Created by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
It’s not the same old song-and-dance, my friend…
ROD RILEY‘s something of a parody figure like Guy Noir, and he exists in only one extended dance sequence, but take it from me–he’s wonderful.
The number, which appears in the 1953 film musical The Band Wagon (probably best known for the classic show-biz anthem “That’s Entertainment”) written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, spoofs both Mickey Spillane-style novels and dramatic ballets. The piece, a part of the show-within-a-show, is called “The Girl Hunt Ballet” and features Fred Astaire as hard-boiled private investigator Riley.
He strolls onstage to wearily light a cigarette, and in voiceover sets up the scene, with typical tough guy terseness:
“The city was asleep. The joints were closed; the rats and the hoods and the killers were in their holes… [fiercely] I hate killers.”
“Somewhere in a furnished room some guy was practicing on a horn [we hear it]. It was a lonesome sound; it crawled on my spine…”
“I had just finished a tough case and was ready to hit the sack… “
But suddenly Rod is caught up in another case. And somehow, the elegant Mr. Astaire pulls it off. He’s one of those wiry little guys who dodges trouble with smarts and luck. His dances with Cyd Charisse, who plays both the troubled blonde damsel in distress and the sultry brunette femme fatale in the number, and positively burns up the screen, but they also intentionally make you giggle. Michael Kidd did the choreography, and it’s smashing. Charisse’s sexiness and dancing are amazing. The storyline doesn’t altogether make sense but you get the gist and there’s a neat–could we say Spillanesque?–twist at the end.
It’s possible the piece was at least partially inspired by Bartok’s notorious The Miraculous Mandarin (1926), which was itself based on the 1916 story by Melchior Lengyel about a gang of thieves who use a girl to lure men to their chambers to rob and murder them. Premiering on November 1926 at the Cologne Opera in Germany, it caused a scandal and was subsequently banned on moral grounds.
- “Somewhere in the city there was a killer, and that was bad. Bad for the killer because I shoot hard. And I hate hard.”
- “These mugs were smart–but they made one mistake. They got me *mad*.”
- “She came at me in sections. More curves than a scenic railway.”
- “She was bad. She was dangerous. I wouldn’t trust her any farther than I could throw her. But she was my kinda woman.”
- “Interesting side note: Fred Astaire’s character name throughout all the other portions of The Band Wagon is “Tony Hunter,” which turns out to be the name of a P.I. in Robert George Dean novels. I learned that from your site! Thanks!”
— Christine Bamberger
- “Interestingly, since it’s clear Rod Riley was affectionately spoofing Mike Hammer, that Spillane’s 1962 comeback Hammer novel, the first entry in the series in 10 years, was called… The Girl Hunters. Was this possibly a tip of Spillane’s trademark pork pie to Astaire’s?”
— Jim Doherty
- THE BAND WAGON | Buy this video | Buy this DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray | Watch it now! Watch the dance sequence now!
Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Also Alan Jay Lerner (uncredited)
Songs by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Associate producer: Roger Edens
Produced by Arthur Freed
Starring Fred Astaire as Tony Hunter (and ROD RILEY)
Also starring Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan, James Mitchell, Robert Gist
- It’s Hammer Time!
Send-ups and Put-Downs of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer
- Are You Trying to Be Funny?
The Funniest Eyes
Report respectfully submitted by Christine Bamberger, moderator, Fred Astaire Discussion List. Additional info supplied by Kevin Burton Smith.