Title: The Band Wagon
Country: USA, French
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Romance
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Writers: Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Music: Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz
Cinematography: Harry Jackson
Forget about AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951) or GIGI (1958), this is “the” genuine chef d’oeuvre of a Minnelli musical, THE BAND WAGON is a glittering meta-pomp jauntily fights its corner for the middlebrow fluff over the highbrow pretension, not to mention it is where THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT! standard derives from.
An over-the-hill screen star, is given an opportunity to headline a Broadway musical to resuscitate his ebbing career, if the protagonist were a woman, the film would be Billy Wilder’s downbeat elegy SUNSET BLVD. (1950), but thanks to the showbiz’s ingrained double-standard, for a nimble-footed Tony Hunter (a 54-year-old Astaire), everything is rosy and eventually he is able to have his cake and eat it too! (actualizing a consequential comeback and simultaneously winning over the heart of his much younger leading lady.) However, enveloped in his aw-shucks and avuncular bonhomie, he is fortuitously accorded with a laissez-passer.
Creative license is put into comical use through the character of an omnipotent triple-threat Jeffrey Cordova (Buchanan, flip but nevertheless, an able hoofer), a very persuasive producer, a conceited director and a grandiloquent luvvie, who has been on a tear in Broadway and idiosyncratically decides to transpose the show’s fluffy original material into a boundary breaker, viz. a musical reinterpretation of Faust. Everyone has to humor him on the strength of his clout, only a disastrous tryout can drench him out of his airy-fairy excess. Thankfully he ekes out enough alacrity to let the self-knowledge-savvy Tony resumes the rein henceforward, and the movie’s money shots transpire in a string of pluperfect musical numbers, including the ingenious, knee-dancing ditty “Triplets” (Astaire, Buchanan and a sparkling, corn-fed Nanette Febray, who is particularly reminiscent of Astaire’s quondam partner Ginger Rogers), and is topped off by the entrancing “GIRL HUNT” ballet pas-de-deux between Astaire and a voluptuous Cyd Charisse in her crimson sheath dress, against a modern noir-ish scenography.
Endowed with a game and nimble cast (the monkey wrench in the works is a stooped Oscar Levant, often looks uncooperative and miffed on the sideline), THE BAND WAGON is a passé romance, lukewarm comedy but a sterling musical production, beaming with gems composed by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, choreographed by Michael Kidd, both ocularly and aurally, this first-time reviewer is stock-still bewitched with a waxing smile at the corner of his mouth.