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BAND WAGON: first integrated musical number?


ChorusGirl
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I watched THE BAND WAGON this weekend for the first time in years. I had forgotten that Astaire dances with the black man in the arcade (who apparently was really a dancing shoe shine guy that was discovered in Penn Station).

 

My question: is this the first time a black and white dancer performed together in a Hollywood musical? I've never heard of this film being recognized for such a such a thing. (and they do indeed have a little challenge dance together when Astaire hops off the chair)

 

I know Shirley Temple danced with Bill Robinson, and the Little Rascals occasionally had musical shows they put on together...but I cant think of a single instance of black and white adults dancing together before this. This isnt the kind of sequence that could be easily removed "for Southern audiences," as the saying goes.

 

(at the other end of spectrum, have to admit it was a little sad to see uncredited Ernest Anderson as the train porter, just 10 years after having a memorable supporting role opposite Bette Davis in IN THIS OUR LIFE.)

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No . . . What is probably considered the first major dance routine of this type, performed by a top Caucasian star was in 1948, when Gene Kelly danced with the great, legendary team of the ?Nicholas Brothers,? in the MGM Cole Porter musical ?The Pirate.? The brothers are referred to as the finest example of the classic ?Flash Act? dance that consisted of various difficult, acrobatic moves, if not, stunts. The routine in ?The Pirate,? wasn?t exactly what the brothers were known for, but Gene, who had conceived the number, allowed Fayard and Harold a bit of their style to be showcased in the film. Gene, like everyone else in show business, admired the ?Nicholas Brothers? and they were one of the top acts of show business; highly paid wherever they performed! If the reports are true, according to Fred Astaire, he said that the best dance routine of all time on film was performed by the ?Nicholas Brothers? in the now classic (all African American) musical ?Stormy Weather.?

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Reportedly one of the reasons that *The Pirate* did so badly in revenue, and was considered a flop, was, in part, caused by The Nicholas Bros routine with Kelly. The routine had to be cut in southern theatres or the film had to be boycotted. With the public not buying these "different images" of Judy and Gene + the controversial routine of a white man dancing with 2 black men--well that didn't help revenues.

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Good catch on the Marx Bros!...I do remember the number in DAY AT THE RACES..."All Gods Children (chillun?) Got Rhythm"...indeed thats an integrated number.

 

Haven't seen Jolson's SINGING KID in ages. All I remember is the great Wini Shaw standing on stairs belting her heart out with that distinctive voice...

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Never heard this statement before and it seems to me ridiculous. The film flopped since it seemed too sophisticated for audiences of the 1940s that did not know what to make of the whole thing. I do think the musical was ahead of its time. A number of other MGM musicals flopped at that same time including YOLANDA AND THE THIEF and SUMMER HOLIDAY. All were Arthur Freed productions.

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You will note that in the Marx Bros movies--the black people were in a stereo-typical musical situation--like a segregated chorus for the purpose of exploiting black culture. In the Kelly movie, the Nicholas Bros left the sterotype because they were performing as equals in a number--not associated with black culture-- with one white man.

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There?s reason to feel that ?The Pirate? was doomed from the time Minnelli had the cameras rolling. It was as if the movie would carry a curse it couldn't eliminate. Only after four months in production, the picture had cost $2,725,516 and this was half way into shooting. The final budget ended at a whopping $3,768,496, over budget by a half million dollars. Garland was absent most of the time and this held up production, creating a sense of failure even before the final cut of the film was decided upon. A record series of additional scenes and retakes also occurred. Composer Cole Porter was invited to a private screening of the film and he wasn?t exactly enthusiastic about the results. Producer Arthur Freed tried his best to shed a positive light over everything that had hindered what was anticipated as a major musical of that year. The box-office report on the film revealed a net loss of $2,290,000. Compare to lesser costing films, ?The Pirate? was a tremendous, dismal flop for MGM.

 

The whole matter of the Nicholas Brothers and the film being banned in parts of the south was just one of many problems the film faced. Certainly, Gene fought tooth and nail to get the number into the picture. And, he and the brothers rehearsed the number for hours on end, until Gene?s striving for perfection paid off and the dance version of ?Be a Clown? turned out to be a high point of the movie. It?s difficult to assess what could have possibly saved the film or at least give it deserved respect. While most historians and critics will say it was a victim of its times, a lot might be said about a lack of clarity to the script and all the resulting chaos that ensued behind the scenes. I have to feel after all these years, this was a film from its inception, not being so easily agreed upon as to what would have worked or been the right direction to go.

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