#185) Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

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#185) Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

OR “The Kidd Is All Right”

Directed by Stanley Donen

Written by Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich and Dorothy Kingsley. Based on the story “The Sobbin’ Women” by Stephen Vincent Benet.

Class of 2004

The Plot: Young waitress Milly (Jane Powell) meets, falls in love with, and marries frontiersman Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) on the same day. Milly is excited to be a wife and housekeeper, until she learns she is also taking care of Adam’s six younger brothers (Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox, Marc Platt, Jacques d’Amboise, Tommy Rall, Russ Tamblyn). Milly is appalled by their rugged, uncivilized behavior, and teaches them how to be gentlefolk and find a bride. When all that fails, Adam takes a cue from “The Sabine Women” and encourages the brothers to just kidnap their future brides (Julie Newmeyer, Ruta Kilmonis, Nora Doggett, Virginia Gibson, Betty Carr, Nancy Kilgas). It’s a bit problematic, but…hey look at those cool dance numbers!

Why It Matters: The NFR praises the cast and especially the Michael Kidd choreography, but admits that the story seems “trite and sexist by contemporary standards”.

But Does It Really?: This is one of those movies I wish could be partially preserved. Most of the film’s dated sensibilities creak quite a bit, but Michael Kidd’s work on the Barn Raising dance sequence is worthy of recognition. The film clips along at a good pace, and makes excellent use of the widescreen, but it gets increasingly difficult to defend a story about kidnapping women as good clean fun. Can we just preserve the best 6 ½ minutes of this film and pretend it was a short this whole time?

Everybody Gets One: Of the 14 title characters, Russ Tamblyn is the only one who appears elsewhere on the Registry (he gets “West Side Story”). The other 13 only have this film, most surprisingly musical stars Keel and Powell.

Wow, That’s Dated: The widescreen process of CinemaScope gets top billing. After that, everything else about this movie is dated.

Title Track: No one says “seven brides for seven brothers”, but they do reference the film’s source material: “The Sobbin’ Women”. It’s a take on the Roman legend “The Rape of the Sabine Women” (That’s rape in the original “abduction” sense.)

Seriously, Oscars?: “Seven Brides” won in the category you’d expect it to: Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. It received four other nominations including Best Picture, losing to “On the Waterfront”. That’s right, “Rear Window”, “Sabrina”, and “A Star is Born” all missed out on Best Picture to make way for this.

Other notes

  • There’s a second version of “Seven Brides” that was filmed in a flat widescreen process for theaters that didn’t have CinemaScope. I’ll spare you a “Second Screening” post and say that the CinemaScope version is the one to watch. The flat version is nearly identical, but doesn’t have the, well…scope of the widescreen version.
  • Producer Jack Cummings made his career at MGM thanks to some help from his uncle: Louis B. Mayer.
  • Howard Keel has quite a voice. It’s a shame he’s not really given anything to do with it.
  • Jane Powell is 5’1”, Howard Keel 6’ 3”. It makes staging scenes for widescreen quite tricky. Look for how many scenes there are in the film where Milly is elevated to meet Adam eye to eye.
  • Watch closely: A bird hits the backdrop during “Wonderful, Wonderful Day”.
  • Gotta love a movie where a fist fight is happening in the background.
  • Benjamin is played by Jeff Richards, who was a professional minor league baseball player and NOT a dancer. Keep count of how many numbers he doesn’t actually dance in.
  • I did not need to see any of the brothers in long underwear.
  • Say what you will about the boys, they are quick learners. They pick up the “Goin’ Courtin’” dance instantly.
  • One of the brides is Julie Newmeyer, who shortly after this film’s release shortened her last name to Newmar and later became the first Catwoman in the ‘60s version of “Batman”. She’s also the person that thanks Wong Foo for everything.
  • As previously stated, the Barn Raising dance is the highlight of the movie. That being said, that’s not how lumber works.
  • Runner-up for best dance sequence is “Lonesome Polecat”, which is done in one uninterrupted take.
  • If these boys are looking for female companions for the winter, might I recommend McCabe & Mrs. Miller’s place?
  • Jesus, those corsets look really tight on those women. Are they wearing blush or is that just a lack of oxygen in their faces?
  • And then the brides start fighting in their undergarments. Maybe I’ve been too hard on this film…
  • Is that a portrait of Lincoln on the wall? It’s 1851. No one in Oregon would have known who he was!
  • In the end the boys learn the right lesson…kind of.

Legacy

  • The film was a huge success in its day and continued the popular trend of ‘50s MGM musicals. Stanley Donen followed this up with the likes of “It’s Always Fair Weather” and “Funny Face”, while Michael Kidd returned to his native Broadway, with the occasional film choreography.
  • A stage version seemed inevitable, but several attempts over the years, including a brief Broadway run in the early ‘80s, failed to properly adapt the material.
  • This film influenced two TV shows: The 1982 series of the same name, and the 1968 series “Here Come the Brides”.
  • And of course, the unsuccessful remake starring Buck McCoy.
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