Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – 1954

Director – Stanley Donen

Starring – Jane Powell, Howard Keel, and Russ Tamblyn

So I know that, by and large, I give musicals a pretty hard time.  Harder than maybe they deserve, but truthfully I’m just not a big fan of a lot of the ones that I’ve seen.  I’ve been proven wrong on a handful of occasions, most notably with “Singing In The Rain”, which I have a tendency to gush and gush about because it really is that good (no really).  But then there are those examples of Musical film that defy logic, mine anyway.  How is it that people can sit through them?  Bright colors, and loose plotting do not a movie make, a point which “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” makes all too successfully.

On paper, the very fact that Stanley Donen is the director of this film should have meant it was going to be outstanding.  I mean, he directed the afore-mentioned really really really good musical, Singing In The Rain.  On top of that, Donen also directed one of my favorite movies of all time, Charade.  So by all means, this could have been great, nay, the greatest…ever.  It wasn’t.  At best it was overly long, with an utterly ridiculous story that makes zero sense, and at worst, it’s a misogynist and tone-deaf film in which the characters learn that abduction and abuse are rewarded with laughs and affection.

The story.  Well the story is about a rough and tumble mountain man, Adam, who arrives into town with the intent of claiming himself a woman.  After judging each and every girl on the street, and measuring their flaws, he finally finds someone he deems worthy of him, and pops the question.  The lady, Milly, a sort of all-purpose cook, waitress, and janitor at the local inn, immediately falls in love and regrettably assumes the feeling is mutual.  She daydreams aloud, often in song (blarg!) about her romantic notions of getting away from the daily grind of constantly living her life in the service of others, and instead spending meaningful time working alongside her true love and partner.

Of course, all Adam really wants is someone to be the cook, waitress, and janitor but with the added benefit of keeping him warm and satisfied during the long and cold winter nights spend out in the middle of fucking nowhere.  Oh, and did I mention he has six functionally retarded brothers that are dirty, violent and completely un-socialized?  Yeah, neither did he.  Adam cleverly withholds this fact from Milly till she meets them after their whirlwind one-day courtship/wedding.

***(Warning Spoilers)***

Later on, after an attempt to acclimate them to civilization spirals into a fist fight, the six brothers are encouraged to steal each of themselves a woman, just like Adam did, in order to salve their wounded pride.  The tried and true method of tricking the girl they fancy into coming outside, then tossing a blanket over their head and forcing them into their kidnap wagon understandably alarms the town, and a chase ensues.

To emphasize just how irresponsible Adam is, when Milly chastises him for inciting this wonton kidnapping, he storms off to a secret pouting cabin in the woods leaving her to take care of the mess that he fucking caused, all while keeping up the high standards of cleanliness and cooking to which they’ve all become accustomed.

To go too much further would be to give away too much of the story, not that you can’t really see where it’s going from here, but in the interest of not giving away everything I’ll stop here.

***(End Spoilers)***

Now, I realize that this is a 1950s musical, and as such, is supposed to be breezy and fun.  Just an excuse upon which one could drape a little choreography and a bunch of songs.  The story is really more of an afterthought, a necessary evil.  Unfortunately it seemed more than a little dated and seemed to really champion just taking what you want from women.  After all, it’s for their own good and they’ll end up loving it anyways, right?

Okay, so it’s just a goofy love story with some fish out of water elements, and sure it has a lot of sexism which isn’t good, but either way the story isn’t what’s important.  Likewise the singing didn’t really stand out, there was one really good dance number, and a bunch of forgettable ones, but that’s not really the point. But, it features a young Julie Newmar (for the uninitiated, she played Catwoman on the 1960s Batman TV series)…whose name was, of all things, Dorcas (!!!?).  Oh, but it was filmed in Technicolor, and had some well thought out set-pieces…so essentially, bright colors and loose plotting.  It still doesn’t a movie make…too bad they did anyway.

Singin’ In The Rain (1952)

SinginInTheRain

Singin’ in the Rain – 1952

Director – Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly

Starring – Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds

Coming into this movie, I was skeptical.  To be more to the point, coming into this endeavor of watching all of these movies, I was skeptical about every one of the musicals.  For some reason, I just don’t really consider a musical a viable genre of film.  It doesn’t have any of the high drama, action, or space monsters that would make me say, “Cool!”  Instead there’s dancing…and worse, there’s singing too.  Not sure why this particular combination of things turns me off of musicals, but it is both of those two ingredients  that are vital to the musical.  And here I am hating on them before I’d even seen the first one on the list.

Lucky for me, Laura just went ahead and brought home both Singin’ In The Rain and West Side Story without me knowing.  I say lucky, because I really had a very good time watching Singin’ In The Rain.  It was extra fun because she loves it so much, I caught her out of the corner of my eye bobbing her head, or singing under her breath.  I got twice the show, for half the price!

To start with, the first thing that struck me was the color.  The poster isn’t kidding when it says Technicolor.  It was like having electric, neon candy explode inside my brain!  There was so much to look at, and all of it was so rich and vibrant, full of life.  Gene Kelly was everything I’ve heard he was, charming, debonair, suave, and light on his feet.  I had never heard of Donald O’Connor, or Debbie Reynolds, but both of them also impressed me with their skills.

The story, a couple of  young men who come up through vaudeville, and into movies during the switch over from silents to talkies, perfectly suits the inclusion of the rich color palette, thematic set pieces, and the film’s dependence on song.  This is just what the fifties has taught us about Hollywood.  It’s bright, it’s beautiful, it’s filled with happy endings, and just desserts.  It’s one big dream, fully rendered and realized on screen.

Technically speaking, the set pieces incorporated genius use of practical light sources as well as light motivated by the emotions and exuberence of the characters.  The camera work was smooth and quick, never hanging for too long on one element of the dance.  The camera holds back enough so that we feel like we see the entire routine, but moves in for close-ups enough so that we don’t miss the finer details or the acting.  The songs, with the exception of a couple of slower ones, were fast paced, energetic, and exciting.  Each one got your blood moving without overstaying it’s welcome, or getting stale.

The only critique I have of this film is a pretty minor one.  Of the songs, two of them were a little slow and didn’t really engage me.  These performances stood out so much to me because of the sheer energy of the other routines.  They didn’t necessarily move the plot forward, and they certainly sapped the momentum out of the story.  I guess there are people out there who not only like slower, romantic songs, but are drawn to musicals because of them.  That is actually one of the elements that has been keeping me away for so many years.

I’ve learned my lesson.  While I am still a might skeptical about musicals, I am 50 percent won over.  If West Side Story is half as good as Singin’ in the Rain was, then there will officially be some hope for the getting through the rest of the musicals in the bunch.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

“I loves it!” – Ashley