The first half of the fifties were a pivotal moment for Hollywood musicals. The genteel tux-and-tie choreography of the thirties had given way to Gene Kelly’s scrappier, more athletic brand of drawn-out (and often pretentious) modern ballets. Kelly’s vision, in the form of musicals like Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, and On the Town, was bubbly, bright, and middle-class. And it left Fred Astaire, the movie musical’s first bona fide superstar, out in the cold.
Astaire had tried to adapt himself to the new style with varying success (see Ziegfeld Follies and Yolanda and the Thief.) But Astaire’s fate in the early fifties was something one suspects he’d never accounted for: his age was beginning to show. Of course, this was a time when elderly men still courted young women on-screen with stunning regularity, and had Astaire been a normal romantic lead, this might not have been a problem. But he was a dancer.