The Bandwagon (1953)

astaire and charisse
Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire

'The Bandwagon' is an exhilarating MGM musical comedy made in 1953, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan. It is an uplifting "feel good" movie and in sheer quality has been likened to the classic musical 'Singing In The Rain' made a year earlier.

The movie was written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and an uncredited Alan Jay Lerner and the songs were written by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz including the finale song "That's Entertainment!", which has become a standard.

The movie was a poor performer at the box-office but received rave critical reviews and three Academy Award nominations for for Best Story and Screenplay, Best Costume Design (Color) and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, without actually winning an Oscar.

On the American Film Institute's list of best musicals 'The Bandwagon' is currently ranked at number 17. In 1995, the movie was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

The movie is classed as a "backstage musical," in which the characters put on a Broadway show (called, of course, "The Band Wagon").

Fred Astaire plays Tony Hunter a singer, dancer and movie actor who is worried that his career has seen better days. Clearly, the character is based on Astaire himself who was always going into retirement and making comebacks.

Tony Hunter returns to Broadway on a promise from two writer friends, Les and Lily Martin (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray), that they have written a smash hit new musical which they believe is perfect for his comeback. Their plans are hampered by the director, Jeffrey Cordova (played by Jack Buchanan), who has grandiose ideas about turning their lighthearted musical comedy into a dark Faustian opera with himself as the Devil.

Cordova recruits a star ballerina Gabrielle Gerard, played by Cyd Charisse, who argues fiercely with Tony when they first meet, but the pair make up through their superlative pas de deux in the "Dancing in the Dark" sequence in Central Park.

Predictably the new show is a disaster but Jeffery is persuaded to let Tony convert the production to the musical original. This of course is a hit on its Broadway opening.

The plot is thin at best but gets thinner towards the end with a series of songs and dances being performed in the new show. The movie ends with a grand finale reprising "That's Entertainment," with the whole cast joining in and putting the finishing touch to the film's feel good factor.

Interest in 'The Bandwagon' was heightened by the fact that many of the main characters were based on real people. So Fred Astaire was basically playing himself, a middle aged dancer, slightly past his best, and the inspiration for the pretentious Jeffrey Cordova was a mixture of the actor Jose Ferrer, Orson Welles and George S. Kaufman. Similarly the Cyd Charisse character was modeled on French ballerina Zizi Jeanmaire, who had become famous in the 1949 ballet version of Carmen. The writing partnership of Lester and Lily Marton was based on the film's actual screenwriters, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

Of course it is the music, the singing and above all, the dancing, that lifts 'The Bandwagon' into the realm of Classic movies. Cyd Charisse, although a modest actress, is generally regarded as the most technically gifted of Fred Astaire's dancing partners and the "Dancing in the Dark" number in one of the film's highspots. Another is the ebullient "Shine On Your Shoes" number in The Penny Arcade where Astaire is partnered by the shoeshine LeRoy Daniels. There are many other musical delights-the "Triplets" number with Astaire, Nanette Fabray, and Jack Buchanan as babies who hate each other, the colorful and innovative "Girl Hunt" ballet which sends up Mickey Spillane gangsterism using the modernistic choreography of Michael Kidd and of course the traditional closing number, the standard "That's Entertainment". And that's just what the movie is - great entertainment.

Main Cast

Fred Astaire ... Tony Hunter
Cyd Charisse ... Gabrielle Gerard
Oscar Levant ... Lester Marton
Nanette Fabray ... Lily Marton
Jack Buchanan ... Jeffrey Cordova
James Mitchell ... Paul Byrd - choreographer
Robert Gist ... Hal - Cordova's assistant
LeRoy Daniels ... Shoeshine Man
Thurston Hall ... Colonel Tripp


Director ... Vincente Minnelli
Producer ... Arthur Freed, Roger Edens
Written ... Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Alan Jay Lerner
Music ... Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz
Musical direction ... Adolphe Deutsch
Choreography ... Michael Kidd
Format ... Color (Technicolor)
Cinematography ... Harry Jackson
Distribution Company ... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date ... August 7, 1953
Running time ... 111 minutes

Academy Awards

No Wins:
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Story and Screenplay ... Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Scoring of a Musical Picture ... Adolph Deutsch
Costume Design, Color ... Mary Ann Nyberg