Movie Critique – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Stars: 4 / 5
Recommendation: Foot thumping, hand-clapping, happy musical love story, even with the underline dark view I feel, is still a fun movie to watch, get entertained and have some laughs tickling you all the while wanting you to sing and dance along.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a 1954 American musical film directed by Stanley Donen. It is based on the short story "Sobbing Women" by Stephen Vincent Benet which in turn was based on the ancient Roman legend of The Rape of the Sabine Women.
Film is set in Oregon in 1850 with interesting dance and music numbers showcasing the rustic frontier and their mundane activities such as chopping wood, hunting, making food and cleaning. It was filmed in Ansco Color in cinemascope format.
Backwoodsman Adam Pontipee (portrayed by Howard Keel) comes to town in Oregon Territory looking for a bride. Eldest of the seven brothers - Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank and Gideon - Adam settles on Milly (portrayed by Jane Powell) and brings her to his home. Initially shocked at the fact that she has to take care of seven brothers who live under the same roof, she eventually succumbs and proceeds to have a life. But at a social gathering dance the remaining 6 brothers find their partners and kidnap them to their home, cause an avalanche to stop the villagers to come to their aid. Rest of the film proceeds on how Milly teaches them manners, how to live a life, court a woman, and eventually make better husbands to the girls they kidnapped.
After watching Gaslight, I needed a light and funny movie to get over the fear and chill that movie had caused. So I picked the next in line I had in my DVR set, which happened to be this one. For a while at least my mind was away from the sheer panic Gaslight created in me.
Screenplay was written by Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, and Dorothy Kingsley; Music composed by Saul Chaplin and Gene de Paul; Lyrics penned by Johnny Mercer; and choreography by Michael Kidd. All the actors who played the role of brothers were either professional dancers or singers except for two of them - Jeff Richards who played the part of the second brother Benjamin, and Russ Tamblyn, who played the role of younguest brother, Gideon. Richards was a professional baseball player while Tamblyn was a gymnast and tumbler.
As for the seven brides, the film makers choose all of them to be professional dancers and singers. Sadly for Julie Newmar (portrayed as Dorcas) though, her dancing skills were not exposed since her partner was Jeff Richards, who had no dancing skills.
MGM had considered this a B movie and had allocated their budget to the other movies being made at that time. These severe budget cuts resulted in some very creative ideas by the filmmakers, such as dresses of the seven brides were made from old quilts that costume designer Walter Plunkett found in the Salvation Army; using painted backdrops as opposed to natural scenes for backgrounds and locations. The costumes are eye candy and pastel colored which are my favorite and I did enjoy them a lot, even though they were made on a shoestring budget.
Perhaps I saw this movie right after Gaslight that my thoughts on the movie are little mixed. I tended to see the dark undertone behind the romantic front that MGM created, just like Disney romanticized all the fairy tales removing the sinister side of the stories.
Yes, it is a foot thumping, hand-clapping, happy, musical love story. But I cant get beyond the fact that one girl was roped into marriage because Adam needed a wife who could cook and clean and wash. That is still accepted, cause that is not so bad a reason to get married. However, the other fact that the girls were kidnapped in the first place, none of whom even were inclined towards the men.
Living with them for the entire winter would definitely create a Stockholm syndrome causing the kidnapped girls to fall in love with the kidnappers. But, were they really in love? Are the men really worth as their husbands? And what about if these girls had sights on some other men, as we see that four of the girls had already been spoken for? What about the worry their families had gone through for those six months unable to reach them, not knowing their fate?
It all bothered me a lot while watching the movie. Oh yes, there is a certain sinister thread behind all the rosy facade the filmmakers have given us. I guess no one else saw the dark shade that I saw, for it went on to become the 5th highest grosser that year and bagged a few coveted awards.
Despite what I feel, the film did have some really memorable dance numbers and song sequences such as - Barn Raising Dance sequence; Lonesome Poelcat; Wonderful, Wonderful Day; Going Courting; June Bride; and much needed laughs for a grim tale. Am glad the thread of romance was bright and strong in there. I couldn’t help but enjoy it too. Although Bless Yore Beautiful Hide, the opening song sung by Howard Keel continues to appear all through the movie and left a haunting melody in my mind.
Jane Powell made a formidable Milly to Howard's Adam who is through and through a backwoodsman. She doesn’t shy and has a strong back to stand toe to toe against her husband be it taming him and his brothers; or letting him stew in the cabin while she takes care of the household.
I remember Jane Powell from one of the episodes on Murder, She Wrote TV show titled "Old Habits Die Hard" which was released in 1987. She portrayed the role of Rev. Mother Claire.
There are some crazy closing credits that are divided into three categories - The Pontipee Brothers; The Brides; The Townspeople. The film was made in two versions - cinemascope and flat widescreen - though cinemascope version is the one that is often screened.
Foot thumping, hand-clapping, happy musical love story, even with the underline dark view I feel, is still a fun movie to watch, get entertained and have some laughs tickling you all the while wanting you to sing and dance along.
1) Movie Trivia:
a. The film was adapted to stage in 1978 for which Howard Keel and Jane Powell reprised their roles. A TV series of the same name was loosely based on the film and had aired between 1982 and 1983.
b. 1982 Hindi Indian language film, Satte Pe Satta (= Seven on Seven) is a direct remake of this film.
c. The story of Sabine Women is related in the movie, which is in real the ancient roman legend of The Rape of Sabine Women.
d. This was film debut for Ruta Lee who was credited as Ruta Kilmonis and portrayed the role of Ruth Jepson, bride to Caleb, the third brother.
e. This was also the final film for Anna Q. Nilsson who portrayed the role of Mrs. Elcott in the film. She is the lady sitting in the center.
2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:
a. In the Barn Raising dance we see a few goofs. After Gideon finishes his axe jumping, it is Daniel, Caleb and Gideon dancing with the girls. But as soon as the girls are taken by townsmen, Daniel (wearing mauve shirt) is replaced by Frank (wearing red shirt).
b. In the middle of winter, where did they get fresh flowers as we see in the song "June Bride" when one of the girls holds a bouquet of fresh flowers.
c. The end credits listed a mistake with two of the seven brothers - Daniel is listed next to Liza instead of his bride Martha, and Ephraim is listed next to Martha instead of his bride Liza.