Filmsite Movie Review
The Band Wagon (1953)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

At The Broadway Theatre- A Meeting With Jeffrey Cordova - The Proposed Director of the Martons' New Script:

The end of the previous scene dissolved into the placard in front of Broadway's Stratton Theatre, where rising writer-actor-producer-director Jeffrey Cordova was concluding his evening's performance of his own adaptation of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. In his serious, high-brow and classical dramatic play, he had taken the title role of Oedipus (wearing "sackcloth and ashes") who had blinded himself.

The Martons and Tony watched from the backstage wing, as the Martons lauded his work, but Tony was immediately skeptical of Cordova's fitness as a musical director - and probably of his management abilities for drama as well. The flamboyant and eccentric Cordova's egotistical demands as a "maestro" for a specific kind of corned-beef sandwich, other barked orders at his manager Hal Benton (Robert Gist), and criticisms of the lighting technician Max for not properly showcasing him with an amber spotlight, revealed that he might be too zany, self-involved, narcissistic and unsuitable.

[Note: Director Minnelli stated that Cordova's role was patterned on "such flamboyant types as Orson Welles and George S. Kaufman." Others noted the role was loosely inspired by actor/producer/director José Ferrer.]

When the debonair and pretentious Cordova finally noticed Tony, he profusely claimed he was "delighted and thrilled" to meet him.

The group met slightly later to discuss the upcoming play. The dubious Tony voiced his concerns by asking Cordova: "Do you really want to do a musical?" The charlatan Cordova answered that he embraced all types of theatrical genres - in particular, he believed in synthesizing both high-art and low-art, and not creating "artificial barriers" between the drama and the musical:

Musical, musical! I'm sick of these artificial barriers between the musical and the drama. In my mind, there is no difference between the magic rhythms of Bill Shakespeare's immortal verse and the magic rhythms of Bill Robinson's immortal feet...I tell you, if it moves you, if it stimulates you, if it entertains you, it's theatre. When the right combination gets together and it spells theatre, well, I got to be right in there up to my armpits.

Cordova's New Concept and Thematic Direction for the Script of "The Band Wagon":

Proud and enthusiastic about their script, Lester and Lily provided a short synopsis of the plot of their "light and intimate" show - it would star Tony as a childrens' book author and illustrator, who was compromising his artistic abilities by writing and selling more profitable, bloody murder mysteries on the side:

With Tony in mind, we naturally visualize a light and intimate show. We want to give him a chance to play a charming guy, with just enough plot to make him do lots of gay and varied numbers. Well, now, he's a writer and illustrator of children's books, but to get in the real dough on the side, he gets involved writing lurid murder mysteries full of violence and buckets of blood. Now, the success of these makes him feel he's, sort of, sold his soul to the Devil, but he keeps on doing it. And there's lots of comedy implications with his friends, played by us.... Children's playground, a reform school, 12 showgirls playing softball! - and a number about a murder mystery.

After a long pause following the Martons' very animated expression of their unabashed love for their own script, Cordova complimented them: "Kids, you're geniuses. The whole thing is a brilliantly imaginative idea...You've hit on something that's not only great as a musical, but valid in terms of today, of modern life...Of course, these modern thrillers, he's got to keep turning 'em out. They make him fame, money. He's caught.... It's brilliant, contemporary, perceptive."

But then he stunned them by misinterpreting their musical as something that was much more sinister - the pompous director proposed changes in the playwrights' original thematic intentions, and insisted on a rewrite of the musical to make it a modernistic, dark Faustian tale:

This story's a modern version of Faust.

Everyone was taken aback when he changed the entire thematic direction of the comic musical romp by reinterpreting it and making it a much more serious, unfunny and heavy morality play:

Just like Faust, this man is tempted by the Devil and his compromise, his sell-out, must end in eternal damnation...Kids, you've got a choice here between a nice little musical comedy and a modern musical morality play with meaning and stature!...I want to angle it to bring out the analogy between the Faust legend and this man's story.

As the musical's "artistic" director, Cordova was already portraying his 'devilish' nature and trying to have the Martons sell their souls to his new misguided vision. He tempted his collaborators by claiming that his revision would have "meaning and stature." He was convinced that the universal themes of the Faustian tale would end up being a "smash" at the box-office: ("I tell you, anyone who's touched this legend has turned it into a gold mine").

He even proposed a major change in the casting - he would cast himself as the Devil disguised as the author's book publisher. He demonstrated in the shadows of a light how he could be "evil personified leading all mankind into the paths of temptation!" He also suggested that he would find a way to cast long-legged, classically-trained ballerina Gabrielle "Gaby" Gerard (Cyd Charisse) as his co-star. As a Broadway novice, she would be perfect to play the part because she was "somebody with fire, charm, grace, beauty." Tony would be relegated to play the book author (the dissatisfied Faustian character) who would make a pact with the Devil and sell his soul.

Long-time, soft-shoe movie star Tony was reluctant and extremely dubious about the whole new idea and concept, and told them he was disinterested in performing and dancing with the classical ballet star Gabrielle:

I'll pick up my marbles and go home....Fellas, bless you, good luck, but this just ain't for me. I know what I can do, and I'm gonna stick to it.

Cordova argued, with "brutal facts," that Tony needed to change with the times and remake his stale image: "That's the trouble. You've stuck to it, and you're stuck with it....Times have changed, Tony. You haven't changed with them. You've gone stale." He promised that the show would make Tony an even greater star as "the new Tony Hunter" of 1953:

Because you can be greater than you ever were! We are going to make you explode on the theatre scene like a skyrocket! Not just the old trademark, with the top hat, tie, and tails, but a great artist at the peak of his powers.

The very wary Tony expressed more doubts about the challenges of being transformed and his ability to entertain: "Whatever I am, whether it's a new me or an old me, remember, I'm still just an entertainer." After insisting that they were all entertainers at heart, Cordova replied that there were numerous forms of entertainment:

  • What do you think I am?
  • What do you think they are?
  • What do you think the theatre is?
  • It's all entertainment!

"We're all theatre. Show me the greatest tragic actor or the lowest red-nosed comic in burlesque and I'll show you an entertainer. We're all..." Cordova made assertions about how 'entertainment' could meld together both high-brow and low-brow art, i.e., a circus show: ("The clown with his pants falling down") and a classic Greek tale ("It could be Oedipus Rex Where a chap kills his father and causes a lot of bother"). He proposed to synthesize all disparate elements into a dark musical drama that could still be entertaining. The group was led into singing the film's thematic song "That's Entertainment!":

"That's Entertainment!"
Everything that happens in life can happen in a show
You can make 'em laugh You can make 'em cry
Anything, anything can go

The clown with his pants falling down
Or the dance that's a dream of romance
Or the scene where the villain is mean
That's Entertainment!

The lights on the lady in tights
Or the bride with the guy on the side
Or the ball where she gives him her all
That's Entertainment!

The plot can be hot simply teeming with sex
A gay divorce who is after her ex
It could be Oedipus Rex
Where a chap kills his father and causes a lot of bother

The clerk who is thrown out of work
By the boss who was thrown for a loss
By the skirt who is doing him dirt

The world is a stage
The stage is a world of entertainment
That's Entertainment!

Maneuvering to Cast Ballet Dancer Gabrielle Gerard in Cordova's Production of "The Band Wagon":

Later that evening at 3 am in the morning in his apartment, Cordova was told by his manager Hal Benton that his plans for signing up rising ballet star Gabrielle Gerard as his leading lady in the Marton's show were impossibly idiotic. Her choreographer, manager and boyfriend Paul Byrd (James Mitchell), called "a tough customer," wouldn't allow her to do a Broadway show under any circumstances: "She doesn't make a move without him." Suddenly, Paul Byrd arrived after being awakened from sleep to come over and speak to "the greatest producer of musicals today" - but he didn't expect to be speaking to Cordova. He was counting on seeing either Oscar Hammerstein or Richard Rodgers.

Gabrielle's possessive mentor Paul insisted that she must never do insignificant work that was beneath her: "Gabrielle is not gonna do a show. She's too important to ballet." Cordova changed the subject from Gabrielle to Jeff - he manipulatively flattered and impressed him by offering him the job of choreographing his new musical show:

This show is a choreographer's dream, and you're the only one who can do it....You're the greatest, and we know it, and this is just your meat. A great classic theme. The story of Faust in a modern setting.

After excitedly promoting his newly-interpreted Faustian production: ("Now, there's Tony Hunter, myself, a great score by the Martons"), and realizing that Paul was interested in the idea of working with him as the dance choreographer, Cordova proposed that he needed a "virtuoso" singer (not a dancer) as his co-star - "This girl has to be a virtuoso performer, with fire, charm, beauty - a great lady with a gamine quality." Paul mentioned that Gabrielle had all of those qualities and would be the perfect fit for the part, but he still wouldn't allow her to perform in the theatrical show.

To persuade and convince Paul to allow Gabrielle's participation, Cordova used reverse psychology. He again downplayed Gabrielle, calling her "charming within her limitations." Paul stood up and defended Gabrielle's abilities, and suddenly wanted her for the role:

Paul: She can be one of the greatest stars in the theatre. Everybody's been trying to get her.
Cordova: For the right vehicle, something light and fluffy.
Paul: Light and fluffy? Now, see here, Jeff. I'm not gonna do this show unless Gabrielle Gerard plays that part!

Cordova cleverly feigned reluctance: "Well now, Paul, this throws a little monkey wrench into things, doesn't it?" However, Paul begged for the Martons (and Tony) to attend and view Gabrielle's ballet performance in her next evening's show to reassess her suitability.

Tony's Co-Star - Classical Ballerina Gabrielle Gerard:

At the Commodore Theatre the following evening, Gabrielle was appearing in the Coutray Ballet Company's "IMAGE OF THE NIGHT - ENSEMBLE THE FIELDS - PHANTASY," choreographed by Paul Byrd. In the audience and also after the show, tuxedoed Tony reacted with worry about the graceful pas de deux ballet moves of Gabrielle, the long-legged star performer who was wearing a bright red tutu. He was apprehensive and intimidated by her tall stature and her classical training - he sensed that she was in a whole different stratosphere of artistic excellence:

She's fabulous, sensational, loveliest thing I've ever seen....The girl's fantastic, beautiful, but I can't dance with her.... It isn't that I don't appreciate what she does. I tell you, I know she's magnificent. That's what scares me. But I haven't done ballet since I was a kid. I'd look silly.

The group convened at Cordova's apartment where they were told that Cordova was pitching his revised play idea to "big money" (potential financial backers and investors) in another room. The high-class guests had left their fur coats on the back of a sofa. As they waited in the library for Cordova to finish his promotion, Tony again expressed how overwhelmed he was with the idea of dancing with Gabrielle:

I'm not ready yet. There's a lot to be cleared up first. This girl Gerard, it's not just her dancing. On top of everything, she's too tall for me. This girl is a giantess.

Lester encouraged Tony to quit worrying and have a drink: "Jeff only wants her in the show because she's the best. We all gotta go along with him, too, Tony." He partially opened the door to the adjoining room, where Cordova (who was viewed from multiple angles from different doorways) was busily over-emoting and exaggerating the Faustian elements of his musical to a seated, spell-bound group of investors: is the Devil, come to claim the soul of the modern Faust man. With flapping wings and grinning evil eyes, he points the way to the yawning pits of Hades....He passes by all the writhing souls in torment paying for their deadly sins. Gluttony, avarice...Brimstone and flames. Save me. Corrupter of children. Purveyor of evil. Dungeon... ...bubbling cauldrons. Fiery furnaces of doom.

Lester and Lily were alarmed that Cordova's histrionic description was far different from their original story: (Lily: "The story he's telling them has nothing to do with the story we wrote. This will mean months of rewriting"), although he was expecting rehearsals in three weeks. Meanwhile, Gabrielle and Paul had also arrived, and she was also concerned, feeling "embarrassed," and in awe about the idea of co-starring with the great and legendary Hollywood movie star Tony Hunter:

I'm sure Tony Hunter doesn't want me in this show....I'm just a ballet dancer...What does he want with me? He's a famous movie and stage actor. He's practically a historical character by now. Dancing with him is like dancing with a statue of General Grant.

Paul attempted to calm her nerves: "You know, this is a Cordova show. It's an important step for you. I'm going to do the choreography, so there's nothing for you to worry about."

In the hallway at the foot of a spiraling staircase, Gabrielle and Tony accidentally encountered each other. At first while exhibiting tremendous insecurity, they both attempted to put on a false front of flattering admiration for each other, but then mutually hurt each other's feelings, quarreled and insulted each other over their wide age-gap, their differing talents and contrasting dancing skills:

Tony: I haven't told you how wonderful you were tonight.
Gabrielle: Thank you. I'm a great admirer of yours, too.
Tony: I didn't think you'd ever even heard of me.
Gabrielle: Heard of you? I used to see all your pictures when I was a little girl. And I'm still a fan. I recently went to see a revival of them at the museum.
Tony (mockingly): Museum? 'Step right this way, ladies and gentlemen. Egyptian mummies, extinct reptiles, and Tony Hunter, the grand old man of the dance.'
Gabrielle: Oh, I didn't mean...
Tony: Young lady, I want you to know that I can still thread a needle without my eyeglasses, and still occasionally do a soft-shoe shuffle. Nothing balletic, of course.
Gabrielle: You're not a ballet devotee, are you?
Tony: Oh, yes. I was going to the ballet before you were born. I saw Pavlova, Karsavina, all the real ballet greats. You don't see dancing like that nowadays. Oh, I'm sorry.
Gabrielle: That's okay. I don't expect you to class me with Pavlova. In fact, if she were around, I doubt if she'd be good enough to dance with you. You'd probably insist on an audition first.
Tony: I sure would. I'd audition my own grandmother.
Gabrielle: Then why don't you audition mine? She'd be just about right for you.

In their intial meeting marked by sarcasm and hostility, their two egos clashed so strongly that they split and stormed off. Gabrielle insisted on leaving and complained to Paul: "I can't work with that man. He's impossible." At the same time, Tony expressed his second thoughts to the Martons: "The whole thing is off. This girl is a monster. I have definitely had it." As both groups rushed to the front door to depart as quickly as possible, theatrical director Cordova emerged from the back room with the investors to greet his "wonderful" group of colleagues: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, the brains, the talent, the artists..."

With a grand flourish, he ushered everyone into the room to introduce each of them to the wealthy financiers: "Ladies and gentlemen. I want you all to meet the happy little group that's responsible for the show that everyone will be clamouring to get seats for next season."

  • his "celebrated" choreographer
  • the two authors
  • the talented star ("Mr. Show Business himself")
  • and the new leading lady ("That glamorous, delightful dancer from the magical world of ballet. Mr. Hunter's own personal choice")

With tremendous irony, he remarked: "I think, gentlemen, you will agree, your investment is safe, yes?" With the enthusiastic backers eager to see the production proceed, it was too late to cancel the show.

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