Fred Astaire and Vera-Ellen in The Belle of New York (1952)

 (director: Charles Walters; screenwriters: play by C.M.S. McLellan/Chester Erskine/Robert O’Brien/Irving Elinson; cinematographer: Robert H. Planck; editor: Albert Akst; music: Harry Warren; cast: Fred Astaire (Charlie Hill), Vera-Ellen (Angela Bonfils), Marjorie Main (Mrs. Phineas Hill), Keenan Wynn (Max Ferris), Alice Pearce (Elsie Wilkins), Clinton Sundberg (Gilford Spivak), Gale Robbins (Dixie McGoy); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Arthur Freed/Roger Edens; MGM; 1952)

“This very average film is not one of Fred’s musical triumphs, but is watchable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Belle of New York is based on the stage play by C. M. S. McLellan and first appeared on Broadway in 1897. In 1919, a silent movie version starred Marion Davies, the long-time mistress of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. This uninspired but amiable remake is directed by Charles Walters (“Billy Rose’s Jumbo”/”Walk Don’t Run”/”High Society”) and written by the team of Chester Erskine, Robert O’Brien and Irving Elinson. Though the story line was weak and the music was only ordinary, the nine songs (written by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer) and many dance numbers (there was dancing for forty-one minutes out of the total running time of eighty-two minutes) were lively and well choreographed. The highlight song has Fred Astaire singing “I Want To Be a Dancin’ Man!” Other songs include “When I’m Out With The Belle of New York,” “Oops,” “Naughty but Nice,” Seeing’s Believing,” “Bachelor’s Dinner Song,” “Thank you Mr. Currier, Thank You Mr. Ives,” “I Love to Beat a Big Brass Drum” and “Let a Little Love Come In.” The film flopped at the box office and upon its release received a lukewarm reception from the critics.

In the 1890s in New York City, dissolute playboy bachelor Charlie Hill (Fred Astaire) gives up showgirls and is smitten with an innocent Bowery mission tambourine player named Angela Bonfils (Vera-Ellen). In order to win the attractive but prim Salvation Army gal over, the idler must reform and get a job.

In this fantasy film, we’re told that true love can make one walk on air. When Fred and Vera dance on air, we know this one will end happily (through the use of special effects the lovers find themselves levitating and then dancing over the tall roofs of New York). Keenan Wynn plays a sleazy lawyer friend of Fred’s, who hangs onto his coat-tails to get by since that’s his only client. Alice Pearce is around for comic relief and plays Vera’s plain-looking friend with the mission group called ‘Daughter of the Right.’ Marjorie Main is Fred’s haughty charity sponsor aunt, who keeps him funded and toeing the line of respectability.

Though Vera-Ellen is an accomplished dancer, she is a wooden actress showing no chemistry with Fred. Also, her singing was dubbed by Anita Ellis. Fred is his usual spry self, as his film’s usually have slight stories like this one and depend mostly on the music. This very average film is not one of Fred’s musical triumphs, but is watchable.