REEFER TRILOGY
Three overwrought cautionary tales from the 1930s examine the perils of smoking marijuana in polite society.

DESIGN IN FILM: THE MODERN HOUSEAn eight-minute video montage of modern homes—real and fake—as seen on the silver screen.

BEHIND THE SCENES
Twenty-five cool photos reveal what goes on outside of movie camera range.

SILENT SURVIVORS
Our list of at least a dozen silent film performers that are happily still with us.

70MMThirty visually stunning films that illustrate the grandeur of large-format filmmaking.

12 GREAT MOVIE SONGSElvis, The Beatles and The Supremes join our list of favorite movie themes of the 1960s.

WILHELM SCREAMWe trace the history of one of the most famous and beloved sound effects in movies.

LOST HORIZONA dud receives its due as we explore the elements that made this 1973 musical so preposterously memorable.

GREAT CLOSING LINES
One hundred films whose final words of dialogue make indelible lasting impressions.

25 GREAT SILENT MOVIE POSTERSOur selection of artwork from the early days of motion pictures that expertly illustrate the tone and tale of the films they represent.

RAVES AND RASPBERRIES We select some choice bits from reviews by the late Roger Ebert.

ERROL FLYNN GETS WHACKEDThe actor recalls an unforgettable moment with Bette Davis on the set of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.

CINEMATIC RIDESTen films where carnival attractions add to the plot and give their protagonists a cheap thrill.

20 DIRECTORS / 20 FILMSSome of the world’s best moviemakers from Hollywood’s Golden Era provide a behind-the-scenes look at their creations.

LOS ANGELES IN THE 1920SVintage clips offer a look at famous boulevards, studios, theaters, eateries and more.

BILLY WILDEROur favorite lines of dialogue from the Oscar-winning writer/director.

WOODY ALLENChoice lines of dialogue, from Take the Money and Run to Midnight in Paris.

JOHN QUALENFive of our favorite performances from the character actor’s lengthy career.

KATHARINE HEPBURNTen authoritative moments when Kate's movie character speaks her mind.

UFA MOVIE POSTERSA look at the early one sheets from the longest standing film studio in Germany.

THE LANGUAGE OF NOIRWe celebrate tough talk from the best of Hollywood’s gritty crime dramas.

HELICOPTER OVER HOLLYWOOD

Aerial shots of Hollywood in 1958 includes Griffith Observatory, Grauman’s Chinese Theater and major studios.

AMERICAWe celebrate one of the most exuberant dance numbers committed to film, a thrilling showcase for freakishly talented folks with music in their bones.

HOLLYWOOD POSTCARDSTen vintage postcards revealing the glories of Southern California's movie mecca.

MAJOR FILMS, MINOR GAFFESTwenty-five mistakes in some of the greatest movies ever made.

NEBRASKANSA look at some of the memorable talentsfrom Astaire to Zanuck—to come from the Cornhusker State.

GEORGE GERSHWINTen classic songs as seen on the silver screen.

GREAT ENDINGSA memorable tussle in Death Valley caps Erich von Stroheim’s broken classic.

10 GREAT POSTERSOur look at striking works of art that just happen to sell movie tickets.

MUST READMGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot provides a fascinating look at a lost treasure.

IN THE COOL, COOL, COOL OF THE EVENINGJane Wyman and Bing Crosby charm with the Oscar-winning song from Here Comes the Groom (1951).

PLUNDER ROADFilm noir at its best—and most economical. No backstory, a lean look and just 72 minutes long.

W.C. FIELDSTen of his most memorable character names.

NOT STARRING DORIS DAY
We select three movie musicals we deeply wish the sunny singer/actress would have made.

MICKEY ROONEY’S BEST
Twelve examples of what made the late actor such an enduring movie star.

SPRING SPRING SPRING”
We take a closer look and listen at Johnny Mercer’s witty ditty about the coming of the season.

CEDRIC GIBBONS
We take a good look at the work of MGM’s legendary art director.

PUBLICITY PHOTOS
Ten artful, playful and downright silly shots from some of the most famous movies in existence.

OSCARS RECAP
Twelve observations about the event that was, from a diva’s pipes to how Ellen mastered the ceremonies.

JEFFREY HUNTERWe tip our hat to the underrated (and very pretty) actor best known for going toe-to-toe with John Wayne in The Searchers and hanging on the cross in Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings.

MOVIE MOMENTS THAT MAKE LIFE WORTH LIVINGOur collection of ten little moments of breathtaking beauty, expert craftsmanship and happy accidents that rank as our favorites.

STARS ON STARS: 30 CANDID OPINIONSA collection of favorite quotes from movie folk discussing their peers.

ELVIS PRESLEYFive essential films for the Elvis movie fan.

BILL GOLD’S MOVIE POSTERSOur salute to the legendary graphic artist, including 25 of his posters for some of the most famous movies ever made.

BEAUTIFUL MENFilm giants Cary Grant and his ilk will have to wait. Here we look at ten not-so-obvious choices—actors blessed with incredible good looks, if not legendary status.

BEAUTIFUL WOMENTen of the most physically stunning females to grace the silver screen.

FOOTBALLFive classic films where gridiron shenanigans drive the plot. 

THE 43 FACES OF JOHNNY DEPPWe review the wide variety of characters the actor has played, from early teenager roles to larger-than-life eccentrics.

FRED ASTAIREFive lively numbers from the peerless hoofer.

THE ROAD TO HELEN LAWSONJudy Garland, Susan Hayward and the bumpy road Valley of the Dolls producers experienced in casting an important role in a truly lousy film.

 AMERICAN LANDMARKS ON FILM From the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge, we take a look at ten famous sights that added drama to the movies.

THE GIRL HUNT BALLETWe revisit the stylish Fred Astaire dream ballet from The Band Wagon (1953).

IOWA FILMS & STARSTen contributions the Hawkeye State has made to motion picture history.

SCREEN TESTSAudition footage from Monroe, Dean, Brando and others.

FOX THEATEROur fond look back at one of San Francisco’s grandest movie palaces.

AUTOBIOGRAPHIESTen great titles penned by industry legends.

THE BAND WAGONNanette Fabray recalls a glaring mistake in the 1953 classic musical.

TRIGGERWe celebrate the life and somewhat creepy afterlife of Roy Rogers's favorite mount.

CHARACTERS: AGNES GOOCHPeggy Cass's memorable turn as a plain Jane coaxed into living a little in Auntie Mame (1958).

DESIGNS ON FILMA handsome volume by author and designer Cathy Whitlock chronicles the history of Hollywood set design.

REBECCAFive screen tests for Hitchock’s 1940 classic, with comments by David O. Selznick.

AL HIRSCHFELDWe select our ten favorite movie posters by the famed caricaturist.

CHARACTERS: BABY ROSALIEIn a daffy send-up of Shirley Temple, June Preisser plays an aging child star in MGM's let's-put-on-a-show musical, Babes in Arms (1939).

PRESTON STURGESSnippets of dialogue from six of the writer/director’s best films.

ANSELMO BALLESTEROur gallery of ten striking one sheets from the Italian poster artist.

GREAT MOVIESCelebrating the cool jazz short, Jammin’ the Blues (1944).

BETTY HUTTONTwelve films that exemplify the charms of this freakishly energetic performer.

JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZSmart dialogue from the Oscar-winning screenwriter.

BESTSELLERS

A dozen books that became publishing phenomena and, at times, well-made and popular films.


DESERT NOIROur report from this year’s Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs.

DIAMOND SETTINGSWe take a look at five of our favorite baseball movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s.

RED DREAM FACTORYWe profile eight films from a unique Russian-German film studio of the twenties and thirties.

« Directors Guild of America Nominations | Main | Producers Guild of America Nominations »
Friday
Jan042013

"The Girl Hunt Ballet"

Ballet sequences seem to pop up with certain regularity in musicals of the ‘40s and ‘50s. They are not a formal ballet to speak of. Typically, they represent an amalgam of ballet, jazz, modern dance and various other styles, usually taking place inside the head of one of the characters. Oklahoma! is a famous example, with Agnes de Mille’s original stage choreography for “Laurey’s Dream Ballet” transferred intact from Broadway to Fred Zinnemann’s 1955 film version. Many of the best ones have Gene Kelly’s name is attached them: “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” from Word and Music (1948), “A Day in New York” from On the Town (1949), “An American in Paris” from An American in Paris (1951) and “Broadway Rhythm Ballet” from Singin’ in the Rain (1952).

Fred Astaire, Kelly’s friendly rival at MGM, had a plum ballet sequence of his own in The Band Wagon (1953), a film showcasing the music of Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz about a group of performers involved with a troubled stage musical. The piece is called “The Girl Hunt Ballet,” the finale of the film and a triumphant indicator that the show-within-the-movie is now a hit.

Originally, Betty Comden and Adolph Green had written a song for the ending called “The Private Eye,” an attempt at a murder-mystery ballet that, in spite of being a non-Schwartz-and-Dietz composition, was proving unworkable in terms of staging and orchestration.

“The Girl Hunt Ballet” took as its inspiration a Life magazine article on Mickey Spillane, the prolific author of pulp fiction crime novels. The creative team got to work, crafting a tale set in the Spillane-like urban underworld of tough-guy criminals, duplicitous dames and hard-boiled private dicks.

Schwartz sent MGM’s music arranger Roger Edens some themes for him to work with, while Mary Ann Nyberg set about creating the stylized costumes: dapper suits for guys; slinky gowns for dolls. Preston Ames and Oliver Smith, working under Cedric Gibbon’s authority, created the minimal, expressionist sets, which included a city street, a dress salon, a subway platform, a fire escape, a woman’s bathroom and a jazzy nightspot.

Choreographer Michael Kidd was a little nervous about how Fred Astaire would react to Kidd’s more avant-garde movements and thus worked out the routines after Fred had left for the day, but ultimately Astaire grew keen on the idea of doing something new. Kidd’s daring is most evident in the Dem Bones segment of “The Girl Hunt Ballet”—each patron entering the bebop joint with their own unique gait, which Astaire assimilates, and Astaire’s unconventional, sexually charged dance duet with Cyd Charisse.

Finally, director Vincente Minnelli felt the ballet needed narration and called upon lyricist Alan Jay Lerner to write it. No wanting to step on the toes of the film’s official writers, Comden and Greene, Lerner agreed to it on the conditions that he not be paid and that Minnelli claim to have written it himself.

Here's a look at the entire 12-minute number.

 

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