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It's a shame that someone couldn't have written a better screenplay for
the Belle of New York, because there are some wonderful elements in
this film. Fred Astaire and Vera-Ellen made a great team. A seductive,
charming and talented dancer, Vera-Ellen's graceful yet physical style
was a good match for Astaire's smooth elegance. As it is, we only get
to see them dance together a few times in the Belle of New York, and
most of the time Vera-Ellen is bound up in an unflattering Salvation
Army-type uniform. But, hey, it's something. And they do have several
good solo turns. Astaire dances on top of the Arch in Washington Square
in New York City (or Hollywood's version of New York circa 1900), which
is kind of fun. Vera-Ellen does a great job in "Naughty But Nice,"
finally shedding her austere clothes for a colorful and sexy French
Can-Can outfit. And Astaire also sings and dances to what could have
been his signature tune, Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer's "I Wanna Be a
Alice Pearce provides some much-needed comic relief in a secondary role, and Keenan Wynn and Marjorie Main do their best, but they're pretty much defeated by the weak writing and the undeveloped and uninteresting story. The score by Warren and Mercer is mostly strong. And, as always, Fred's sheer talent, joy and artistry make up for a lot. If you want to see Fred dance on a horse's back (or the Hollywood version of a horse's back) this is your film. But you'll have to get through some pretty campy and technically suspect special effects that show people "dancing on air." For the general viewer, I'd recommend about 20 other Astaire musicals before this one. The Belle of New York is mostly for serious Fred fans, Vera-Ellen fans or those who are in the mood for an inoffensive Technicolor musical about ye olde New-York.
Fred Astaire wrote in his autobiography that he was personally hurt by
the critical and box-office failure of this Freed Unit musical, adapted
very loosely from a turn-of-the-century stage success. You can see why
audiences rejected it, but you can also see he was right to be proud.
The story is trite even for a musical, and nothing can liven up the
dead space between numbers -- not Marjorie Main playing to the gallery,
not Alice Pearce frumping about predictably, and most certainly not the
central conceit of the central romance, which is that love makes our
young sweethearts (the script keeps referring to Astaire as "young
man," which he plainly is not at this point) literally walk, and dance,
The gimmickry gets in the way of a couple of numbers, too: Astaire and Ellen dance on a hapless horse's back, and Astaire cavorts atop the Washington Square arch. Still, the Warren-Mercer score, though it contains no hits, is tuneful, clever, and well suited to the meager plot; the MGM Orchestra is irresistibly lush; and the Technicolor gorgeously shows off the handsome production. In short, the film may be a triumph of studio engineering over inspiration, but as long as the stars are dancing, it's a delight.
Vera-Ellen partners Astaire charmingly, even if she's not the world's most dynamic actress, and she has a fun solo, "Naughy But Nice." As for Astaire, he's his usual self, and we'd want it no other way. His best number is the one least dependent on special effects, "I Wanna Be a Dancin' Man." "Gonna leave my footsteps on the sands of time," he sings. You surely did, Mr. A.
The Belle of New York is not one of Fred Astaire's best movies but it is nowhere near his worst. Everything about the movie is sweet, charming and light. Vera Ellen is one of the best dancers in Hollywood and a great partner for Fred. The color is beautiful. The sets and the costumes are fantastic, and while it is true it is not one of the strongest stories, there are some good laughs along the way. The music is charming. The dancing is excellent. And the movie just glides along, mostly due to the very plentiful musical numbers. If you want some dramatic tension, look elsewhere. This movie has none. If you like musicals, if you like good dancing, in particular if you like Vera Ellen, this movie is a must see. The quality of the DVD release is excellent.
In Fred Astairs autobiography "Steps In Time" he admits that he had
been avoiding making this film for years. He had retired from the
movies, but came back to replace Gene Kelly in "Easter Parade" because,
so the excuse goes, that he broke his ankle playing touch-football, but
the fact was that Kelly just didn't want to do the film, so the broken
ankle was just was it was - a ply to get out of making the movie! So,
back on the M.G.M. lot, once again, Fred finally came to grips with the
fact that he would have to, once and for all, make the film he was
dreading to make, and if he had not come out of retirement, he would
never have had the attempt making it.
So, what's wrong with Belle of New York? Acutually nothing. It was a fantasy and Astaire didn't feel to good about making a fantasy film. He admits in his autobiography that he believed that the film would play very well today. It was just the wrong timing, and here we go with the films that flop, like a bottle of wine, age with time and finally become the hit they should have in their initial release.
But, there are good songs and dance numbers. Once again, Anita Ellis ghost sings for Vera Ellen in "Naughty Butg Nice". Majorie Main is, well, Marjorie Main, but the dancing in the air over the city is a little much even for Fred Astair and at the end when he and Vera Ellen finally fall in love and dance over the city in the air, Astaire stated that he knew where they stood with this one when he and Vera Ellen are dancing in the air at the end and some woman watching the end said in earshot of Astaire, "Well, how silly can you get!" And Astaire said, "We then knew where we stood with this one!" But, he also said that even if the movie is a flop or not, at least you get paid, and how much did he admit to, "Once again, for making the film, I got a fortune!" It one of the That's Entertainment movies, Debbie Reynolds had us see how much of a perfectionist Astaire was by screening the different versions of "I Wanna Be A Dancin' Man" side by side, and in another That's Entertainment movie, Gene Kelly asked Fred Astaire, "Is it true that you once said that all you wanted to do was be a dancin' man, and Astaire said, "That's not true at all! I never said that!" And immediately, they played the number from "The Belle of New York"! But, Fred was right about one thing, the movie DOES play very well today, and is very entertaining. Once again, it was just too far ahead of its time and needed to age like a good bottle of wine! Guess what? It aged beautifully!
This was one of Astaire's few critical and box office losers. The
flaws, in hindsight, are obvious. The New York playboy Astaire plays is
charming but an emotional light-weight. He finds love eventually and he
never loses his charm. Still, he's a shallow guy. The Salvation
Army-type lass he falls in love with is played by Vera-Ellen, who was
always perky and a supremely proficient dancer. Still, there's
something chilly, to my mind, about her dancing. She can do any step
Astaire does, but does it with little spontaneity. The smile on her
face while she dances never changes. The comedy relief doesn't seem
very amusing. The story serves merely as a quick bridge between
extended musical numbers. I don't mind this at all, but it does make
the story seem like an afterthought.
But the good things are fine. The 1880's Currier and Ives look is warm and charming. The Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer songs are easy to listen to. Most of all, there is Astaire and his dancing. The film features, I think I got this right, eight musical sequences, most of them major productions. Astaire is in all but one. The highlights for me are:
--"Baby Doll," a sweet. wooing number sung by Astaire to Vera-Ellen and then danced in a relaxed and easy-going style by the two.
--"Seeing's Believing" has Astaire singing and dancing around and on the Washington Square Arch. The idea is that love has him floating. The routine uses camera tricks and false backgrounds to create the illusion he's on the top of the arch teetering and tapping. Not for viewers who suffer acrophobia, but this extended Astaire routine is a lot of fun.
--"I Wanna Be a Dancin' Man," is a classic. It's just Astaire, a stage and some sand on the floor. Everything works in this number, including the Warren-Mercer song:
I wanna be a dancin' man while I can, / Gonna leave my footsteps on the sands of time, / If I never leave a dime.
Never be a millionaire, I don't care, / I'll be rich as old King Midas might have been, / Least until the tide comes in.
The Belle of New York is a proficient movie, and you don't have to spend much time waiting for the next dance number to arrive.
The Belle of New York is a romantic musical comedy about a rich playboy Charlie Hill, played by the legendary Fred Astaire, who very much falls in love with a girl called Angela Bonfils (Vera Ellen) and he does everything to get this girl to himself. No time and they're getting married.Fred Astaire was a great performer.He could sing, he could dance, he could jump to the sky and fly.In this movie love really makes him fly in the air. The Belle of New York is a nice musical.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After all of the largely irrelevant negative comments I had read, I
found this a surprisingly fun and charming film, with lots of great
songs by two of the best tunesmiths in the business:Harry Warren and
Johnny Mercer. With legendary Robert Alton as chief choreographer and
Arthur Freed as producer, and with Fred Astaire and Vera-Ellen as
leads, it's hard to imagine this film turning out a bore.For once,
Vera-Ellen(VE) doesn't have to share the spotlight with one or more
other female leads. She demonstrates that she could hold her own in the
dramatic aspects of the film, as well as the musicals. True, she
doesn't do any singing or dancing in the first portion of the film, but
gets going in a reluctant dance with Astaire, as he croons "Baby Doll".
Despite being a prim up-tight leader of a lost soul-reforming women's
group, this beautiful woman is affectionately dubbed 'the Belle of New
York' by her male clientele. Her very plain-looking friend, Elsie,
played by character actress Alice Pearse, provides occasional support
for VE and occasional humor throughout the film. Rich womanizing
playboy Fred Astaire happens upon VE at one of her outdoor rallies, is
immediately smitten by her looks and character, and spends most of the
rest of the film wooing her. Implausibly, she is discovered to be an
excellent stage dancer and singer, making us wonder what she did before
adopting her current repressed lifestyle! Incongruously, Astaire finds
that he literally levitates whenever he thinks of her, and eventually
she reciprocates in like fashion. Silly, yes, but this is reminiscent
of Astaire's first significant Hollywood film role, in which he dances
with Joan Crawford on an airborn magic carpet! Of course, he also
danced on the ceiling and walls of his room in "Royal Wedding", in
celebration of his new found love! Yes, magical happenings are hardly
unique to this unjustly much maligned film. The worn, but sometimes
valid, take-home message is that true love of and by a good woman can
go a long way toward transforming a bad or shiftless man into a good
Astaire and VE had previously been paired as leads in the musical "Three Little Words", but both had to share the spotlight with singing coleads, who were essentially absent in this film. The film moves along at a pretty steady pace, with frequent musical numbers in a variety of settings, including an illusionary dangerous dance by Astaire along the ledge of a high building. Other musical highlights include a romantic dance by the duo while Astaire sings "Oops", a series of romantic dances by the duo in various Currier and Ives settings, "Naughty, but Nice", performed by VE, then by Elsie, and Astaire's opening "Who Wants to Kiss the Bridegroom?" and closing "I Want to be a Dancing Man". The catchy title waltz is featured 3 times.
VE's requirement that Astaire take on a menial job as part of his rehabilitation as a useful human, worthy of her love, leads to a variety of comedic disasters, as he is fired from one job after another for his inattention or horseplay, usually while trying to impress or see VE. No matter to VE. At least he tried, made a perfect dance partner for her, and made her levitate. Unfortunately, the night before their wedding, friends kept showing up, requiring Astaire to toast the bride. His hangover makes him late for the wedding. Meanwhile, he has decided he is no good for VE, and resists VE's plea that she is OK to go on with the wedding. However, VE and Elsie show up at the restaurant where Astaire is a waiter, dressed quite garishly, to show him they aren't quite all sugar ans spice. Astaire socks an admirer, resulting in a general melee, after which he and VE argue about their treatment of and feelings for each other, while they are levitating. The chorus of restaurant patrons encores "The Belle of New York", as they dance off into space.
This was a perfect role for VE to carry a large share of the drama, as she reportedly was introverted off stage, as was her character in most of the non-musical portions of the film. Ditto for her role in "Call Me Madam". Astaire may have been implausibly old for his character, but that was often true of the top male Hollywood icons of old(think Gable, Grant, Cooper), and he obviously could still dance up a storm, and be an effective all around entertainer.
Alice Pearse, who served as VE's plain-looking friend, Elsie, was especially noted for her raucous cackle and lack of a chin. The two women were also connected as friends and dates for Gene Kelly in the previous musical "On the Town"...The beautiful Gail Robbins has a minor role as Astaire's Calamity Jane-like almost wife, whom he dumps when he meets VE. She also appeared with Astaire and VE in "Three Little Words", where she was also dumped as an almost wife, but not before exhibiting her singing talent, having been a singer for various big bands.
Astaire's last MGM musical: "Silk Stockings" would have a basically similar plot role for Astaire: taking on the challenge of trying to thaw out an emotionally repressed ice princess in drab uniform. This was a much longer, and more popular film, with Cyd Charisse taking Vera-Ellen's role, and a more complex, politically relevant, screenplay.
The song "Baby Doll" was originally composed for "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", but the scene, with Gene Kelly and Esther Williams, was cut.
Not necessarily a bad film, in fact it is quite pleasant, but it is not
really one that sticks long in the memory for me. The script is weak
mostly with nothing really sticking out, while the story is both
forgettable and underdeveloped. The film is too short I feel too and
some scenes in the middle feel a little unfocused in the pace.
On the other hand, there is much to like. I liked the look of the film, it wasn't anything spectacular, but the sets, lighting and costumes are very nice and the photography is crisp enough. The songs and score are great, as is the dancing. Then there are Fred Astaire and Vera Ellen, despite the script and story they give it their all making their characters likable and they sing and dance a dream.
Overall, not anything to rave about but a nice enough diversion. 6/10 Bethany Cox
Although I have no quarrel with Joseph's mostly astute comments about
THE BELLE OF NEW YORK, I must question his assertion that Gene Kelly
never wanted to do EASTER PARADE and faked an injury to get out of it.
Can Joseph cite a source for this assertion? There are many sources
that cite Kelly's injury as a real one. (As a contract player, how
could he have faked it, anyway?) The only controversy at the time was
that Kelly told MGM he'd hurt his foot during rehearsals, when in
reality he'd broken it at his home playing one of his fiercely
competitive games of football. Judy Garland -- Irving Berlin -- Arthur
Freed producing -- why wouldn't Kelly have wanted to get in on such a
project? It had "hit" written all over it, and of course that's exactly
what it turned out to be when it was finally released with Astaire in
-- Preston Neal Jones
The mostly negative reviews relating to this movie miss the mark. Although the script and special effects are undeniably weak, the partnered dancing of Fred Astaire and Vera-Ellen has never been equaled. One dance of particular note is the finale to the Currier and Ives number. It's simply breathtaking. Don't worry about the plot when you're watching the two best dancers in the history of Hollywood at the zenith of their powers.
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