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.
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.
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.