Making the Grades
Ahh... the Hollywood musical, king of the box office during the 1930s to mid-50's. That golden age when being a star meant knowing how to tap dance and carry a tune. A time of big production numbers shot on massive soundstages, featuring lavish costumes and incredible sets. Among the many studios eagerly involved in this popular genre, MGM took the lion's share of accolades.
Perhaps fearing the end of a good thing, The Band Wagon sets out to prove audiences haven't outgrown their love for such movie making by telling the tale of a song and dance man. Pronounced a has-been by the paparazzi and press, Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) gets an opportunity to revive his career -- and reaffirm the magic of the musical.
Tony leaves LA for the promise of a second chance in the limelight of New York City's theater scene, thanks to best friends and playwrights Lester and Lily Marton (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray). The couple plans to introduce him to the Big Apple's latest up-and-comer Jeffery Cardova (Jack Buchanan), in the hopes the producer will turn the old star and the Martons' new script into the next Broadway sensation
With an ego as grand as the Shakespearean tradition his ladder of success rests upon, Cardova welcomes the opportunity to produce the proposed show-after he tweaks it with his own artistic interpretation. Determined to turn the light and fluffy comedy into something of "stature and importance," the self-proclaimed genius signs a beautiful ballerina named Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse), and her choreographer/boyfriend Paul Byrd (James Mitchell) to the cast. Next, he uses his dramatic talents to secure investors with deep pockets. However, with all the independent thinkers the dictatorial director has got on board, he is going to have a devil of a time steering the crew clear of mutinous intentions.
Before long, they're all vying for the helm and the resulting veering off in every direction provides the perfect explanation for the various, unrelated dance numbers embodied in this backstage story. These range from the silly (Astaire, Fabray and Buchanan play identical Triplets with a bad case of sibling rivalry) and the sad (a lonely characters croons about being By Myself), to the just-for-show (Astaire's fancy footwork in A Shine on Your Shoes). No matter what it's called, That's Entertainment.
The constant portrayals of drinking (including the musical number I Love Louisa that comes across as an ode to beer), and smoking (disappointingly, the only character refusing cigarettes gets talked into taking a puff) may cause parents some concerns, as may the appearance of violence in the film's finale. Here Astaire plays the part of a detective and Charisse the role of a scarlet seductress in a Girl Hunt set against a backdrop of mobsters. Although it's hard to take the well-choreographed gangsters' threats seriously, there are depictions of gunshots and murder, as well as a scene in a mannequin shop with dismembered dummies, which will likely disturb young viewers.
Complete with a romance that starts out on the wrong foot, The Band Wagon epitomizes the Hollywood musical. Produced under Arthur Freed, directed by Vincente Minnelli, with a story and screenplay written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the movie is the product of some of the industry's top creators. While their best efforts couldn't forever save the genre or even MGM Studios (which was recently bought out by Sony Pictures), fans can fondly relive this glorious era as their favorite titles release on DVD.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Band Wagon.
When Tony returns to “the city that never sleeps,” he complains about the changes to 42nd Street. This portion of NYC’s theater district went into a gradual and seedy decline after the Great Depression, but recent renovations have brought about a New 42nd Street. Learn more about this revival here: www.pbs.org/wnet/broadway/hello/hollywood.html
Tony and Gabrielle find there ability to work together hampered by misconceptions about each other. Why can two people see the same situation yet arrive at entirely different conclusions? How did their personal insecurities contribute to their problem?