Monday, November 15, 2010


Although Vincente Minnelli's 1945 musical Yolanda and the Thief is not one of his or Fred Astaire's most popular films, it contains a jewel of a musical number that has earned raves from day one...Coffee Time...

When the film was released, none other than stuffy Bosley Crowther, critic for The New York Times, was impressed: "...a rhythm dance, done to the melody of Mr. Freed's Coffee-Time, puts movement and color to such uses as you seldom behold on screen."

More recently, Stuart Klawans of The Nation was even more enthusiastic: "Minnelli puts Astaire and Lucille Bremer into the midst of a mad pulsation of dancers in mocha and cafe au lait costumes...the chorus swirls; the camera swirls; the gringo-Latin rhythms shift giddily...Coffee Time  is heaven itself, and a warm-up for the 18-minute ballet that Minnelli and Gene Kelly would create in An American in Paris."

Coffee Time is the reworking of an earlier tune by composer Harry Warren called Java Junction. His collaborator, producer/songwriter Arthur Freed, created new lyrics for the updated melody. In the film, the routine begins as a captivating contrast in rhythms, with the orchestra playing in 4/4 time while the dancers dance in 5/4 time. The number goes through a series of variations and ends up a full-blown swing number showcasing Astaire and Bremer.

The Coffee Time sequence is a fiesta for the eyes. Costumer Irene Sharaff developed the stylized combo of costumes and decor. She created coffee-colored outfits for the extras and, to set off the costumes, devised a pattern of rolling black and white lines on the dance floor that form an optical illusion. With Fred Astaire, choreographer Eugene Loring came up with a dance based on slow jazz rhythms. Minnelli's lighting and camera work added the finishing touches.

Watch Coffee Time here -


  1. Coffee Time was the only good thing about Yolanda and the Thief. That's just my opinion, but I didn't like that movie at all. This number just stood out like a jewel. Good pick, Eve.

  2. Eve, I do not believe that I have seen the film, "Yolanda and the Thief", in full. The number "Coffee Time" looks like it was fun to film. It certainly was fun to watch.

  3. A very well written and researched post, Eve. I loved the dance. Fred has always been one of my favorites. While technically wonderful, I think his work in this dance may have been a bit less enthusiastic then some of his work with Ginger. Nonetheless, I enjoy everything he does.

    BTW, why didn't you tell me that The Lady Eve was on TCM yesterday!?!?!

  4. Allen - you are right, I should've notified you about TLE on TCM yesterday...I'll see if another air date is coming up and let you know.

    I actually like YOLANDA AND THE THIEF, but it is definitely eccentric. Am mad about "Coffee Time" - a real show-stopper that is probably not as well known as it would be if it were in a stronger film.

  5. Eve, this is an extraordinary find. I’ve never seen this example of Fred Astaire’s later work, but the sequence shows that his dance routines were challenging and innovative throughout his career. This is a mesmerizing blend of choreography and design (the wave pattern gives the impression the dancers are doing a delicate balancing act). Thanks for sharing this amazing scene.

  6. great dance number from an odd litle film...when i think MINELLI/MUSICALS..i think JUDY GARLAND...for ASTAIRE...MARK SANDRICH..thanx for saving this tidbit from a so-so flick!!

  7. I'm a YOLANDA fan and was fortunate to see it on a big screen a couple times circa 1980..."Coffee Time" is my favorite scene, and one of my all-time favorite MGM musical sequences ever. Thanks for shining a light on an often overlooked dance gem.

    Best wishes,

  8. Hello, Laura - What a thrill it must've been to see YOLANDA in a theater. I decided to write about the "Coffee Time" sequence one day when the tune was running (and running) thru my mind (had watched YOLANDA not long before). I checked to see if YouTube had a clip and when I found it, knew I had to share "Coffee Time" with others. Thanks for stopping by...TLE

  9. It's good to see the history of the "Coffee Time" melody here. Has this been confirmed? I ask, as in numerous other sites, it states that Cole Porter wrote it (???). Why the mix-up?

    1. In my research die this piece in 2010, I found the song consistently credited to Arthur Freed and Harry Warren - from the listing of each of the songs in Yolanda and the Thief's soundtrack to the initial review in the New York Times by Bosley Crowther along with the Turner Classic Movies website. No idea why the mix-up.