Every month, we spotlight a quintessential Las Vegas movie
The cornpone tune from The Four Aces that opens 1956’s “Meet Me in Las Vegas” doesn’t exactly fit with Sin City, but it’s a perfect introduction to the musical’s vision of the town as a mystical, romantic place. Diva ballerina Maria Corvier (Cyd Charisse) may complain that “Nobody is normal in Las Vegas,” but it doesn’t take much for her to come to love it. There’s gambling and showgirls and free-flowing alcohol, but somehow it’s all sort of wholesome.
It’s also rather forward-thinking in certain ways for a 1950s Hollywood musical, even if Maria’s disdain for men and romance is immediately shattered when she meets rancher Chuck Rodwell (Dan Dailey). Chuck somewhat presumptively grabs Maria’s hand as she’s walking by him on the casino floor at the Sands, just as he does to seemingly any attractive female passerby, claiming it’s “for luck.” When Maria appears to actually convey luck on the perpetually losing gambler, Chuck decides that they have a magical connection, whether Maria believes it or not.
This is an old-fashioned musical romance, so of course Maria falls for Chuck after only a brief period of objecting. Still, she retains her autonomy both personally and professionally, and she’s a unique kind of showroom headliner for the Las Vegas of 1956—or 2022, for that matter. According to Sands casino manager Tom Culdane (Jim Backus), she’s getting paid $30,000 per week (the 2022 equivalent of more than $300,000) for a show that combines ballet with modern interpretive dance, with no showgirls or pop songs or comedy acts. Her name is displayed prominently on the same Sands marquee that advertises Lena Horne and Frankie Laine at the beginning of the movie.
“Meet Me in Las Vegas” takes place primarily at the Sands, where most of it was shot, with a brief detour to the Silver Slipper, and it’s a lovely glimpse at two hotel-casinos that no longer exist. When Chuck and Maria take a whirlwind tour of the city to take advantage of their preternatural luck at the tables, the movie presents a flurry of long-gone signs and marquees from casinos like the Dunes, the Desert Inn, the Pioneer Club and the New Frontier. Shooting on location means that Vegas regulars like Horne, Laine, Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds all put in appearances, even if just for brief, wordless cameos.
Director Roy Rowland and choreographer Hermes Pan stage some gorgeous production numbers, especially Maria’s two showroom performances, which open up into multilayered set pieces that go far beyond the scope of what could actually be contained on the stage. The opening-night performance that serves as the movie’s climax is set to an updated version of traditional song “Frankie and Johnnie” sung by Sammy Davis Jr. It’s nearly avant-garde in its staging and design sense, showcasing Charisse’s uncanny dancing abilities, which are surely worth every penny the Sands is paying Maria. “Meet Me in Las Vegas” never spawned its own Vegas stage show, but there’s still time to correct that oversight.
“Meet Me in Las Vegas” is available for digital rental at Amazon and other outlets.