The Band Wagon

For the musical, see The Band Wagon (musical).
The Band Wagon

theatrical release poster
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Produced by
Written by
Music by
Cinematography Harry Jackson
Edited by Albert Akst
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • August 7, 1953 (1953-08-07) (US)
Running time
111 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,873,000[1]
Box office $3,502,000[1]

The Band Wagon is a 1953 musical comedy film directed by Vincente Minnelli, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. It tells the story of an aging musical star who hopes a Broadway show will restart his career. However, the play's director wants to make it a pretentious retelling of Faust, and brings in a prima ballerina who clashes with the star. Along with Singin' in the Rain, it is regarded as one of the finest of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals, although it was only a modest box-office success on first release.

The songs were written by the team of composer Arthur Schwartz and lyricist Howard Dietz. (Schwartz was a prolific Hollywood composer who teamed with numerous lyricists over the years, while Dietz, a studio publicist, generally collaborated with Schwartz.) Some of the songs in the film had been created for the original 1931 Broadway musical by Schwartz and Dietz which was also called The Band Wagon, with a book by George S. Kaufman and starring Fred Astaire and his sister Adele. (Fred Astaire also stars in the movie.) The movie's dances and musical numbers were staged by Michael Kidd.

The song "That's Entertainment!", which Schwartz and Dietz wrote specifically for the film, was a hit and has become a standard. Another song orchestrated by Conrad Salinger, "Dancing in the Dark", is considered part of the Great American Songbook and was from the original Broadway production. Astaire's early number in the film, "A Shine On Your Shoes" was actually written for a 1932 Broadway revue with music and lyrics by Dietz and Schwartz called Flying Colors. It had originally been performed by the dancing team of Buddy and Vilma Ebsen. In the movie version of The Band Wagon, the song was reworked to show off Astaire's musical talents.

The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Color, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay. Screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who received the nomination for the screenplay, patterned the film's characters Lester and Lily Marton after themselves, although the fictional characters were a married couple and Comden and Green were not romantically involved.

In 1995, The Band Wagon was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2006, this film ranked #17 on the American Film Institute's list of best musicals.


Stage and screen star Tony Hunter, a veteran of musical comedy, is concerned that his career might be in decline. His good friends Lester and Lily Marton have written a stage show that they believe is perfect for his comeback.

Tony signs up, despite misgivings after the pretentious director, Jeffrey Cordova, changes the light comedy into a dark reinterpretation of the Faust legend, with himself as the Devil and Tony as the Faust character. Tony also feels intimidated by the youth, beauty, and classical background of his female co-star, noted ballerina Gabrielle "Gaby" Gerard. Unbeknownst to him, she is just as insecure in his presence, awed by his long stardom.

Eventually, it all proves too much for Tony. He walks out, but Gaby speaks with him alone and they work out their differences. They also begin to fall in love, though she already has a commitment to the show's choreographer Paul Byrd.

When the first out-of-town tryout in New Haven proves to be a disaster, Tony persuades Jeffrey to let him convert the production back into what the Martons had originally envisioned. Tony takes charge of the production, taking the show on tour to perfect the new lighthearted musical numbers. Since the original backers have walked out, Tony finances it by selling his personal art collection. Byrd walks out, but Gaby remains.

The revised show proves to be a hit on its Broadway opening. Afterwards, Gaby and Tony confess their love for each other.


Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in the "Girl Hunt Ballet"

Musical numbers

in order of appearance[2]

  1. "By Myself" — Tony (introduced in the stage musical Between the Devil)
  2. "Shine on Your Shoes" — Tony and a shoeshine man (Leroy Daniels) (introduced in the stage musical Flying Colors)
  3. "That's Entertainment!" — Jeffrey, with Tony, Lester and Lily
  4. "The Beggars Waltz" — danced by Cyd Charisse, James Mitchell, and corps de ballet
  5. "Dancing in the Dark" — danced by Tony and Gabrielle
  6. "You and the Night and the Music" — Chorus, danced by Tony and Gabrielle
  7. "Something to Remember You By" — Chorus
  8. "High and Low" — Chorus
  9. "I Love Louisa" — Tony, Lester, and Lily
  10. "New Sun in the Sky" — Gabrielle
  11. "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan" — Tony and Jeffrey
  12. "Louisiana Hayride" — Lily and Chorus (introduced in the stage musical Flying Colors)
  13. "Triplets" — Tony, Jeffrey, and Lily (the performers dance on their knees, costumed in baby attire) (introduced in the stage musical Between the Devil)
  14. "Girl Hunt Ballet" — danced by Tony and Gabrielle

One musical number shot for the film, but dropped from the final release, was a seductive dance routine featuring Charisse performing "Two-Faced Woman". As with the other Charisse songs, her singing was dubbed by India Adams. Adams' recording of the song was reused for Torch Song for a musical number featuring Joan Crawford. The retrospective That's Entertainment! III released the Charisse version to the public for the first time. This footage was also included with the most recent DVD release of The Band Wagon itself.[3]


According to MGM records the film earned $2.3 million in the US and Canada and $1,202,000 in other countries, resulting in a loss of $1,185,000.[1]

Stage adaptation

Poster from 2014 production at the New York City Center

A musical stage adaptation, titled Dancing in the Dark, premiered at The Old Globe Theatre (San Diego) March 4 – April 20, 2008, with plans to bring the show to Broadway. Gary Griffin directed, with a book by Douglas Carter Beane and choreography by Warren Carlyle. The cast included Patrick Page as the "deliciously pretentious" director-actor-producer Jeffrey Cordova, Mara Davi playing Gabrielle Gerard and Scott Bakula as "song-and-dance man" Tony Hunter.[4][5][6][7]

In the Variety review of the musical Bob Verini wrote: "There's no reason this reconstituted "Band Wagon" can't soar once it jettisons its extraneous and self-contradictory elements. But "Dancing" is some distance from finding its footing, despite finale's admonition to "Admit we're a hit and we'll go on from there." Not yet."[8]

A revised version of the stage adaptation under the name The Band Wagon was presented in a staged concert in November 2014 as part of a New York City Center Encores! special event. The cast starred Brian Stokes Mitchell, Tracey Ullman, Michael McKean, Tony Sheldon and Laura Osnes, with direction and choreography by Kathleen Marshall.[9]

Music videos

Michael Jackson in his music videos for "Smooth Criminal" and "You Rock My World", Jackson pays tribute to the Fred Astaire film in his dance sequence in the 1930s or 1940s style lounge as in the Astaire film where the bar fight takes place. Dancers can be seen doing similar moves as female dancers wear similar designed outfits in Jackson's videos. Jackson wears a white suit with a blue collar shirt underneath and a white hat with a black stripe on it paying tribute to what Astaire was wearing in The Band Wagon's finale in Smooth Criminal. For You Rock My World, he imitates Astaire's choreography and confidence. "Billie Jean's" music video also features similar elements as those of the same number: The storefront scenery through which the paparazzo conducts his manhunt and the animal print cloth he finds for a clue are two very distinct allusions. Using the line "she came at me in sections" for the titular song of his album Dangerous, Jackson notably pays homage to the film on at least three successive albums.

Steve Martin and Gilda Radner perform a seriocomic parody homage to the "dancing in the dark" dance segment on an episode of Saturday Night Live, originally broadcast on April 22, 1978.


  1. 1 2 3 The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. soundtrack
  3. DVD Savant review
  4. Jones, Kenneth. "Douglas Carter Beane Lovingly Steers 'Band Wagon' to Create 'Dancing in the Dark'" Playbill, December 23, 2007
  5. "'Dancing in the Dark' Old Globe Listing", accessed October 4, 2015
  6. Jones, Kenneth. article, March 4, 2008, "'The Band Wagon' Has a New Shine on Its Shoes in 'Dancing in the Dark' March 4 – April 13" Playbill, March 4, 2008
  7. Jones, Kenneth. "That's More Entertainment: Old Globe Gives 'Dancing in the Dark' an Extra Week" Playbill, March 19, 2008
  8. Variety, March 16, 2008
  9. Suskin, Steven. "That's Entertainment!" Star-Studded 'The Band Wagon' Brings "Sweet Music" to City Center" Playbill, November 11, 2014
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