4 Living Legends Part 2

day-midnightlaceMichele Morgan (1920-): A French beauty and leading lady for numerous decades known for integral roles in films in her native France and across the globe. Her filmography includes Michel Carne’s revered classic with Jean Gabin Port of Shadows as well as Carol Reed’s adroit drama Fallen Idol.

Nanette Fabray (1920-): Fabray had her roots in vaudeville and musical theater and I know her best for her memorably fun role in the Stanley Donen musical Band Wagon alongside Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, and of course, Oscar Levant. In the 1950s she was also paired with Sid Caesar on his eponymous “Caesar’s Hour.”

Rhonda Fleming (1923-): If Maureen O’Hara was Classic Hollywood’s favorite fiery redhead, Rhonda Fleming deserves to be thrown into the conversation as well, lending herself to many intriguing film-noir including classics like Out of the Past and lesser-known gems like The Spiral Staircase,  Cry Danger, and While the City Sleeps. The true “Queen of Technicolor” is still up for debate.

Doris Day (1924-): Undoubtedly the biggest star on this list, Doris Day was quite the extraordinary performer as a singer, actress, and comedienne. Her string of romcoms with Rock Hudson and Tony Randall were memorable including Pillow Talk. However, she also paired with the likes of James Garner and Cary Grant in Move Over Darling and That Touch of Mink respectively. If there was a big-name leading man in Hollywood there’s a good bet that Day sparred with them. She also showed off her dramatic chops in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, a film that boasted her signature song, “Que Sera, Sera.”

The Band Wagon (1953)

4c8bf-the_band_wagon_posterGoing into this film I must admit that despite hearing good things, I had zero expectations. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by this Minnelli musical because it was a deft and often beautiful production. Channeling the same vein as Singin’ in the Rain and The Red Shoes, this film is a spectacle in its own right. You have headliners Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse matched nicely. Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray act as wonderful comic relief as the wedded playwrights, who also do some song and dance. Finally, there is Jack Buchanan, as the stereotypical theater maestro Jeffrey Cordova.

It all begins with Tony Hunter (Astaire) a washed up has-been who is headed to New York for some relaxation. There is little fanfare during his arrival except coming from his friends the Martons, who have a new production for him to star in. They get the famed Cordova on board and next comes an up and coming choreographer and his girlfriend, who is none other than the young starlet Gabrielle Gerard (Charisse)

Following an initial misunderstanding, the leads finally clear up their differences and push forward to make The Band Wagon the smash hit it is destined to be. However, Cordova has turned it into a modern-day Faust and when opening night comes the after party is more like a wake.

All the players seem strangely nonchalant and then the idea hits! Make The Band Wagon over again and take it on the road. Everyone in the cast from the bottom up is excited for the second chance with Hunter at the helm. All that is except choreographer Paul Byrd.

Despite Paul’s departure, Gaby is still enthusiastic and they turn the Band Wagon into the production that the Martons had envisioned from the beginning. Tony is a success once again, and he receives a round of rousing cheers from his new family. Gaby speaks for all of them (and herself) when she says they love him and believe that the show will go forever.

I immensely enjoyed many of the numbers including: “Shine Your Shoes,” with the camera following Astaire as he frolics around at an arcade with a shoeshine man. The extras, the exquisite set, and Astaire himself all culminate in an often comical and always upbeat number that is great fun to watch. Then, of course, there is the ever memorable “That’s Entertainment,” which even spawned a series of musical documentaries, and for good reason. The words and melody are quite a catchy ode to the stage. Perhaps the most beautiful sequence in the film involves Astaire and Charisse in “Dancing in the Dark” where they positively glide through Central Park together in perfect cadence. They move not as individuals but as a poetic unit in motion. It is fitting that it was their first dance together in the film.

For never seeing Cyd Charisse in another film (except briefly in Singin’ in the Rain), I must say that I really did enjoy her performance opposite the always likable Fred Astaire. Furthermore, I am in complete agreement with her character, “I don’t think a dancer should smoke,” it’s bad for the lungs.

The cameo of Ava Garner was an odd surprise (especially due to her resemblance to Charisse). Furthermore, I never thought it could exist, but this film proved me wrong. There is such a thing as a film-noir musical! That’s The Band Wagon for you folks! That’s Entertainment!

4.5/5 Stars