The Band Wagon may not be about anything deeper than the joys of beautifully conceived movement playing out with perfect precision, but the film’s meticulousness in mounting a total, blissful defense of those pleasures makes it immortal.
Once the melody of “Dancing in the Dark” eases onto the score, [Astaire and Charisse] move as one organism in a dance of light, joyful communion. It is an expression of love by other means, and, as choreographed by Michael Kidd, is one of the glories of the Hollywood musical. The Band Wagon (1953) is an overwhelming sensorium of movement and color, and one of the more convincing arguments in justifying Hollywood’s existence.
The human anchor of the film is, oddly, Cyd Charisse, in her first starring role at thirty-one: Imposing and impossibly lithe, she’s pop-Cubism in motion yet remarkably down-to-earth. Pauline Kael thought her acting wooden, but playing the ballerina protégé of a Balanchine/Jerome Robbins–type choreographer, her unpolished delivery seems right for a wary, diffident outsider who masks her vulnerabilities by presenting an aura of inscrutability.