Scen.: Betty Comden, Adolph Green. F.: Harry Jackson. M.: Albert Akst. Scgf.: Cedric Gibbons, Preston Ames. Mus.: Adolph Deutsch, Arthur Schwartz . Int .: Fred Astaire (Tony Hunter), Cyd Charisse (Gabrielle ‘Gaby’ Gerard), Jack Buchanan (Jeffrey Cordova), Oscar Levant (Lester Marton), Nanette Fabray (Lillie Marton), James Mitchell (Paul Byrd), Robert Gist (Hal Benton), Thurston Hall (colonnello Tripp), Ava Gardner (se stesssa), LeRoy Daniels (lustrascarpe) . Prod.: Arthur Freed per MGM. 35mm. D.: 102’. Col.
The Band Wagon tells of the reconquering of a territory. That territory is the stage, and thus the entire world (the stage is a world, the world is a stage). In 1931, Fred Astaire, together with his sister Adele, had starred in a Broadway show of the same title. The songs were by Alfred Schwartz and Howard Dietz the film reuses five of these, while Schwartz and Dietz add others, some fished out from their repertoire and some original compositions (including that enthralling declaration of poetics, That’s Entertainment). Between numbers, we get to know here the character of Tony Hunter, an ex Broadway song and dance man with a (Hollywood) future behind him, someone who pretends to be more Astaire than Astaire. He returns just to discover that the theatrical scene has changed, the public is inattentive and, worse still, Art lies in ambush. However, it only takes him five minutes and the classic A Shine on Your Shoes to make the rhythm of a metropolitan arcade fall in line with him, to win the hearts of passers-by and to launch his comeback strategy.
The fact, though, is that the new world and the new scene are a burst of colours, and Tony/Astaire, while remaining faithful to his grey suit, must play on the colourful ground which, in 1953, excites the public’s imagination. But then, what are we really talking about when we talk about old and new? The edgy rereading of the musical show proposed by the formidable Jack Buchanan (someone who pretends to be Orson Welles) is based on Faust, and the staging is a riot of devils, scarlet backdrops and iridescent smoke reminiscent of a 1910s Pathécolor fantasy… The lesson of colour is not lost on Tony/Astaire who, finally taking over the reins of the show, shapes a breathtaking red dress on Cyd Charisse’s body in the Girl Hunt number. In any case, what matters is that the songs circulate and the dance steps give visual form to the emotions. And never before had that visual form achieved the purity of the couple’s night-time stroll in a MGM-made Central Park, of that movement through which the measured step of the walk morph into an airy dance by way of an unexpected, almost involuntary, highly revealing lateral swerve. Minnelli points his camera in the one and only right way. Et voilà an intermittence of the heart, at the movies. Sure, there is a sense of last-show melancholy here, and not only because of Astaire’s age or because of the competition of Gene Kelly: they would both continue to successfully share the musical screens throughout the Fifties: then it would all be over. For now, Tony Hunter provides a stronghold for a genre and a vision of the world (the world is a stage, the stage is a world). “Do you want the 1953 version of Tony Hunter? Fine. Here is the 1776 version of Tony Hunter instead!” As if he were a father to the nation. As if “a dance/with a touch of romance” were a right written into the Declaration of Independence. Or, as Michael Wood would put it: “If we are not Fred Astaire, then we will not live for ever”.
Da: Collezione privata di Martin Scorsese – MoMA per gentile cortesia di Sikelia Productions e Warner Bros.
1963 reissue IB Technicolor 35mm print