Format: TCM on DVR
Director: Vincente Minnelli
This isn't the world's best musical, but it's also aggressively about not being about anything (by way of being a traditional, vaudeville-style Broadway show, and proving THAT'S what people really want).
It's been a long week, and I have a lot of things on the DVR, but Jamie didn't care what we watched, and I figured Cyd Charisse seemed like a great thing to watch.
By the time this movie was filmed, Astaire was in his mid-50's, and the story seemed all but pointedly about him. His character is a film song and dance man who has lost the spotlight. By this point, musicals were far from dead, but maybe weren't at the height of their heyday. He's playing someone maybe a few years younger than himself (convincingly) who returns to New York to work on a show with a husband and wife writing team (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray). They get involved with the latest big-name of Broadway, who does *serious theatre*, but who wants to try a musical.
You know he's fancy because he's doing that new-fangled Oedipus Rex show.
They rope in a top-tier choreographer and his top-teir ballerina girlfriend played by Cyd Charisse.
This isn't the only musical from around this time that feels like middle-aged people wrestling with the coming wave of American theater and dance and trying to take the piss out of it. There's a kind of goofy number in White Christmas that's really the one that doesn't work trying to poke fun at what we now call "modern dance". And, as I said up top, this one wants to remind us "please stop taking these new musicals seriously! Your heart really just wants to see people dance for 90 minutes and end with a wedding! Right? RIGHT?"
And, you know, sometimes that's true. But you kind of want to say to the movie "my friend, you haven't seen *anything* yet. Wait for the 60's.".
The movie is probably most famous for its show-within-a-show-within-a-show interlude of Astaire playing a priavte eye in a sort of Chandler/ Hammer/ whatever mystery homage and an excuse for Charisse to sex it up a whole lot. It's goofy as all get-out, and for the life of me, I can't figure out if it's full camp, a light spoof or someone trying to be quasi-earnest. But... the "Broadway Melody" sequence it is not. (By the way, this was written by the same folks who wrote Singin' In the Rain).
But, man, really, I'm not sure this sequence could have happened any earlier than 1953 or much later than '53. Noir (not yet called noir) had been in theaters for almost ten years, and all I can think is that this was how it was interpreted by song-and-dance folks trying to be cool, daddio. But... holy @#$%balls.
(also, look for when Julie Newmar walks right up to the camera!)
What *does* work, and beautifully, is the Dancing in the Dark number with Astaire and Charisse, which is the kind of number you want to see and remember with the talent they've lined up. The pair are in amazing form, and it's the one time you kind of think "well... maybe" as you look at the romance they're trying to push between a man and a woman young enough to be his daughter.
That poor Cyd Charisse, such an ungraceful and plain girl.
On the flip side, there's this weird thing where they suggest that the writer-couple is on the skids and the wife has taken up with the big-deal actor/ director/ producer guy that never... gets resolved. I guess we see a couple break up in slow motion, but just sort of from the edges? Someone help me out here, because that was weird and dark and I can't find mention of it anywhere online.
Anyway, it's not my favorite film, but I was amazed how much of it I didn't remember. A lot of people love this film, but... eh. It's fine.