The Band Wagon
Reviewed by Ally
Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) is a former musical star whom the general public now considers passé. Married writing partners Lester and Lily Marton (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray) plan Tony’s comeback by casting him in their latest stage musical, The Band Wagon; a lighthearted story about a children’s author who writes lurid crime novels on the side.
Tony struggles to connect with his balletic costar Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse) and director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan), a dramatic sensation who decides to stage the play as a modern retelling of Faust. When the show inevitably flops, the diverse cast and crew must pull together to salvage it.
The final number of the revamped show is the Girl Hunt, an epic production in which Tony plays Rod Riley, a Mike Hammer-esque detective on the hunt for a murderer and a beautiful blonde played by Gabrielle. On his search he encounters a brunette femme fatale, also played by Gabrielle, and several violent gangsters. The sequence is narrated in hardboiled style by Tony.
The Girl Hunt reaches its climax in Dem Bones Cafe, a seedy bar where each customer has their own stylized dance. Detective Riley meets the seductive brunette again, and the pair share the best dance of the entire film. The sequence has proved highly influential, acting as the inspiration for Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal video.
The Band Wagon was the first Fred Astaire film I saw, and I immediately thought he was wonderful. Having now seen dozens more of his movies, I feel a little disappointed upon revisiting The Band Wagon. The plot is admittedly sturdier than Astaire’s farces of the 1930s — in that it couldn’t be undone by one character correcting one misunderstanding — but the song and dance routines (the Girl Hunt aside) lack the magical quality that Fred at his best possessed. I’m grateful to The Band Wagon for introducing me to Fred Astaire a few years ago, but I won’t often revisit it now I’ve seen what he could achieve with Ginger Rogers.