Friday, March 25, 2005

We Hate Each Other Very Much

This may be a weird thing to nit-pick about when watching one of the best movies ever made, but: I was watching The Band Wagon again the other day. As you know if you've seen the film -- and you should -- the last third of the movie is mostly just a series of musical numbers representing excerpts from the musical comedy that Lily and Lester (Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant) have written for Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire). So here's what I got to wondering: how could these numbers possibly fit into a musical?

Now, when Lily and Lester are describing the plot of their show, they say it's about a writer of children's books who writes lurid murder mysteries on the side. That description provides an excuse for the climactic ballet, the Mickey Spillane spoof "The Girl Hunt." (It's also the climax of the whole film; the question in the film is whether Tony Hunter can re-invent himself for the '50s while still providing the kind of old-fashioned entertainment he prefers; "The Girl Hunt" shows that the answer is yes.) And the fact that it's supposed to be about a writer of children's stories just about explains "Triplets"; maybe it's an excerpt from one of the character's books. But can you possibly think of a plot into which "Louisiana Hayride" could fit? Or why Astaire, if he's playing a struggling writer of popular fiction, is singing and dancing with Jack Buchanan in top hat, white tie and tails? Or what that "New Sun in the Sky" thing (the weakest number in the picture, anyway) is supposed to be about?

Let me try and make up some kind of scenario for it: Astaire's character is in love with a stage performer, played by Charisse, and goes to see her perform ("New Sun in the Sky"). He and his best friend, Buchanan, discover after the performance that they both love the same girl, that she's in love with someone else, and that they rented those darn tuxedos for nothing ("I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan"). To cheer him up, Astaire's best friend, Fabray, invites him to a party where everybody has to dress up as stereotypical Southerners ("Louisiana Hayride"), but instead Astaire throws himself back into writing a new children's book ("Triplets"). Closure is achieved when he and the girl he loves get to star in an adaptation of one of his murder mysteries ("The Girl Hunt").

Well, I gave it a shot.

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