Let På Tå
Vincente Minnelli is back with another musical and readers of this blog will know that that cocktail is not a favorite of mine. True to form “The Band Wagon” is not my cup of tea, but there are things to enjoy as well.
This is, for the n’th time, a musical about setting up a show. What a novel and unique idea! So refreshing when you see something new like this. Ahem… The show is the comeback of former dancing superstar Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) and this is supposed to be a great fireworks of a show. To that end the stage wizard Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) is hired, the man who produce, direct and act blockbusters on the stage.
For an hour we get the usual fare and yes, there is a comical slant, but no, it is not really funny. The music is so-so, some dancing here and there and I am just about to slaughter this musical when something happens. This great Faustian musical with drama, devils, explosions and big elaborate sets turns out to be a huge disaster. It is so funny it is like a jolt of electricity. I sit up straight and for ten minutes I am cracking up. The empty reception at release night is the single most spectacular scene of the entire movie. The cliché is broken and the movie goes a different way, hurrah!
Well, it was not meant to last. The crew decides to change the show and take away all the Faustian elements to produce, well, a conventional show instead. This turn out to be a success and everybody is happy. Back in the rut, but for ten minutes things were great.
I fail to see the point of the conventional show. We are shown a performance from each act and they are all so different from each other that nothing ties it together. What is this show? Random song parade? Individually the acts are fine I suppose, but they leave me unimpressed. I would much rather have watched Cordova’s’ Faustian version. A musical in hell with explosions, there is something you do not see every day.
All is not bleak however. Besides the ten minutes that woke me up “The Band Wagon” offers a number of isolated interesting elements.
It is nice to finally see Fred Astaire in color. I enjoyed him both as an actor and a performer in his earlier movies and he still shines. He may not be as agile as Gene Kelly, but as an actor I much prefer Astaire.
Then there is the fact that “The Band Wagon” is contemporary. That means we get a lot of color images of life in 53. Great trains and cars, cloth and phones and all those things that are fascinating to look at. I really loved those trains. If trains were still like that I would ride them all the time. Except for the inescapable smoke.
I have mentioned the songs being so-so and by that I mean that there are quite forgettable ones and then some that are truly outstanding. There is no way around it, “That’s Entertainment!” is a monster hit and this is the musical that introduced it.
The leading lady of the musical, the one to dance with Astaire and be his romantic interest (of course) is Cyd Charisse. She had a smaller, but memorable part in “Singin’ in the Rain”, but is here upgraded to feature in almost all the dancing acts. I am not a fan of dancing, I have said that countless times. Watching dance is just a bore, but Charisse brings a dark sensuality into it that makes it worthwhile. That may be just a testosteronic interest, but it does help me though the dancing acts.
Talking of dancing acts, Minnelli just could not help it but had to end the movie with an overly long modern dancing act. Okay, it is a take on film noir and yeah, the jazz music is kinda cool, but this is just a friggin’ dance. Get on with the movie, damn it! Minnelli did this in “An American in Paris” and was rewarded with a Best picture award and that I suppose is all the encouragement he needed to repeat that travesty.
All in all this is a musical with some good songs, small segments that are actually funny, nice pictures throughout and clichés queuing up only to be broken by a few surprises near the middle. Is it enough to make it worthwhile watching? It might be. Is it enough to make it great? Nope.