Wednesday, December 29, 2010

DVD Review: THE BAND WAGON (MGM, 1953)

Nicky loves Fred Astaire and strongly urged me to watch this, one of her favorite Astaire flicks. This Arthur Freed musical, aside from featuring a number of sprightly tunes (including one stone-cold classic), is an interesting comment of sorts on a peculiar phenomenon that accompanied Dwight Eisenhower's ascendancy to the White House -- namely, the installation of the overly intellectual "egghead" as a figure of fun. Venerable Hollywood singer/dancer Tony Hunter (Astaire), feeling a bit behind the times, agrees to star in a comeback show penned by two Broadway friends (Nanette Fabray, Oscar Levant), only to have artistically pretentious director Jeffrey Cordova (the British stage actor Jack Buchanan in his most memorable film role) masticate the simple tale and regurgitate it in the form of a modern-day version of Faust. The full-of-itself production bombs, Cordova mends his ways, and soon, we're back to a far more light-hearted show that culminates with a memorable musical tribute to the popular "tough guy" novels of Mickey Spillane. Oh, and Astaire winds up falling in love with his graceful ballerina co-star (Cyd Charisse). Add the introduction of the iconic Hollywood "theme song" "That's Entertainment" as part of the festivities, and you've got a thoroughly enjoyable piece of craftsmanship. Granted, the thing has about as much intellectual "nutritive value" as a Mallomar, but it's refreshing to watch a film that exists for no other reason than to make people smile as they're leaving the theatre.

Speaking of smiling, Nicky can personally vouch for the fact that I guffawed out loud while watching the "Triplets" number.  Now, I know that a lot of modern-day stars have taken on rather strange roles, but just try to imagine an A-lister's reaction to being asked to recreate this business. In animation, maybe, but in live-action?!

The DVD we watched also included a bunch of trailers from other Astaire efforts, ranging from The Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940) to Finian's Rainbow (1968). Viewing these clips in succession provides sort of a mini-history of the development of Hollywood musicals, from the "let's put on a show and to heck with the plot" era to the "let's try to recapture that old Sound of Music magic" compulsion that nearly drowned several studios in oceans of red ink. Astaire's class, however, remains a welcome constant.


Joe Torcivia said...


You wrote:
“…is an interesting comment of sorts on a peculiar phenomenon that accompanied Dwight Eisenhower's ascendancy to the White House -- namely, the installation of the overly intellectual "egghead" as a figure of fun.”

I’m curious… Did the “humor at the expense of the egghead” really begin in the fifties? And prior to that, not so much… or at all? Sure crackpot scientists and absent minded experts like Ludwig Von Drake abounded in the fifties, sixties, and beyond. This was certainly so in Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Probably the result of the Atomic and Nuclear Ages – and a reaction to those perceived as ushering this in. Even Dr. Zachary Smith would probably qualify.

But, I’m thinking Gottfredson’s “Dr. Einmug”, or Segar’s “O.G. Wottasnozzle” would be exceptions to this. Though, admittedly, Einmug was not actually a comedic figure, he was still an oddball mad-genius.

Could you elaborate more on this?

Chris Barat said...


"Egghead" came into being as a slang term for a pompous intellectual during the presidential campaign of 1952. I think it originated with Adlai Stevenson's having a high, bald forehead. The satirical point was primarily a political one at first, but then gradually bled into other fields, such as science and literature.


Mark Lungo said...

Actually, lampooning intellectuals is (as TV Tropes puts it) Older Than Feudalism. Consider Aristophanes' The Clouds, which made fun of Socrates.

Chris Barat said...


You're right, of course, but the timing of "egghead" and the theme of THE BAND WAGON were too closely allied for me not to note it.