Yolanda and the Thief
|Yolanda and the Thief|
Magazine advertisement for the film
|Directed by||Vincente Minnelli|
|Produced by||Arthur Freed|
|Written by||Irving Brecher|
|Story by||Ludwig Bemelmans
|Music by||Harry Warren
Arthur Freed (lyrics)
|Edited by||George White|
|November 20, 1945|
Yolanda and the Thief (Technicolor) is a 1945 MGM musical-comedy film set in a fictional Latin American country, and stars Fred Astaire, Lucille Bremer, Frank Morgan, and Mildred Natwick, with music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Arthur Freed. The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli and produced by Arthur Freed.
The film—a long-time pet project of Freed's to promote his lover Bremer's career—fared disastrously at the box office. An attempt to create a whimsical fantasy, it ended up—in the words of critic John Mueller—as "egg-nog instead of the usual champagne", despite admirable production values. The music is merely competent, the orchestration syrupy, Bremer's acting is poor, whereas the already fragile plot and some good comedy elements were scuppered by last-minute injudicious cutting by Minnelli. It ruined Bremer's career and discouraged Astaire, who decided to retire after his next film Blue Skies.
Perhaps it also vindicated Astaire's own horror of "inventing up to the arty"—his phrase for the approach of those who would set out a priori to create art, whereas he believed artistic value could only emerge as an accidental and unpremeditated by-product of a tireless search for perfection. In his autobiography, Astaire approvingly quotes Los Angeles Times critic Edwin Schallert:" 'Not for realists' is a label that may be appropriately affixed to Yolanda and the Thief. It is a question, too, whether this picture has the basic material to satisfy the general audience, although in texture and trimmings it might be termed an event." Astaire himself concluded: "This verified my feeling that doing fantasy on the screen is an extra risk."
- Fred Astaire as Johnny Parkson Riggs
- Lucille Bremer as Yolanda
- Frank Morgan as Victor Budlow Trout
- Mildred Natwick as Aunt Amarilla
- Mary Nash as Duenna
- Leon Ames as Mr. Candle
- Ludwig Stossel as School Teacher
- Jane Green as Mother Superior
- Remo Bufano as Puppeteer
- Francis Pierlot as Padre
- Leon Belasco as Taxi Driver
- Ghislaine Perreau as Gigi
- Charles La Torre as Police Lieutenant
- Michael Visaroff as Major Domo
Filming began on January 15, 1945 and the film was first previewed on July 11, 1945 in Glendale, California. It cost $2,443,322.31 to make and suffered a net loss of $1,644,000.
Key songs/dance routines
Eugene Loring was responsible for most of the choreography, with Astaire for once taking a back seat and only contributing in parts. Tactfully, Astaire claimed he wanted to see what it would be like dancing to other choreographers' ideas, a move some critics have attributed to a putative temporary decline in Astaire's creative powers around this time, but it is equally possible that he found the artistic pretensions of the project somewhat off-putting.
In any event, the dancing saves the day in what is also Astaire's most visually arresting color film, featuring possibly the first example on film of the deliberate integration of color and visual pattern with dance—a theme which Minnelli explored on a larger scale and to such celebrated effect six years later with Gene Kelly in the dream ballet finale of An American in Paris. Astaire had already created an early dream dance on film with "I Used To Be Color Blind" in Carefree (1938), and had worked with Minelli on a dream ballet insert for the "Limehouse Blues" number from Ziegfeld Follies (1946). The dream ballet genre achieved popularity when Agnes de Mille choreographed a celebrated number for the 1943 stage hit Oklahoma!.
- "This is a Day For Love": Bemelmans conducts the school pupils in their national anthem.
- "Angel": Conned into believing that Astaire is her guardian angel, Bremer sings this song of anticipation.
- "Dream Ballet": An extended (c. 15mins.) routine for Astaire, Bremer and various others, which Minnelli has described as "The first surrealistic ballet in film". The Dali-esque scenery and the main characters (Astaire and Bremer) are dressed in pastel shades as are characters in harmony with them - such as the three handmaidens near the end. Most of the other characters - who have an aggressive, disruptive quality, and bring spiky dance rhythms into play - wear vivid primary colors making them stand out from the background scenery and from the main characters, adding to the powerful illusion of space - a quality remarked upon by New York Times dance critic James Martin at the time. In the middle of the ballet, Astaire inserts a beautiful partnered romantic duet for himself and Bremer to "Will You Marry Me," performed by Bremer and the dubbed-in voice of Trudy Erwin, and much of the choreography of this section seems to bear the signature of Astaire himself.
- "Yolanda": Astaire serenades Bremer with this attractive melody while playing a harp (dubbed by jazz harpist Bobby Maxwell). He follows the song with a very brief but enchanting solo dance routine around the harp.
- "Coffee Time": A jazzy, innovative and exuberant dance routine for Astaire, Bremer and chorus, blending complex repeated syncopated rhythms (inspired by Loring's idea of setting a five-count dance phrase against a four-count musical phrase) in a visually stunning setting incorporating a wavy black and white dance floor (designed by Irene Scharaff) and chorus dancers dressed in brightly colored costumes. The costumes, hypnotic singing and twirling dance style of the chorus are evocative of whirling dervishes. The floor earns a reference in the recent romantic comedy Simply Irresistible (1999).
- New York Times November 23, 1945; Bosley Crowther: "Taste and imagination are so rare these days in musical films that a good bit of both is sufficient to offset a pack of obvious faults. So that's why this corner is cheering for Metro's Yolanda and the Thief...a pleasing compound of sparkling mummery and glistening allures for eyes and ears...the terpsichorean cavorting of Lucille Bremer and Fred Astaire is simply grand. A Dream Ballet number, expanded against Daliesque decor, with Mr. Astaire as the dreamer, is a thing of pictorial delight...Coffee Time puts movement and color to such use as you seldom behold on the screen...Mr. Astaire and Miss Bremer are plainly thrown considerably out of stride when they are called upon to ramble through some of the talkative scenes. The humor, to put it bluntly, is obvious and dull...It is a long established principle that Fred Astaire's name on a picture is a guarantee of fine dancing, and if Mr. Astaire retires as he is threatening to do, it will remove one of the truly great American dancers of the age."
- Variety October 17, 1945; Kahn: "There's an idea in this yarn, but it only suggests itself. It becomes too immersed in its musical background...A musical number attempts to be symbolic but only serves to waste too many moments of the over-long film...Miss Bremer is a beaut who has a friend in the cameraman...Astaire, on the other hand, gets no such camera treatment, and some of the close-ups are particularly unflattering. But his performance, as usual, is casual and sure."
According to MGM records the film earned $1,221,000 in the US and Canada and $570,000 elsewhere resulting in a loss of $1,644,000.
- Billman, Larry (1997). Fred Astaire - A Bio-bibliography. Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 115–118. ISBN 0-313-29010-5.
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- Mueller, John (1986). Astaire Dancing - The Musical Films. London: Hamish Hamilton. pp. 252–261. ISBN 0-241-11749-6.
- Astaire, Fred (1959). Steps in Time. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-241-11749-6.