Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Band Wagon (1953)


Written by Tim Dirks

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Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Band Wagon (1953)

In director Vincente Minnelli's and MGM's great movie musical (with Michael Kidd as choreographer) under the guidance of MGM producer Freed, this extravagant, big-scale classic romantic comedy marked a pinnacle for backstage musicals. Five songs were reprised from the original 1931 Broadway musical - The Band Wagon (which also starred Astaire), created by the song-writing team of lyricist Howard Dietz and composer Arthur Schwartz. With a witty screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, it has often been thought of as Fred Astaire's best MGM musical, although it did poorly at the box-office. It had only three Academy Award nominations, including Best Musical Score (Adolph Deutsch), Best Original Story/Screenplay, and Best Color Costume Design:

  • Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire), a fading Hollywood movie star and a song-and-dance man (known for his top-hat, cane and tails acts and as "the grand old man of the dance") was interested in a Broadway comeback in NYC
  • in the film's opening sequence upon his arrival in NYC, Tony Hunter performed the solo song "By Myself" as he strolled down Grand Central Station's railroad platform when a mob of photographers and reporters ignored him and instead favored the arrival of Ava Gardner (as Herself)
  • one of Hunter's earliest numbers was the duet "A Shine On Your Shoes" with a black shoeshine boy (Leroy Daniels) in a 42nd Street penny arcade
  • Tony was chosen to perform in a new light-hearted stage musical (known as 'The Band Wagon') scripted by his friends Lily Marton (Nanette Fabray) and Lester Marton (Oscar Levant), a show-writing couple who would also perform in their own play
  • the Martons promoted acclaimed actor-director Jeffery Cordova (Jack Buchanan) to be the director of 'The Band Wagon', although he had never directed a musical comedy; Hunter was paired with Broadway novice and rising, long-legged, classically-trained ballerina Gabrielle "Gaby" Gerard (Cyd Charisse) as his co-star; to convince her to join the show, Cordova offered Gaby's mentor and possessive boyfriend Paul Byrd (James Mitchell) the position of choreographer
  • a clash of egos and changes in the playwrights' original intentions occurred when the rising, pretentious theater star/actor Jeffrey Cordova became the "artistic" director and insisted on a rewrite - to make it a modernistic, dark Faustian tale
  • in the musical, Cordova's role in the play would be as the Devil disguised as a book publisher, while Tony would be Faust and take the role of a children's book author who was compelled to write lurid yet lucrative murder mysteries to make a living; Cordova described the theme: "Just like Faust, this man is tempted by the Devil and his compromise, his sell out, must end in eternal damnation"
  • the musical also featured the well-recognized anthem song - a hymn to show business - "That's Entertainment" that was sung and danced by the ensemble, and also reprised at the end of the film
"That's Entertainment" (two renditions)
  • to test their dancing compatibility, the duo of white-suited Hunter and white-dressed ballerina Gabrielle went for a carriage ride in Central Park, and then performed the sublime, classic, graceful, and elegant 'getting to know you' love duet and production number "Dancing in the Dark"
  • although the premiere of Cordova's modified show failed miserably in its debut in New Haven, Connecticut, it eventually succeeded when it was revamped, rewritten and returned to the Martons' original script and songs; the show became a huge success as it traveled to Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, before returning to Broadway
  • another of the film's numbers was an elegant soft-shoe dance of tuxedoed, top-hatted Tony and producer-director Jeffrey Cordova to the tune: "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan"
  • in the film's dance finale, Tony and Gabrielle appeared in the film's jazzy balletic 8-minute dreamy, pulp B-movie production number: the "Girl-Hunt Ballet" (memorably choreographed by Michael Kidd) - it was a film-noirish take-off or satire of Mickey Spillane's hard-boiled pulp detective novels; in the number, Hunter and "Gaby" portrayed the characters of private eye Rod Riley and two dangerous, sinister femme fatales - a blonde and a brunette siren in a slinky, sparkling red dress ("She came at me in sections...more curves than the scenic railway.... She was bad! She was dangerous. I wouldn't trust her any farther than I could throw her. But, she was my kind of woman")
  • the show was an immediate hit, and Gabrielle (who had broken up with Paul) confessed her love for Tony, and praised him for managing and saving the show: "We've come to love you, Tony. We belong together. The show's going to run a long time. As far as I'm concerned, it's going to run forever''

"By Myself"

"A Shine On Your Shoes"

"Dancing in the Dark"

"I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan"

"The Girl Hunt" Ballet

Praise for Tony by the Cast and "Gaby" as the Film Ended


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