Yolanda and the Thief (Warner Archive)
Every Hollywood studio made musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, but MGM made musicals big and glorious and, more often than not, classy. Vincente Minnelli was MGM’s resident master of grace under rhythm, a stylist of the highest order who used dance and song to define character while creating some of the greatest set pieces in musical history. Yolanda and the Thief (1945), a whimsical fantasy set in a fictional Latin American kingdom with Fred Astaire as a cynical con man working on a naïve young princess (Lucille Bremer), is built on one of the weakest scripts and lackluster scores of Minnelli’s career, but it’s not without its pleasures, notably a pair of extended musical sequences that take over the film. Astaire’s guilt-driven nightmare is a modern ballet in a twisted dreamscape of anxieties, while a bright carnival celebration segues into the film’s most joyous number, “Coffee Time,” where Minnelli’s color design adds dynamic splashes to the choreography and elegant camerawork.