Tula Ellice Finklea in Amarillo, Texas Cyd spent her early childhood taking ballet lessons and joined the Ballet Russe at 13. In 1939 she married Nico Charise, her ex-dance teacher. In 1943 she appeared in her first film, Something to Shout About and in 1945 she was hired to dance with Fred Astaire in Ziegfeld Follies (1946), and that uncredited appearance got her a seven-year contract with MGM. She appeared in a number of musicals over the next few years, but it was Singin' in the Rain (1952) with Gene Kelly that made her a star. That was quickly followed the next year by her great performance in The Band Wagon. In the1960's she made appearances on television and performed in a nightclub revue with her second husband, singer Tony Martin.

Astaire paid tribute to Charisse, calling her "beautiful dynamite" and writing: "That Cyd! When you've danced with her you stay danced with."

Oscar Levant ... Lester Marton

Nanette Fabray ... Lily Marton

Jack Buchanan ... Jeffrey Cordova

James Mitchell ... Paul Byrd - choreographer

Robert Gist ... Hal - Cordova's asst.

The protagonist, Tony Hunter, was a heightened portrait of Astaire whose career was in decline in the 1950s. Astaire played an aloof, middle-aged hoofer out of sync with his times.

The inspiration for Jeffrey Cordova was a combination of Orson Welles, George S. Kaufman, and especially the pretentiously pompous actor Jose Ferrer, who had staged himself on Broadway in The Shriek. The real-life model for Hunter's co-star, Gabrielle Gerard, was French ballerina Zizi Jeanmaire, who made her debut in the Danny Kaye vehicle, Hans Christian Andersen.

Cyd Charisse is considered to be Astaire's most sensuous and technically expert partner, and indeed, "Band Wagon" is inconceivable without Charisse. However, casting her was not easy. For years, Charisse just decorated MGM musicals, but she was never entrusted with a starring role. While Band Wagon disclosed her lack of acting abilities, it also showed what a great song-and-dance personality she was. Minnelli later insisted erroneously on casting Charisse as Douglas's seductress in "Two Weeks in Another Town," and fell flat on his face.

For Jeffrey Cordova, the musical's most colorful part, Minnelli's first choice was Clifton Webb, a comedian who began his career as dancer. Webb declined the role due to its small size, but he recommended the British actor Jack Buchanan, who was then virtually unknown to American viewers. Buchanan's wit, energy, and charm made him an ideal foil for Astaire.

Dancing In The Dark

Triplets

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