Sunday, December 18, 2011

Classic Hollywood: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers



Get Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at Amazon.com

Howard Keel and Jane Powell are rapturous newlyweds who tame his six rowdy bachelor brothers in the wild Oregon backwoods in this Best Score Academy Award(R)-winning song-and-dance-filled comedy.
Well, bless my beautiful hide! Director Stanley Donen invests this rollicking musical with a hearty exuberance. Howard Keel, with his big-as-all-outdoors baritone, stars as a bold "mountain man" living in the Oregon woods who brings home a bride (plucky songbird soprano Jane Powell) to his six slovenly brothers. Taming the rambunctious brood, Jane proceeds to make gentlemen of them so they can woo sweethearts of their own. But old habits die hard: their flirting gives way to fighting in the film's celebrated barn-raising scene, a lively acrobatic dance number exuberantly choreographed by Michael Kidd. Big brother chimes in with his own brand of advice--an old-fashioned kidnapping! Donen manages to get away with such a politically incorrect plot by investing the boys with a innocent sweetness, most notably the youngest brother played with genial earnestness by Rusty (Russ) Tamblyn (pre-West Side Story). This modest production became a huge hit and remains one of MGM's best-loved musical comedies, an energetic, high-kicking classic.
What could be better than singing by Howard Keel and Jane Powell? The music is great, the colors bright and vivid, the choreography wonderful.

To our modern eyes, the story of this 1954 musical seems a little outdated--the attitudes towards women are somewhat distasteful. Howard Keel's character, Adam, needs someone to clean and cook for his household of 6 wild brothers, so he just goes into town and "acquires" a wife, poor Millie (Jane Powell) who has no idea what is in store for her.

When the boys decide they need wives, they just go into town, kidnap a batch of girls, beat the girls' boyfriends insensible, and spend the winter snowbound with the girls who miraculously fall in love with them. OK, well then...

But, the charm of this musical somehow allows us to overlook all of this, and Millie's sheer spunkiness in trying to tame these wild men redeems them somehow. So everyone learns his lesson and all ends well.

This musical is also interesting in that it showcases several young talents who became better known in later years: The character of Dorcas is played by Julie Newmeyer (a young Julie Newmar, Catwoman in the TV series Batman in later years), Russ Tamblyn (future star of West Side Story), and Ruta Kilmonis (later semi-celebrity Ruta Lee). Even in this very early outing, Julie Newmar's distinctive voice and looks make her stand out.

The director, Stanley Donen, directed some of the best musicals in the 50s, including Damn Yankees, Singing in the Rain, Kismet (uncredited), and Royal Wedding. Inexplicably, in his later career, he directed such bombs as Saturn 3 (1980).

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