Screen Team Edition: Fred Astaire & Cyd Charisse

And we’re back to talk about another screen team! This time, it’s Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse! Going into The Band Wagon, Cyd Charisse was coming off her successful partnered dance with Gene Kelly for the “Broadway Melody” ballet in Singin’ In The Rain resulting in her being promoted to leading lady for The Band Wagon. On the other hand, Fred was coming off The Belle Of New York, which had flopped. This put him in a similar situation as his character in The Band Wagon, where he was considering retirement or trying to figure out how to keep going.

In The Band Wagon, washed-up movie actor Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) decides to leave Hollywood and go to New York City to do a Broadway show written by his friends Lester (Oscar Levant) and Lily (Nanette Fabray) Marton. Lester and Lily have convinced actor/ director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) to do their show, and he quickly signs ballet dancer Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse) as the leading lady, along with her boyfriend/ manager Paul Byrd (James Mitchell) as the show’s choreographer. However, Tony and Gabrielle don’t hit it off well at first, and Jeff quickly gets out of control making the show quite different than what Lester and Lily had written. When the show opens out-of-town, they find just how badly out-of-control Jeff had gotten, and they all regroup to figure out how to salvage the show. (Length: one hour, fifty-two minutes)

While they had worked alongside each other a little in the 1946 Ziegfeld Follies, The Band Wagon was the first opportunity that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse would have to actually work together. As such, Fred did have some concerns about working with her (which ended up being written into his character for the movie). He did worry about her being a little tall for him, which would be fixed either by him wearing a hat or by her wearing flats. And of course, her ballet background made thing different, as Fred had had some ballet when he was much younger, but hadn’t done much for years, and was generally not fond of doing it. We see that in the movie, and it helps drive the early portion of the film, as we only see them “rehearsing” together (but it’s not exactly going well). It’s only when they go to the park, with the intention of seeing whether they can dance together, that we get their iconic “Dancing In The Dark” duet. From there, we see them “rehearse” (admittedly, running into trouble with all the out-of-control smoke, which in some respects was the movie’s director Vincente Minelli making fun of some of the bubble trouble he had with one segment of the aforementioned Ziegfeld Follies). Then we get the “Girl Hunt Ballet,” which was spoofing a lot of the various private eye/detective stories of recent years, with Michael Kidd being brought in due to his work on the Broadway show of Guys And Dolls to choreograph another iconic dance (with Cyd pulling double-duty as a femme-fatale and a “damsel in distress”).

In Silk Stockings, movie producer Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire) wants Russian composer Peter Boroff’s (Wim Sonneveld) music for his new movie, and tries to help him stay in Paris. The Russian government is displeased with this, and sends three commissars (Jules Munshin, Peter Lorre and Joseph Buloff) to bring him back. When Steve distracts them with wine, women and song, special envoy Nina Yoschenko (Cyd Charisse) is sent to try again. She proves to be more resilient, but as the attraction between the two develops, even she manages to loosen, and Steve proposes to her. However, when Nina, Peter and the three commissars hear how Peter’s music has been changed for the movie, they are all offended and they all return to Russia. (Length: one hour, fifty-eight minutes)

Going into filming Silk Stockings, producer Arthur Freed had it pegged as another film for Fred and Cyd. Having established their chemistry in the previous film, they were able to work with another story. The song “All Of You” in effect replaced the attempt by Melvyn Douglas’s Count d’Algout in Ninotchka to make Greta Garbo’s Nina laugh in an attempt to loosen her up with Fred’s Steve Canfield trying to get Cyd’s Nina to loosen up through dance. While she resisted at first, he was able to get through, and she danced with him. While she still resisted a little, by the time they got to the song “Fated To Be Mated” (a new song written specifically for the movie), she has loosened up, and the dance is a more joyous one (and even borrows some of the music from “All Of You” for part of the dance)!

In commenting on Silk Stockings, New York Times writer once said that “There should be legislation requiring that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse appear together in a musical picture at least once every two years.” While I agree with that statement, sadly, it was not to be. Upon completing the movie, Fred announced he would be retiring (mainly from dancing, although he made a few dance specials for television and would return again for the 1968 Finian’s Rainbow and dance again in That’s Entertainment Part 2). It would also mark the last musical for Cyd as well, although she would continue to do dramatic parts, as well as some dancing here and there, both on the big and small screens. According to some, Silk Stockings underperformed at the box office, resulting in a loss. Personally, I enjoy both of their movies, with a greater preference for Silk Stockings as the better of the two (again, that’s my opinion), so I would very heartily recommend seeing these two work (and dance!) together in either of these movies!

The Band Wagon

My Rating: 10/10

Silk Stockings

My Rating: 10/10

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