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The Bandwagon

16 Oct

The Bandwagon – directed by Vincente Minnelli – a backstage musical in which a fading movie hoofer resumes his Broadway career, except with a director of Orson Wellesian pretension, except, as well, with a snooty ballerina! – 112 minutes 1953

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I just slightly prefer Fred Astaire to Gene Kelly, so I barely prefer this to Singing In The Rain as my favorite musical of that era. Astaire performs phenomenal feet feats and especially with a negro shoeshine man in the opening sequence. (It’s well worth hearing Lisa Minnelli tell the story of that man in the Extras.) Astaire dances beautifully with Cyd Charisse, whose long waist bends back in his arm like an osier. Setting Ginger Rogers aside, Cyd Charisse was one of the two greatest dancers he ever danced with (the other being Rita Hayworth), because Charisse’s power, attack, musicality, and joy in dance were even greater than his own. Charisse was essentially a comedic dancer, a quality clearly shown in Black Tights, Singing In The Rain, and here. Her humor is embodied, reserved, and always in play. A member of The Ballets Russe from the time she was a child, she is less a prima ballerina assoluta than a character dancer, and this is why films were so right for her. She was a great physical beauty, with a slender, swift, lithe body, and those legs that go on forever, don’t they? So the Mickey Spillane take-off at the end is perfect for her. She never tips her hand as a satirist, and what’s so entertaining is how sexy she is in succeeding in doing that. The script is full of fun, and Nanette Fabray is full of beans as the better half of the script-writing team putting on the show, and Jack Buchanan is full of himself as the director of the turkey. Minnelli organized color schemes and Oliver Smith’s sets to give absolute support and humor to the whole — a masterpiece of tone in every department. Wonderful songs! Just a delight! An essential movie and an essential musical! Aw, shut up, Bruce; like Jack Buchanan, you might be overselling it.

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