Jane Feuer examines the interchangeability of 'reality' and 'dream' in one of the best sequences of Yolanda and the Thief.
The ultimate synthesis of the musical consists in unifying what initially was imaginary with what initially was real. Musicals may project the dream into the narrative, implying a similar relationship between film and viewer. The dream resolution, the resolution of the film, and leaving the theater tend to occur within a very short time span. For a little while after seeing a musical, the world outside may appear more vivid; one may experience a sudden urge to dance down the street. The feeling of not knowing quite which world one is in may be evoked within the film as well. Peter Wollen says that, in Hollywood films, everything shown belongs to the same world and complex articulations within that world flashbacks are carefully signaled and located.
The transition to the dream in Yolanda and the Thief is an obvious exception to this rule. Fred Astaire, a jewel thief, has just denied he is thinking of Yolanda, the naive young heiress to the fortune of a mythical kingdom, whom he is attempting to rob. The camera cranes up from Astaire in bed and cranes over to a red carnation, as in An American in Paris a symbol of the woman.
Presently Astaire, carnation in his-lapel, dresses and goes out onto the street to a town plaza we have viewed in a previous scene in daylight - at that time a bystander had asked Astaire for a cigarette. Astaire's sojourn is accompanied by the song Yolanda. In a scene meant to evoke a feeling of deja vu in the spectator, he follows the identical path we saw him take previously. This time, however, bizarre multiple arms emerge from the cigarette man. Eerie music comes up on the soundtrack and the spectator, disorientated, begins to realize the film has entered a different diegesis from the previous visit to the town plaza.
Soon showers of money start to fall on Astaire and he runs onto a surrealistic set with a gold and brown pavement (reminiscent of Yolanda's fortune and of Oz's yellow-brick road), statues of Madonnas (reminiscent of Yolanda's garden) and live flamingos on a fake set (reminiscent of the title sequence). Heavily syncopated music overlaid with the jingle of coins comes up and Astaire starts moving to the beat and into a dance with a group of women in red (reminiscent of the girls at Yolanda's convent school). It is not until this point that the dance part of the dream begins. After the segment just described, the camera cranes over to an even more explicitly surrealistic set this one modeled on Dali. We have moved from the plaza set (recognizably part of the 'real' world of the fictional kingdom in which the film takes place) to the river set (clearly no longer belonging to a familiar world yet not clearly delineated as dream) to the wholly abstract Dali set (clearly a fantasy locale) for the major part of the dream sequence in which Astaire dances out his fears of entrapment.
The novelty of this sequence consists not so much in establishing parallels between dream and reality (all dream sequences do this) but rather in the impossibility of determining exactly where one leaves off and the other begins. The transition to the dream in Yolanda is one instance of a play on the boundaries between fantasy and 'reality' which informs the entire film. It is through cinematic technique that the boundaries between worlds are able to be blurred. However, it is within the context of the show or film within the film that the connection between dream worlds and entertainment may be made.
From: Jane Feuer, The Hollywood Musical (second edition), British Film Institute, 1993