Rod Riley
Created by Comden and Green

It's not the same old song-and-dance, my friend...

ROD RILEY's something of a parody, 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 Comden and Green, spoofs both Mickey Spillane-style novels and dramatic ballets. The piece is called "The Girl Hunt Ballet" and in it, Fred Astaire portrays a fading film star cast as 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 works as this hard-boiled detective character. 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 and the sultry brunette femme fatale in the number, positively burn 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 twist at the end.

FURTHER EVIDENCE

  • "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."

TRIVIA

  • "Interesting side note: Fred Astaire's character name throughout all 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

FILM

  • THE BAND WAGON...Buy this video
    (1953, MGM)
    Written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Also Alan Jay Lerner (uncredited)
    Original Music by Arthur Schwartz (songs)
    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

RELATED LINKS

Report respectfully submitted by Christine Bamberger, moderator, Fred Astaire Discussion List. Additional info supplied by Kevin Burton Smith.


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