That’s Entertainment!

Posted: 14/08/2013 in 1953


From some inexplicable reason, Vincente Minnelli’s The Band Wagon is a film that I did not want to like.  As far as I was concerned, the Fred Astaire era was history.  The MGM style of musicals has been gradually giving way to new more innovate types of musicals, like Lili (if, again, you can really even call that film a musical).  The glitz and glamour of old Hollywood has been replaced by the new kids in the form of Brando and Clift.  So as a result, I did not want to like The Band Wagon.  For the first half hour or more I was doing pretty well.  Some of the dance numbers were good, but it just felt overly nostalgic.  And then at some point about 1/3 of the way in, something about this film (and I’m still not sure what) triggered me to change my opinion.  I have a strong appreciation for films that say goodbye to an old style or genre, and I believe that The Band Wagon is a poignant goodbye to the MGM musical.

Let me first of all highlight what I absolutely loved most about this film:  the cinematography is GORGEOUS!  This is the best color has looked on film all year.  Some of the more stylistic final scenes are especially stunning on celluloid.  What starts out as a fairly standard set in a fairly standard film ends up jumping off the screen bursting with color and style by the final act.  I truly going to be hard pressed to see a finer looking film in color this year!  Vincente Minnelli really must be credited for giving us something rather original in, again, what I consider to be the final goodbye to the MGM musical.  While parts of the film are rather pedestrian, there are some other scenes that are some of the best looking and original of the year.  Of course this film did not write itself so credit must be given to the team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green for for a rather witty and smart screenplay in the same year the made us sit through Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Although I was having a difficult time fully enjoying the concept in the beginning, I completely bought into the humor of it all in the end.

While the acting in this film was not my favorite of the year, I do feel it necessary to recognize an aging Fred Astaire here.  In the beginning he really does feel out of place with some of the acting that is emerging this year, but then you realize that is the whole point.  Mr. Astaire knows his place in time right now, and when he embraces it he gives us a surprisingly rounded and rather touching performance.  I don’t know if will be one of the top performances to be considered by year’s end, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Astaire gets some recognition for his body of work as a whole and what he has done for the culture of film. Additionally, Jack Buchanan is utterly hilarious as the pretentious director, and Cyd Charisse is quite possibly the most beautiful woman to appear on the big screen this year, even if their performances are not likely to be recognized by year’s end.  In any case, allow yourself to enjoy this one, embrace the zaniness of it all, and strap in for some of the best musical sequences of the year in a film that manages to be a standard musical yet wholly original.

***1/2 ~AOS


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