Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Directed by: Vincente Minnelli.
Produced by: Arthur Freed.
Written by: Betty Comden & Adolph Green.
Director of Photography: Harry Jackson.
Edited by: Albert Akst.
Music by: Arthur Schwartz. Lyrics by Howard Dietz.
Released by: Warner Home Video.
Country of Origin: USA. 111 min. Not Rated.
With: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan, Nanette Fabray, Oscar Levant & James Mitchell.
DVD Features: Audio commentary by Liza Minnelli & Michael Feinstein. Two documentaries: "Get Aboard! The Band Wagon" and The Men Who Made the Movies: Vincente Minnelli. Musical number outtake & dailies of “Two Faced Woman.” Musical short “Jack Buchanan with the Glee Quartet.” Fred Astaire trailer gallery. English, French & Spanish subtitles.

Fading movie star Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) moves from California to New York to perform in a new musical. When Broadway’s current hot director, Jeffery Cordova (Jack Buchanan), decides to try his hand at musicals, he turns Tony’s comeback into a “modern Faust” and hires a ballerina (Cyd Charisse) to dance opposite the hoofing Hunter. Cordova’s two costars instantly hate each other, and the New Haven opening is nothing short of disastrous.

The Band Wagon is perfect for the lover of backstage and slightly over-the-top MGM musicals. Fred Astaire is funny and charming as the washed-up actor, and his dances with Cyd Charisse are beautiful. Buchanan is hilarious as the know-it-all director, and Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant round the cast off as the quarreling married writing team. Many of the numbers are exuberant and clever (“Triplets,” “A Shine on Your Shoes,” and “That’s Entertainment”) while others are less memorable. The ending is slightly abrupt and unsatisfying, but overall this typical old-style musical comedy is still a fun watch.

DVD Extras: The commentary is banter between friends, director Vincente Minnelli’s daughter Liza and crooner Michael Feinstein. Having visited the film’s set when she was six years old, she provides personal anecdotes, and he offers historical background on the music. Much of the information here is also delivered in the concise featurette, "Get Aboard! The Band Wagon," which features interviews with screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, actors Charisse and Fabray, Fred Astaire’s daughter Ava Astaire McKenzie, and again Liza. (After taking a tip from Fabray, look for the wandering stagehand in the “Louisiana Hayride” number.) An older documentary produced for public television, The Men Who Made the Movies: Vincente Minnelli, discusses several of his films including Meet Me in St. Louis, Ziegfeld Follies and An American in Paris. It includes extensive footage from his films and an interview where he talks about working with Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. The focus is on his work; little mention is made of Minnelli’s personal life. And last in this two-disc set, footage of an unused musical number, “Two Faced Woman,” reveals a great song, and an early talkie musical short of “Jack Buchanan with the Glee Quartet” is extremely funny, giving the viewer a hint of Buchanan's days on the London stage. Lauren Hines
April 25, 2005



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