One of the best musicals of all-time, "The Band Wagon" is not only one of Fred Astaire's final few gems, but a vehicle that also serves as a coming-out party for the buxom Cyd Charisse, one of the finest dancers of the Hollywood Golden Age. Filled with beautifully choreographed numbers and an entertaining assortment of catchy songs, "The Band Wagon" can do no wrong. It's perfect on nearly every level.
Astaire portrays Tony Hunter, a movie-star that's in the has-been period of his career. People already are forgetting his name, but Tony knows that it isn't too late for a comeback, so he decides it would be right to get a role in a theatrical musical. Lucky for him, his best friends Lester (Oscar Levant) and Lily (Nanette Fabray) Marton have written a play perfect for him, with renowned director Jeffery Cordova (Jack Buchanan) at the helm, and famous ballerina Gaby Gerard (Charisse) as his co-star.
At first, the prospects are great, but things quickly take a downturn. Cordova decides to turn the Marton's play into a musical retelling of "Faust," and Tony clashes with Gaby after she accidentally insults him. On opening night, the production is a bust -- but could things turn around?
A minor success when it was first released, as it followed the masterwork of "Singin' in the Rain," today, "The Band Wagon" is renowned as being the best of the best, if you don't consider "Singin'" to be so. They're obviously both terrific films, and could easily serve as a double feature. Both feature satirical and highly witty comedy, great performances, and a male-star to hold it all together-- in this case, Fred Astaire's the man.
The role is nearly biographical for the actor -- at the time the film came out, Astaire wasn't necessarily a has-been, but he was nowhere near the massive successes he so vividly starred in with Ginger Rogers. But as both he, and the character he's playing, remind us, just because you're a little older doesn't mean you're any worse. Astaire as usual, is simply fantastic here. He has a charming voice (though he never believed it himself), and he performs his dance routines just as well as he did when he was in his 30s, maybe even better at the tender age of 54. He can do no wrong.
His chemistry with Charisse surprisingly works quite well -- though there is a large-age difference between them, they dance together with ease, and their romantic relationship in the film never rings false. Charisse's glamorous façade meshes well with Astaire's lightheartedness and intelligence. This is perhaps, her best film; though she made a bevy of movies in her time, this is the one that flaunts her vamp image and extraordinary dancing skills with the finest professionalism. And, she's a good actress to boot.
But the film doesn't just boast star power -- the dance routines are just as excellent. Highlights include "Dancing in the Dark," in which Astaire and Charisse do an old-fashioned number in Central Park at night; "Triplets," sees Astaire, Fabray, and Levant dress up like babies and do an entire dance on their knees; and "Girl Hunt Ballet," is an extensive and highly impressive tribute to film noir.
"The Band Wagon" simply, is amazing. This is one of the best, and deserves its status as a classic.