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With: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan, James Mitchell, Ava Gardner
Written by: Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 112
Date: 07/09/1953

The Band Wagon (1953)

4 Stars (out of 4)

'Band' Jive

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The vibrantly talented but viciously uneven director Vincente Minnelli turned in his most streamlined and cohesive film with The Band Wagon, starring Fred Astaire as Tony Hunter, a washed-up movie star hoping for a comeback on Broadway. His married playwright pals (played by Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray, no doubt inspired by the husband-and-wife screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green) write a comedy for him, and ballet star Gaby (Cyd Charisse) signs on, but egotistical director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) turns it into a pretentious Faust adaptation. Astaire is just right and he has chemistry with the lovely Charisse, but Buchanan is a little precious in his role as the triple-threat auteur (possibly inspired by Orson Welles?). The songs by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz aren't that memorable, and if I ever hear "That's Entertainment!" again, it'll be too soon. But Minnelli gives the numbers an uncanny grace, especially the more cluttered ones like "A Shine on Your Shoes" and the celebrated Mickey Spillane parody "Girl Hunt." Minnelli is more at home with plenty going on, and he orchestrates it with great energy. This is a movie with far more high points than low. Even if the highest highs don't quite reach his very best work in Meet Me in St. Louis and An American in Paris, on the whole it's one of the best musicals ever made.

Warner Home Video presents The Band Wagon in a spectacular two-disc set. The film itself bursts with vibrant Technicolor, and is available in a new stereo score as well as the original mono score. Minnelli's daughter Liza provides a commentary track, along with Michael Feinstein. Disc One also includes a trailer gallery for eight Astaire movies (Broadway Melody of 1940, Ziegfeld Follies, Easter Parade, The Barkleys of Broadway, Three Little Words, The Band Wagon, Silk Stockings and Finian's Rainbow).

Disc Two begins with the new 37-minute making-of featurette Get Aboard! The Band Wagon. It continues with Richard Schickel's vintage hour-long television special The Men Who Made the Movies: Vincente Minnelli, featuring interviews with Minnelli. A musical short highlights Jack Buchanan and the Glee Quartet, and finally, we get Cyd Charisse's excised musical number "Two-Faced Woman," which is also featured in the 1994 documentary That's Entertainment! Part III.

The Band Wagon is sold by itself and also in a new box set, Broadway to Hollywood featuring four other movies:Vincente Minnelli's tepid Bells Are Ringing(1960) features Judy Holliday as an answering service operator who falls inlove with playwright Dean Martin; its tuneless songs, excessive running timeand blocky staging occasionally give way to a few dazzling set pieces. Minnelli'stotal misfire Brigadoon (1954)stars Gene Kelly who discovers a mystical village that comes to life for oneday every 100 years. Charles Walters' minor but likable Easter Parade(1948) features Judy Garland and Fred Astairesinging some good Irving Berlin tunes. Like The Band Wagon, Easter Parade comesin a two-disc set with lots of extras, including a new feature-lengthdocumentary, Judy Garland: By Myself.Finally, 29 year-old Francis Ford Coppola directs the 69 year-old Fred Astairein Finian's Rainbow (1968).Astaire tries his best but gets lost among the film's gauzy, flower-powerimagery and bloated, 145-minute running time.

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