- May 7, 2001
The Band Wagon
Two Disc Special Edition
Studio: Warner Brothers
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 112 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Standard
Audio: DD 5.1 & Original Mono and French Mono
Languages: English & French
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
Package: Two discs in a double Keepcase
The next wave of Warner classics is sure to keep fans of the gone but not forgotten musical genre, very happy indeed. They are about to release The Classic Musicals Collection - Broadway to Hollywood which will contain the following films: Easter Parade (1948) and The Band Wagon (1953) - both as Two Disc Special Editions, as well as single disc versions of Bells Are Ringing (1960), Finian's Rainbow (1968) and Brigadoon (1954). The boxed set lists for $59.92, while the Special Editions and single disc versions are $26.99 and $19.97 respectively.
The Band Wagon, which stars Fred Astaire as Tony Hunter, is one of the most understated and refined of the musical comedies that came out of MGM's Arthur Freed Unit in the '40s and '50s. Tony is a movie star whose career is all but forgotten who is looking for a boost and decides to try by starring in a Broadway musical. His close friends Lester and Lily Marton (played by Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray) have written a show they feel would be just right for Tony, and the three team up with Jeffrey Cordova (played by Jack Buchanan), a so-called self-important "genius" director, who gets the idea to turn the play into a revised version of Faust.
Cordova's grandiose ideas don't always sit well with the Martons, and Tony isn't too happy with his soon to be co-star, Gaby Gerard (played by Cyd Charisse), whom he's convinced is too tall, while she ironically, thinks he's too old. After disregarding the concerns of a rushed opening day, the show sinks like a stone. However, after the show’s investors have all flown the coop, Tony takes it upon himself to sell his priceless collection of original art and is willing to back the show provided they agree to his changes and dispense with the silliness that was proposed by Jeffrey in the original version. Naturally, everyone agrees and the revised show is smash success as it tours around the northeastern part of the country. There’s only one snag however as Tony falls for his leading lady who is already seeing the show’s choreographer Paul Byrd (played by James Mitchell).
Following the success of musicals built around the songs of George and Ira Gershwin (An American in Paris) and his own songs written with Nacio Herb Brown (Singin' in the Rain), producer Arthur Freed next turned to the songs of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz as the basis for The Band Wagon. They were famous for writing some of Broadway's greatest revues of the early 1930's, including 1931's The Band Wagon that would lend its title and many of its songs to Freed's newest creation. Upon release, The Band Wagon became both a critical and commercial hit.
While The Band Wagon would share the same name as its earlier stage show, its star, Fred Astaire would also appear in the film version but in a much different role. For the movie, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green (On The Town (1949) and Singin' in the Rain (1952), created a character not far removed from the real Fred Astaire in Tony Hunter, a former Broadway hoofer who has found his fame declining after years in Hollywood.
Inevitably, reality provided the inspiration for other roles. Comden and Green inserted caricatures of themselves into the story as the bickering playwrights portrayed by Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray. José Ferrer, who had recently staged several Broadway shows simultaneously, was the basis for the pompous director Jeffrey Cordova. Freed's first choice to play Cordova was Clifton Webb who turned down the role as too minor but suggested instead Jack Buchanan, considered Britain's answer to Fred Astaire, turns in a rare American appearance indeed for the British star who does a fine soft-shoe with Fred Astaire on "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan." Cyd Charisse, a sensation in the Broadway Melody number in Singin' In The Rain, is promoted here to leading actress to complete the cast.
While there are a number of Dietz/Schwartz tunes from their past productions present, Freed felt the film lacked something special and went to the songwriters for a new addition. The resulting song was perhaps the film’s most famous number, "That's Entertainment." Arguably, one of the most famous musical numbers ever. Unfortunately, the film was plagued with a number of setbacks. Astaire's wife was seriously ill during the film's production while Jack Buchanan had to work his scenes around a number of painful dental operations and true to life hypochondriac Oscar Levant suffered a heart attack shortly before filming.
The musical's biggest number was "The Girl Hunt". Associate producer Roger Edens decided to spoof hard-boiled detective writer Mickey Spillane and Michael Kidd (choreographer of Broadway's Guys and Dolls), was brought in to bring some of that show's grittiness. And finally, no review would be complete without mentioning its director, in this case the legendary Vincente Minnelli who was responsible for the direction of such classics as: The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), An American in Paris (1951), Father of the Bride (1950), Ziegfeld Follies (1946), and Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), among many others.
The Feature: 4.5/5
Truth be told, in this portion of the review, I should only have to type in two words and then move on to the audio portion; “Ultra Resolution”. Another classic Technicolor project from the folks at Warner to undergo their proprietary process and the results are astounding. Described by the studio as:
Warner Bros. introduced this process with the release of Singin’ in the Rain in the fall of 2002 followed by The Adventures of Robin Hood, Meet Me in St Louis and most recently, Gone with the Wind. More than seventy years after the introduction of Technicolor, Warner Bros. Studios is employing the "Ultra-Resolution" process that begins with scanning the original Technicolor 3-strip black and white ‘records’ at extremely high resolution. The black and white records are then combined electronically to create the color images, which are also electronically re-registered, steadied and cleaned before the final DVDs are produced.
As we have experienced with other UR projects, the colors leapt from the screen. To say they looked vibrant wouldn’t serve them justice. Typically with many of the 3-strip Technicolor films, color is slightly on the exaggerated side with skin tones looking slightly red and we’d have it no other way. Very lush – very nice.
Black levels were exceptionally deep and dark, while whites just couldn’t be any cleaner or crisper nor did they ever appear to be overblown or washed out. The levels of contrast and shadow detail were absolutely perfect.
Image detail is what we would expect from a film of this period – an impressive level of image definition, slightly soft but quite nice. There was only a minimal amount of fine film grain present throughout which offered a fine looking film-like image with a pleasing amount of depth and dimensionality.
The print appeared to be mostly clean and free of any dust or dirt or any other bothersome blemishes. There was virtually no light speckle or video noise whatsoever and only a slight amount of shimmer or jitter was evident. Compression was handled to perfection and there were no issues relating to haloing caused by edge enhancement.
I really couldn’t imagine the film looking any better in standard definition – terrific job!
Not only is the original DD Mono track included, but WB has also supplied a newly remixed 5.1 track as well.
I listened to both tracks for the review. As somewhat of a purist, I was obviously most interested in the mono track. It performed flawlessly but it was somewhat limited. There was only a very slight hint of hiss noticeable but the track sounded very clean and natural. The track sounds slightly thin but was never fatiguing nor did it become strained during any of the musical numbers etc.
On the other hand, the 5.1 track opened up the front end allowing for a somewhat more enveloping and wider front soundstage, never sounding gimmicky or artificial, nor was any of the hiss present.
I’m sure purists will want to stick to the Mono track that’s included (or at least be thankful its been included) but don’t be too quick to dismiss the newly created 5.1 track it does a superb and tactful job at pulling you in during many of the great musical numbers throughout this film.
Typical of Warner’s Two Disc Special Editions, The Band Wagon comes with a host of terrific supplements to complement this classic musical. While the bulk of the features are housed on disc two, disc one contains the following:
[*] The special edition starts off with a Commentary By Liza Minnelli and Michael Feinstein who both proclaim their love for the film and both of whom call it their absolute favorite musical. Liza said she spent a great deal of time on the set while the film was being shot, she was six years old at the time and still has many fond memories (I can’t remember what I had for lunch last week), but let’s face it, regardless of your feelings for Liza, who better to offer up a treasure trove of tidbits relating to the film and its director than his extremely proud daughter. She is overly enthusiastic and at times, downright melodramatic, but there is a lot of fruit here worth picking. As we might expect there is a great deal of information relating to the musical numbers and their orchestrations. Interesting stuff.
[*] Fred Astaire Trailer Gallery
- Broadway Melody Of 1940 (1940) - (3:34)
- Ziegfeld Follies (1946) – (2:32)
- Easter Parade (1948) – (1:46)
- The Barkleys Of Broadway (1949) – (2:30)
- Three Little Words (1950) – (3:41)
- The Band Wagon (1953) – (3:12)
- Silk Stockings (1957) – (2:58)
- Finian’s Rainbow (1968) - (2:58)
All of the trailers are in decent shape but the newly remastered versions of EP and TBW certainly make you appreciate the obvious work that’s been done after comparisons are made to the trailers.
[*] Original Mono Track – not sure why they list this here as a “special feature” but needless to say this can also be accessed within the “Languages” selections. Either way, great to have it.
[*] Get Aboard The Band Wagon is a documentary relating to the film and its production in which features Liza Minnelli, Jonathon Schwartz (son of Arthur), screenwriters Betty Comden & Adolph Green, (older footage) of choreographer Michael Kidd, Nanette Fabray, Cyd Charisse, James Mitchell, and Ava Astaire McKenzie (Fred’s daughter). Discussed are topics such as the Freed Unit, the production and schedule aspects relating to the shoot, the musical numbers chosen and the creation of “That’s Entertainment”, the costumes and the actors who appeared among other things. Lots of great older footage of the studio, the sets and the stars of the film. (37:05)
[*] Up next is The Men Who Made The Movies: Vincente Minnelli is another tremendous documentary installment in the series, however, unlike the previous installments which recently appeared on Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story which appeared somewhat cleaned up and revised, this appears to be the original version which was produced, written and directed by Richard Schickel and was narrated by Cliff Robertson. The documentary goes through a number of Minnelli’s films in chronological order as a number of interesting facts and tidbits are offered up. Another very interesting and worthwhile documentary. (58:19)
[*] Jack Buchanan With The Glee Quartet is a funny little Vitaphone Varieties B&W short as the unprepared Buchanan fills in with the quartet. The short is in reasonably good shape. (5:58)
[*] The final feature to appear in the set is Two Faced Woman which is comprised of two sections. First is an “Outake” of the unused musical number which runs for 4:11 and the second feature is entitled “Dailies” which runs 7:44. Neither feature was worked on but these are in (rough form) but decent shape.
Special Features: 4.5/5
**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**
Personally my favorite of all the lavish musicals is without question the incomparable Singin’ In The Rain, however, I would have no problem stating that The Band Wagon is one of the greatest MGM musicals to come out of the 50's. Like in the film itself, the graceful and debonair Fred Astaire appears at a crossroads in his long and distinguished career. Not only was Astaire’s career in a state of standstill, but sadly the popularity of the very genre Astaire helped make fashionable was also starting to decline. The film also includes many terrific musical numbers, most notably "The Girl Hunt" and includes a number of superb dance sequences between Astaire and his co-star, the lovely Cyd Charisse. Vincente Minnelli also deserves great praise as he gives wonderful and fluid direction.
The Band Wagon Special Edition is another winner. As we have almost come to take for granted, Warner’s Ultra Resolution treatment of this film is phenomenal and the package is trimmed with a number of interesting and highly informative supplements to complement this Special Edition. My recommendation to purchase this package is an easy one.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (not an average)
Release Date: March 15th, 2005