(1953)5Lucia BozzolaMade towards the end of MGM producer Arthur Freed's peak period of musical productions, at a time when movies, theater, and other forms of entertainment were all feeling the heat from the rise of television, preeminent musical director Vincente Minnelli's backstage story celebrates the musical itself and its brand of pop entertainment. Pitting Fred Astaire's washed-up movie hoofer against Jack Buchanan's high-falutin' artiste and Cyd Charisse's transplanted ballerina, The Band Wagon reflexively pokes fun at the musical's excesses and delves into the question of what an audience really wants, implicitly defending traditional forms of entertainment at a time when Hollywood was in decline and consumers were turning to new form of recreation. As with Freed's Singin' in the Rain (1952), the sophisticated comedy of show business manners becomes a showcase for the Freed Unit's sparkling production values and musical acumen, as well as Minnelli's stylistic virtuosity. While numbers such as Astaire's 42nd street dance "Shine on Your Shoes" and Astaire's and Charisse's "Dancing in the Dark" reveal Minnelli's mastery at integrating dance and story, the final "Band Wagon" revue is a peerless sequence of pure musical entertainment, with "The Girl Hunt" deftly mixing the high and low arts of ballet and jazz in a parody of Mickey Spillane's detective yarns. Though not one of Minnelli's Oscar winners, The Band Wagon has come to be considered his best musical, and a wise elegy to the form.