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Tony Hunter, a famous singer/dancer movie star, is feeling washed up and old hat (old top hat, tie and tails to be exact). The reporters are out for Ava Gardner, not him. But his old friends Lily and Les Martin have an idea for a funny little Broadway show and he agrees to do it. But things begin to get out of hand, when bigshot "artistic" director/producer/star Jeffrey Cordova joins the production, proclaims it's a modernistic Faust and insists on hiring a prima ballerina, Gabrielle Gerard, to star opposite Tony, and it's hate at first sight. And her jealous choreographer isn't helping to ease the tension. The show is doomed by pretentiousness. But romance, a "let's put on a show" epiphany, and a triumphant opening are waiting in the wings. After all, this is a musical comedy! Written by
Ginger Rogers met Fred Astaire in New York in the early 1930s and they dated briefly. She saw him perform in the original Broadway production of this show. She was enraptured by his dancing with Tilly Losch and wrote: "If I had known that I was going to be Fred's partner in a matter of months, I would have paid closer attention to each move and pause". See more »
In the second scene of the movie in which a Caucasian man is pointing to a picture of Tony Hunter in a magazine, the hand he points with is not his, as it is dark-skinned. See more »
Basically, the only competition for The Band Wagon (TBW) for the title of MGM's Uncontested Musical Champion is Singin' In The Rain (SITR). SITR is certainly the better-known of the two and features one of film's iconic dance sequences. That said, in an itemized comparison, TBW is the winner and by more than a nose.
Star: Astaire over Kelly. As usual. (Stop that. You know it's true. There's no point in contesting it.)
Co-star: Cyd Charisse slam-dunks the ever-annoying Debbie Reynolds (herself a major overall factor in SITR's loss to TBW), but herself gets trounced by Jean Hagen (best squeaky virago ever). A draw.
Supporting: Jack Buchanan, Oscar Levant, and Nanette Fabray triple-team Donald O'Connor (in his defining and best screen performance) and edge out a victory.
Choreography: Kelly and O'Connor (under Kelly's direction) hoof up a storm, just outdoing Astaire and Charisse. Kelly's title track number over Astaire/Charisse's Dancing In The Dark, although the latter is the best duet Astaire's done since Night and Day with Ginger Rogers, and is itself a textbook to economy, style, and subtlety in choreography.
Music: Dietz and Schwartz over Freed and Brown. Despite Louisiana Hayride being a kitsch feature almost unparalleled in MGM musical history.
Book: Comden and Green's TBW ties Comden and Green's SITR.
Finale: Girl Hunt Ballet over Broadway Rhythm Ballet. By a mile. The former is tongue-in-cheek, visually-engaging despite its smaller scale, and imaginatively-choreographed. The latter a bit obvious and, in typical Kelly style, a little heavy-handed in its inclusion of "serious", "dramatic" elements. Cyd Charisse too, too hot in both, of course.
Overall: SITR lights up in the Hagen-Kelly sparring and O'Connor's zinging bits, as well as in the "early days of talkies" bits and the proto-postmodernism of the Beautiful Girls sequence, but Debbie Reynolds and the love interest numbers cause the film to drag and buckle. TBW, by contrast, hums throughout, going from strength to strength: Buchanan's God of the The-ah-tuh role, Levant as Levant, Astaire's wistful By Myself, Triplets (why no Hoops?), the disaster that is the Damnation Scene, Astaire and Buchanan, signifiers for "class", soft-shoeing on I Guess I'll Have To Change My Plan. An uninterruptedly-enjoyable movie, from start to finish.
So, there you have it. See The Band Wagon. Become a TBW fanatic. It's that simple.
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