It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical:
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (1954)– Musical #4
Jane Powell, Howard Keel, Russ Tamblyn, Jeff Richards, Tommy Rall, Julie Newmar, Ruta Lee, Ian Wolfe, Marc Platt, Matt Mattox, Jacques d’Amboise, Nancy Kilgas, Betty Carr, Virginia Gibson, Norma Doggett
Set in 1850 in the backwoods of Oregon, Adam Pontipee (Keel) heads to the city looking for a wife. He finds Milly (Powell), who agrees to marry him. Little does Milly know that Adam is one of seven brothers and she is more of a glorified housekeeper than a wife. She tries to refine the brothers-encouraging bathing and teaching them how to read and dance. They are all eager to find wives of their own and decide to use the story of Romans kidnapping the Sabine women as an example.
-Jane Powell wrote in her autobiography “The Girl Next Door and How She Grew” that she was excited about the future in 1954, but this ended up being her last good role.
-Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was putting more funding into Brigadoon because they thought it would be more successful. MGM almost dropped Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, because they didn’t feel they could fund two musical extravaganzas, according to Powell’s autobiography. Producer Jack Cummings talked the studio into keeping the film and cut the budget and economized where he could. “Brides” ended up being more successful, according to Powell’s book.
-The women’s dresses were made out of second-hand quilts, according to Jane Powell’s autobiography.
-Matt Mattox was dubbed by Bill Lee
-Based on the story of the Rape of the Sabine Women in Rome
-The whole film.
-The barn raising dance
Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture: Adolph Deutsch and Saul Chaplin
-Best Writing, Screenplay: Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, Dorothy Kingsley
-Best Cinematography, Color: George J. Folsey
-Best Film Editing: Ralph E. Winters
-“Bless Your Beautiful Hide” performed by Howard Keel
-“Wonderful Wonderful Day” performed by Jane Powell
-“When You’re In Love ” performed by Jane Powell
-“Goin’ Co’tin‘” performed by Jane Powell and the brothers
-“Lonesome Polecat” performed by Matt Mattox and the brothers
-“Sobbin’ Women” performed by Howard Keel and the brothers
-“June Bride” performed by Jane Powell and the “brides”
-“Spring, Spring, Spring” performed by the brothers and the brides
One of my earliest memories of watching films (outside of Disney cartoons) is watching “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” It is one of those few films that I have watched so many times that I have lost count how many times I have seen it. I particularly remember my dad being out of town on business trips and my mom popping in our pan-and-scan VHS tape for my sisters and I to watching it on summer break. Later on at age 14, I bought the soundtrack on CD and tried really hard to sound just like Jane Powell in “Wonderful, Wonderful Day” in my room. Growing up, Julie Newmar’s character was the favorite of my sisters and I; we thought she was beautiful. But we also laughed because her name was “Dorcus.” Later on when I saw Howard Keel in other films, I was astonished to see that he really didn’t have red hair and a beard. Keel just doesn’t look right to me when he’s not a backwoodsman.
Of all the 540 musicals I have seen, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is one of my favorites. If you notice in the lists above, I enjoy every song in the film (my sisters and I particularly enjoyed “Lonesome Polecat” with the swinging axes). It’s colorful and full of vibrant actors and impressive dance numbers. An added bonus: Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics to the songs.
In all of its glittering spectacularity, this musical is also an exhibit of the beginning of the end of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) musical. MGM was producing multiple, high dollar musical extravaganzas like “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” with top stars just like Jane Powell, who was 25 at the time. By 1954, Powell had been with the studio for 10 years. But there was a turning point around the time this film was made.
“1954 was a whirlwind year. I was optimistic about the future, but I didn’t know how soon I would be on my own, without MGM’s support. I didn’t know that very soon, no one would want me,” Powell wrote in her autobiography. “I certainly had no idea, when I was working on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, that the charming and sensible pioneer girl, Milly, would be my last really wonderful role in film.”
Powell said she didn’t quit the movies, they quit her. And this wasn’t just the case for Jane Powell. Films were changing and other MGM top stars such as Clark Gable, Esther Williams and Lana Turner either were leaving or getting worse and worse roles until they were forced to leave.
A great example of this was Powell’s role after “Seven Brides” in the dreadful film, “Athena” (1955). This film was slated for Esther Williams, a movie she was excited about, according to Williams’ autobiography, and it was taken out from under her and re-written for Powell. Williams was instead cast in the ill-fated “Jupiter’s Darling.” Though Williams wanted to be in Athena, I think both she and Powell ended up in stinkers. Powell left the studio in 1956 and her last starring role in a film was in 1958.
But it wasn’t just MGM that was changing: while big budget musicals like “Sound of Music” were still released in theaters in the mid-1960s, fewer and fewer musicals were being churned out by studios starting in the mid-1950s. “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is like the peak of the mountain–exhibiting high quality — until it all began to snowball and films and the studio system started evolving.
Regardless of what dismal future followed this movie, I adore it. I’m always surprised when I come across a film fan who hasn’t seen “Seven Brides,” since I was introduced at such an early age. It has a great mix of humor, songs, breathtaking dances and an interesting story line. Russ Tamblyn’s as the youngest brother has always been a favorite character, and he nearly steals the show. You can’t take your eyes off him in every scene.
While all the other brothers come from a dancing background, I enjoy watching Howard Keel and Jeff Richards fade out of the scene when complex dance numbers start, such as the barn raising, since they were not trained dancers like the rest. (As a child, I had a crush on Jeff Richards and Tommy Rall).
It’s funny to think that MGM ranked “Brigadoon” -starring Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly and Van Johnson- higher in importance and put more funding behind it. “Seven Brides” is held in high regard today, and “Brigadoon” is largely forgotten (probably because it stinks). If you haven’t seen this movie, give it a watch. This is a great introduction into musicals and a good one to show children-it’s colorful and has a plot that keeps moving. If you have seen it, revisit it because it’s bound to put you in a good mood.
Comet Over Hollywood is taking part in the 31 Days of Oscar event.