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Film / The Band Wagon

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The Band Wagon is a 1953 MGM musical film starring Fred Astaire, who coincidentally enough had also appeared in the 1931 Broadway revue of the same name, and Cyd Charisse.

Astaire plays Tony Hunter, a nearly washed-up hoofer who hopes to revitalize his career by doing a new Broadway musical written by his friends Lester and Lily Martin (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray). The going soon gets rough. The director, Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan), has megalomaniacal ambitions to stage a show based on Goethe's Faust; the choreographer, Paul Byrd (James Mitchell), is a ballet snob; and Gabrielle "Gaby" Gerard (Charisse), 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 going back to the original concept (onscreen, this means 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. It's generally ranked behind only the previous year's Singin' in the Rain among MGM's musicals.

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

Tropes used:

  • Affectionate Parody: "The Girl Hunt" ballet lovingly parodies tropes from hardboiled and noir fiction and film, from the Femme Fatale to the Private Eye Monologue.
  • 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:
  • 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.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Gabrielle.
  • 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 an Actor Allusion 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. Various people open the door when Jeffrey is acting out the plot of the new show for the money men, only to close the door in horror.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: Parodied in "The Girl Hunt" where the blonde "good woman" in floaty dresses and fabrics turns out to be the killer within the story while the dark-haired femme fatale who was "bad" and "dangerous" turns out to be innocent and ends up as a Official Couple with the main character. Also helps that both the feminine roles are played by Gaby.
  • May–December Romance: Tony and Gaby. (Like Astaire, Tony is supposed to be in his early fifties.)
  • Mind Screw: We don´t see anything of the "Faustian" production, only a couple of images. This, and the reaction from the audience, implies that the show ended up as a (rather disappointing) work of art, which nobody actually understood.
  • Movie Bonus Song: If the film is considered as an adaptation of the 1931 revue of that name (which also featured Fred Astaire and several songs used in the film), "That's Entertainment" would qualify as this.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Gaby. Lots of lots of flattering costumes for Cyd Charisse.
  • The Musical Musical: The film is about the staging of a musical.
  • Never Heard That One Before: During the "Triplets" musical number, the titular three children complain about the things they hate about being triplets, one of their points of contention being, "We're sick of jokes on what an art it is to tell us apart!"
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Jeffrey was based on José Ferrer, who at the time was producing four Broadway shows and starring in a fifth. He also has similarities to Orson Welles, who in The '40s had tried to direct a musical version of Around the World in Eighty Days with songs by Cole Porter despite having no musical experience. Welles' show also suffered from over-elaborate effects and sets, and just like the designer in the movie complains, had sets that would not fit in the theater.
  • Oktoberfest: The song "I Love Louisa".
  • Postmodernism: The movie makes a point of it, especially in the "That's Entertainment" number.
  • Prima Donna Director: Cordova, until the musical fails. And Byrd, to a lesser extent.
  • Private Eye Monologue: "The Girl Hunt" is this combined with a ballet. (It should be noted here that the monologue's writer was Alan Jay Lerner.)
  • 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. He was a real dancing shoe shiner rather than an actor/dancer, and the inspiration for the song "Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy."
  • Shout-Out:
    • "That's Entertainment" has shout outs to Oedipus Rex, named in the song, and later to Hamlet. "Entertainment"? Indeed.
    • The final scene of Oedipus Rex is actually shown, and the next show number of the movie is performed on that production set. Even a brief allusion to Waiting for Godot, when Tony and Cordova put on bowler hats and fast tracks a conversation before pulling them off.
    • Of course, the line "The world is a stage". Shakespeare is also mentioned.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Tony and Gaby.
  • Special Effects Failure: In universe with the pyrotechnics for the stage production. The first attempt is a underwhelming flash and a small puff of smoke. The next attempt goes to the other extreme and Cordova ends up with a bit of Ash Face. He thinks it's perfect.
  • 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 film showcases the rehearsal of a overblown, pretentious dance number that contributes to the show's total failure on opening night.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: In-universe, Tony worries about Gaby's height relative to his.