Belle of New York, The (1952): Charles Walters’ MGM Musical Comedy, Starring Fred Astaire and Vera-Allen (Mediocre)

Charles Walters directed The Belle of New York, a Metro musical comedy set in New York circa 1900, starring Fred Astaire and Vera-Ellen, with music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Johnny Mercer.

One of Astaire’s weakest musicals, and one of his few commercial flops, failing to recoup the budget.

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

The Belle of New York
The Belle of New York movie poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

This whimsical musical failed with critics and at the box office, due to the unengaging plot, which, among other things, empowers the lovers to float free of the influence of gravity.

Astaire was reluctant to take the project–he was originally supposed to play the role in 1946 but avoided it through retirement.

Astaire later claimed that the dance routines are of a particularly high standard.

Vera-Ellen, one of Astaire’s most proficient dance partners, encouraged him to expand the dance routines.

Cast

Fred Astaire as Charlie Hill
Vera-Ellen as Angela Bonfils
Marjorie Main as Mrs. Phineas Hill
Keenan Wynn as Max Ferris
Alice Pearce as Elsie Wilkins
Clinton Sundberg as Gilford Spivak
Gale Robbins as Dixie ‘Deadshot’ McCoy

Musical Numbers

The choreography plays with the ideas of lightness, of floating on air, and on ice. It uses (too) many platforms, with Astaire consciously avoiding his usual love of noisemaking in his solos.

Vera-Ellen’s lithe and waif-like figure (she suffered from anorexia nervosa in life) facilitated this concept.

This amarks choreographer Robert Alton’s last collaboration with Astaire.

When I’m Out With The Belle of New York: The film’s signature waltz is delivered by male chorus outside Vera-Ellen’s window.

Who Wants To Kiss The Bridegroom: Astaire sings and dances with 7 women in sequence, finishing the routine on a table.

Let A Little Love Come In: Sung by Alice Pierce and by Vera-Ellen (dubbed here by Anita Ellis).

Seeing’s Believing: Astaire fantasy song-and-dance solo atop a mock-up of Washington Square Arch, making considerable use of process photography.

Astaire’s verdict was: “After much experimentation and testing, it neither came off photographically nor story-wise.”

Baby Doll: Partnered romantic duet, with comic overtones, sung by Astaire and danced by Astaire and Vera-Ellen, emphasis on twirling motifs and platform work.

Oops: Comic dance duet, sung by Astaire in and around moving horse-drawn streetcar, which introduces the platform ingredient into a linear side-by-side style of choreography incorporating gags and tap routines.

I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket, Astaire-Rogers number from Follow the Fleet.

A Bride’s Wedding Day Song (Currier And Ives):

Naughty But Nice: A solo song (dubbed by Ellis) and dance routine by Vera-Ellen.

I Wanna Be Dancin’ Man: Astaire’s second solo is a song and sand-dance (only second sand-dance, next to the No Strings number in Top Hat), and one used in That’s Entertainment, Part III to illustrate the precision of Astaire’s dance technique.

The number – whose lyrics are a tribute to Astaire by his friend Mercer – is a humorous study in nonchalance, with Astaire’s choreography deliberately offsetting Mercer’s tribute.
Rece

Credits:

Directed by Charles Walters
Produced by Arthur Freed
Written by Robert O’Brien and Irving Elinson
Music by Alexander Courage, Adolph Deutsch, Conrad Salinger
Cinematography Robert Planck
Edited by Albert Akst
Distributed by MGM

Release date: February 22, 1952 (U.S. release)

Running time: 82 minutes
Budget $2,563,000
Box office $1,982,000

 

Note:

TCM showed this musical on May 10, 2021.