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Film: The Band Wagon

The Band Wagon (1953) is a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film based on the Broadway revue from 1931, which also starred Fred Astaire. Astaire plays Tony Hunter, a nearly washed-up hoofer who hopes to revitalize his career by doing a new Broadway musical. The going soon gets rough. The director, Jeffrey Cordova, has megalomaniacal ambitions to stage a show based on Goethe's Faust; the choreographer, Paul Byrd, is a ballet snob; and Gabrielle Gerard, Paul's girlfriend, barely condescends to dance with Tony. After everything goes to hell—so to speak—Tony and Jeffrey manage to salvage the show by turning it into a series of spectacular, and apparently unconnected, production numbers. "That's Entertainment" ensues, along with romance between Tony and Gaby.

Directed by Vincente Minnelli, choreographed by Michael Kidd, and written by Comden And Green.

Recently adapted as a stage musical, although the result was not a critical success. More famously, the "Girl Hunt" inspired Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" video.

Tropes used:

  • Affectionate Parody: The "Girl Hunt" ballet, which sends up noir and hardboiled mysteries.
  • Author Avatar: The Martons are based on Comden and Green.
  • Batman Gambit: Cordova's way of getting Gaby to appear in the show, even though he knows Paul, her choreographer boyfriend, controls her career; he asks Paul to choreograph Faust, and Paul likes the idea enough to accept the job, then describes the leading role as someone only Gaby could play - without ever mentioning her by name - and Paul predictably says he won't do the show unless Gaby plays the lead.
  • Berserk Button: Tony doesn't take too kindly to the fact his pictures are playing at a museum.
  • The Cameo: Ava Gardner.
    • Also, Douglas Fowley, who played the beleaguered director in Singin' in the Rain, plays the auctioneer at the beginning of the film.
  • The Chessmaster: Cordova, most notably when he maneuvers Paul Byrd into letting Gaby do the musical.
    Hal: (Cordova's assistant, speaking to newspaper writer on phone) Oh, and Mike? If Mr. Cordova says he can get Tallulah, for Little Eva...believe him.
  • Deal with the Devil: Figuratively speaking—Cordova is a comical version of Mephistopheles for most of the film, and the other characters uneasily go along with him to further their careers.
  • Faust: The musical-within-the-musical is based on Faust, but the movie itself makes lighthearted allusions to the legend, starting with Cordova.
  • Femme Fatale: Parodied in "The Girl Hunt."
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "That's Entertainment" includes in its list of plots "A gay divorcee who is after her ex". This is also a Shout-Out to Astaire's 1934 film The Gay Divorcee.
  • Hopeless Auditionees: We see one during the chorus audition.
  • In Name Only: About the only things the film has in common with the original revue are Fred Astaire and a handful of songs.
  • Large Ham: Jeffrey Cordova.
  • May-December Romance: Tony and Gaby. (Like Astaire, Tony is supposed to be in his early fifties.)
  • Ms Fan Service: Gaby.
  • The Musical Musical
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The film is loaded with parodies of contemporary show business types, including Comden and Green (sending themselves up as the Martons), Jose Ferrer (Jeffrey Cordova), George Balanchine (Paul Byrd), and Fred Astaire himself (Tony Hunter).
  • Non-Singing Voice: Cyd Charisse, dubbed by India Adams.
  • Prima Donna Director: Cordova, until the musical fails. And Byrd, to a lesser extent.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Comden and Green decided to make the Martons a married couple because they didn't think anyone would believe a male-female working partnership could be platonic.
  • Shoe Shine, Mister?: Fred Astaire sings and dances "Shine on your Shoes" with the shoe shiner.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Tony and Gaby.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Singin' in the Rain; the movie shares the same writers, and is to Fred Astaire what that movie was to Gene Kelly.
  • Stylistic Suck: The nightmarishly bad Faust adaptation.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: In-universe, Tony worries about Gaby's height relative to his.
  • Troubled Production: Both the show-within-the-show and in real life.
    • In the show-within-the-show, the artistic team squabbles constantly, Tony can't handle the ballet choreography, and the scenery goes haywire.
    • According to the interviews in the making-of featurette and various Minnelli biographies, the production was a nightmare. Not all of the actors got along, shooting ran over both the schedule and the budget, and Astaire somehow had to concentrate on the film while his wife was dying.

BabelRoger Ebert Great Movies ListBaraka
Gerald McBoing-BoingNational Film RegistryAll That Heaven Allows
Back to the EightiesThe MusicalBare: A Pop Opera
Bad Day at Black RockCreator/Metro-Goldwyn-MayerBen Hur
The 5000 Fingers of Dr. TFilms of the 1950sThe Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

alternative title(s): The Band Wagon
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