How did they achieve this effect in a 1953 film?

I have been laughing my head off at the triplets clip from the movie Band Wagon, which someone had posted in the YouTube thread.

My question is…how did they DO that? The Wikipedia article says they are dancing on their knees, but then how are they bouncing their “legs” when they’re in the high chairs? (And how do they “jump” out of the chairs?)

“…shooting the fiendishly simple-looking Triplets number was an exercise in masochism, with the three actors’ legs bound to allow them hop off those high chairs - onto their knees. They needed novocaine shots to keep filming.”

(found here)

“Another musical sequence, the bizarre “Triplets,” shows Astaire, Fabray and Buchanan all apparently midgets dressed as babies, sliding down from their high chairs and dancing. Since we see their feet hit the floor and special effects seem impossible, how did they do it? By balancing on artificial legs strapped to their knees, Fabray reports; they fell dozens of times before getting it right, and relied on pain-killers.”

(found here)

At the risk of destroying a nice illusion, their real legs are right there in plain view, with the fake legs attached to the front. You just can’t see the real legs because they’re clad in black on a black background. It’s a very old trick, but very effective, if you get the lighting and exposure just right.

When they jump out of the chairs, they’re really just dropping to their knees. Notice how widely the chair legs are splayed out? Even so, if you watch closely, you can see Astaire’s leggings (or whatever) passing in front of the chair leg as he drops down.

But it’s a marvelous performance. Imagine dancing on your knees like that! Ouch.

(Wait. “Dance on your knees!” Where have I heard that? Dare I admit I’ve seen a Hall and Oates video?)

Unbelievable. It’s a wonder they weren’t all crippled for life. I have nothing but admiration for actors who can sing and dance at the same time, but doing it while balancing on artificial legs? Wow!

Thanks for the links, pinkfreud. (BTW, how did you find those sites? I bow to your superior Google-foo.)

I have two degrees in theater, so you’d think I’d have been able to figure that out! It is indeed a very old trick.

And now that you point it out, I can see Fred Astaire’s leg when he jumps out of the chair.

Destroying the illusion doesn’t make it one whit less amazing. If anything, it makes it more so!

FWIW, this performance is a bit more remarkable.

And while my hat’s off to Astaire, Fabray and Buchanan, I don’tunderstand why they were forced to dance on their knees. Simply raising the stage where the high chairs were, while leaving the dance floor at “ground level” would have allowed them to pull the effect off without risk of serious injury.

What a fantastic clip. I can’t quite work out how Nanette Fabray does the both-feet-in-the-air stuff at ca. 2:10, if she’s supposed to be on her knees?

I love this clip! I have posted a link to it in a previous SDMB YouTube thread. The potato salad song has become somewhat of an ear worm for me.

But as much as I love it, I don’t think it’s more remarkable than the triplets. The Ross Sisters had a unique but rather narrow talent, as opposed to Astaire, Fabray and Buchanan.

Usram, I’ve been wondering about that, too!

“I wish I had a gun, a widdle gun . . .”

Well, it’s only narrow because of the Hays Code. :wink:

It wouldn’t have looked right. If the actual dancing were done on their feet, but only showing knee-high shoes, you’d never get the same effect. They may have tried it that way first.

My guess is that she’s actually just barely on her feet at that point, maybe just on her toes. Her knees are not touching the floor.

Actually, that’s the only part of the “dance” that looks difficult to me. The rest of it is just right-together-left-together on the knees to the beat. Ouchy, sure, after a whole day of shooting, but not particularly hard. I do that in the garden every summer!

I looked very carefully and could not see Fred’s legs at all in the clip. Where should I be looking?

Help me visualize this. If her knees are not touching the floor, she has shifted her weight backwards so she is in a squat position, balanced on the balls of her feet. And from that position, she swings her knees to make the fake legs do the equivalent of clicking their heels. Then she has to shift her weight forward to complete the rest of the scene.

Not that difficult?!?

After looking at it again, maybe it’s Nanette, not Fred. Look at the seat/leg of the high chair between Fred and Nanette at 1:19.

Watch the chair leg at the far left (your left). You don’t actually see Fred’s leg, but you see it occlude the chair leg as he kneels down. At least something does!

As for all their poor knees, one hopes that at least they had (black) knee pads on.

Never mind. I think that’s a shadow.

We need mwbrooks to point out what he sees.

ETA: You did. And I still can’t see it. :smack:

I saw something, but I was wrong about exactly what I saw. Just before Fred jumps down, my eye caught his leg moving in front of the chair’s back leg, which is only partly visible, and only for a moment.

Can you see that? It’s possible I’m just crazy.

That’s the part that I said *did *look difficult (but not impossible, I just did it, although I admit I needed a chair back to steady me…but I also suspect she was in a lot better shape than me!) It’s just shifting from a kneel to your feet and then bringing your knees close together.