About Jnpickens

Classic film lover and reporter in North Carolina.

Musical Monday: Brigadoon (1954)

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:
Brigadoon (1954) – Musical #53

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Vincente Minnelli

Starring:
Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Van Johnson, Elaine Stewart, Barry Jones, Hugh Laing, Virginia Bosler, Albert Sharpe, Jimmy Thompson, Eddie Quillan, Dee Turnell, Madge Blake (uncredited), George Chakiris (uncredited), Barrie Chase (uncredited)

Plot:
Americans Tommy Albright (Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Johnson) are lost in Scotland and come across the town of Brigadoon, which only awakens every 100 years and is stuck in the 1700s. Tommy falls in love with one of the girls, Fiona (Charisse), but the town will disappear if anyone leaves and anyone who wants to stay has to leave the world they know and stay forever.

Trivia:
• Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was making “Brigadoon” at the same time as “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” “Seven Brides” was nearly dropped, because the studio didn’t feel they could fund two extravagant musicals and they thought “Brigadoon” would be more successful, according to Powell’s autobiography. Producer Jack Cummings talked the studio into keeping the film and cut the budget and economized where he could. “Seven Brides” ended up being more successful, according to Powell’s book.

• In May 1952, the Hollywood Reporter reported that Kathryn Grayson and Alec Guinness would co-star with Gene Kelly. In March 1952, the Hollywood Reporter said David Wayne was considered for a role. Moira Shearer and Donald O’Connor were also considered for the roles of Fiona and Jeff, according the book Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood’s Dark Dreamer by Emanuel Levy.

• The film was based on a Broadway show of the same name, which ran from March 1947 through July 1948. The only person who reprised their role in the film was Virginia Bosler, who played Jean Campbell. Not all songs from the Broadway show were used. The songs removed included “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” “My Mother’s Wedding Day” and “There But For You I Go.”

• A television version aired in 1966 starring Peter Faulk, Sally Ann Howes and Robert Goulet.

Agnes de Mille was the choreographer for the Broadway musical, but all of her choreography was replaced by Gene Kelly’s in the film. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther blamed the film’s failure for the “poor choreography” because the “life and smoothness of the original” were lost, according to the book “Agnes de Mille: Telling Stories in Broadway Dance” by Kara Anne Gardner.

• Originally planned to be filmed in Scotland, but the weather was too unpredictable.

• Vicente Minnelli’s first CinemaScope film.

• Cyd Charisse was dubbed by Carol Richards.

• Dee Turnell was dubbed by Bonnie Murray

• Jimmy Thompson was dubbed by John Gustafson

• Music by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe

• Produced by Arthur Freed

Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in “Brigadoon”

Highlights:
– Van Johnson and Gene Kelly dancing in “Go Home with Bonnie Gene”
-The “Heather on the Hill” dance sequence
– The wedding dance

Gene Kelly and Van Johnson dancing in “Go Home with Bonnie Jean” (Screen cap by Jessica P.)

Notable Songs:
-“Waiting for My Dearie” performed by Cyd Charisse, dubbed by Carol Richards, and Dee Turnell, dubbed by Bonnie Murray
-“Go Home with Bonnie Jean” performed by Jimmy Thompson, dubbed by John Gustafson, Gene Kelly, Van Johnson
-“Heather on the Hill” performed by Gene Kelly

My review:
I remember when I watched “Brigadoon” for the first and last time. It was 2004 and I was a freshman in high school. I was devouring every musical I could get my hands on and I was bursting with excitement to see “Brigadoon.” I had seen photos and clips and it looked so beautiful. But after seeing it, I was disappointed and thereafter thought of it ruefully and with a bit of a sigh.

And then I revisited “Brigadoon” for the first time in 14 years yesterday to prepare for this musical post. It starts off with sweeping, beautiful notes and with flaming red title cards. The painted studio scenery is the backdrop for as low voices sing about lost hunters and Brigadoon. Then a flourish of Scotish townspeople rush across the screen dressed in vibrant Irene Sharaff costumes. The first few numbers are exuberant and a bit wistful (“Waiting For My Dearie”). As I watched, I found myself enjoying the film, but kept preparing myself, “Something is going to irritate me or is this is going to go south.”

But I completed the film and was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it more than I did when I was 15 years old. I won’t go as far as to say it’s my favorite, but I had fun watching it and had several of the songs in my head after watching it.

I think there are a few reasons I didn’t like it the first time I saw it. I had a strong love for Van Johnson at this time (and still do), and I didn’t care for his character. Johnson’s character is a bit of a heel, scoffing at the Brigadoon situation, and is an alcoholic. I wanted the sweet Van of “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” As for Gene Kelly, while his character is similar to his other roles, he and Van Johnson are a bit more jaded. Both characters are dissatisfied with life, and at my young age, I think this may have been a bit complex for me. Now I appreciate their desire of wanting more out of life and also appreciate Johnson’s versatility and like his bitter character more.

While Cyd Charisse doesn’t do her own singing, I think she was well cast. However, I also could see Kathryn Grayson or Moira Shearer doing well in the role. This could be a bold statement, but I think Cyd Charisse is at her most beautiful as Fiona. I like her wistful character, and I particularly love her performance of “Waitin’ for My Dearie.” Charisse only has two costume changes in this film, but her costumes designed by Irene Sharaff are simple and beautiful. I love the simple cream colored dress she wears for the majority of the film with that bright yellow shawl and orange petticoat. Then for the wedding scene, she has that gorgeous red dress.

Cyd Charisse and Dee Turnell dance in “Waitin’ for my Dearie” in “Brigadoon.” (Screen Cap by Jessica P.)

Jimmy Thompson has a small role in the film as Charlie, who is marrying Charisse’s sister, but his character is very charming and appealing. Thompson isn’t a well-known actor, but many “Singin’ in the Rain” fans would recognize him as the singer who performs “Beautiful Girl.” However, while I enjoy Thompson, I’m confused why they picked a singer to play a small role when he was dubbed by John Gustafson was dubbed.

I am curious about Thompson’s life and career but can find little on him. Thompson has 11 film credits to his name but never made it big in Hollywood, despite having a secondary lead in this film. In searches, he gets confused with a British actor of the same name who passed away in 2005.

Jimmy Thompson in “Brigadoon.” (Screen cap by Jessica P.)

In the play, the character Harry Beaton (played by Hugh Laing in the film and James Mitchell on stage) has a more expanded role and some of his own dance numbers. It would have been interesting to see that character expanded with the original numbers, though I know this would have made the film longer.

I think another thing I didn’t like about “Brigadoon” 14 years ago was the serious tone. Knowing it was the competitor of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” I thought it was going to have the same upbeat, joyful exuberance but “Brigadoon” couldn’t be more different. While there is a wistfulness to it, it focuses on life’s discontentments. There’s Harry who feels trapped in the town of Brigadoon and calls it his prison, Jeff (Johnson) is trapped by his alcohol, Fiona (Charisse) hasn’t found anyone she loves, and Tommy (Kelly) doesn’t want to marry the woman he’s engaged to. And there are consequences to finding happiness. If Harry leaves Brigadoon, the whole town disappears. If Jeff stays with Fiona, he has to live in Brigadoon forever (and live most of his life asleep). It’s a much more complicated story than “We need brides so let’s kidnap some girls!”

Because they were competitors and made at the same time, I consider “Brigadoon” a companion piece to “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” While they are completely different films, their musical stories are different and stand apart from other MGM films that were made before and during this time. Ultimately, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” was the more successful of the two films though MGM thought it would be the underdog. Unfortunately, after 1954, musicals were on the decline at MGM as studio head Dore Schary wanted to make serious message movies.

Admittedly, I do like “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” more, but I’m happy that I revisited this one after years of remembering my initial disappointment.

The highlights for me are the “Waitin’ for My Dearie” number and Van Johnson and Gene Kelly dancing together in “Go Home with Bonnie Jean.”

While I won’t be calling “Brigadoon” my all-time favorite musical, I’m happy I revisited this one. The moral of today’s story is to wait a few years and give a film another try.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

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Watching 1939: Bad Lands (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Bad Lands (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 8, 1939

Cast:  Robert Barrat, Noah Beery Jr., Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, Andy Clyde, Paul Hurst, Robert Coote, Francis Ford, Addison Richards, Douglas Walton, Francis McDonald

Studio: RKO Radio Picture

Director:  Lew Landers

Plot:
Set in Arizona in 1875, a sheriff and his posse are traveling through the desert trying to find a killer. The group is short on water and Apaches are a threat to the group.

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Musical Monday: Strike Up the Band (1940)

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:
Strike Up the Band (1940) – Musical #301

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Busby Berkeley

Starring:
Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, June Preisser, William Tracy, Larry Nunn, Margaret Early, Ann Shoemaker, Virginia Brissac, Sidney Miller, Harry McCrillis (uncredited)
Themselves: Paul Whiteman and Orchestra

Plot:
Bored with his school’s dance band, Jimmy Connors (Rooney) tries to organize a dance orchestra with his friend Mary Holden (Garland) as his singer.

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Watching 1939: Code of the Secret Service (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Code of the Secret Service (1939)

Release date:  May 27, 1939

Cast:  Ronald Reagan, Rosella Towne, Eddie Foy Jr., Moroni Olsen

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  Noel M. Smith

Plot:
Lt. ‘Brass’ Bancroft (Reagan) is an agent in the United States Treasury Department trying to hunt down a counterfeit money ring who stole plates from the U.S. Treasury to launder the money.

1939 Notes:
• Ronald Reagan starred in seven films released in 1939.
• Shot on location in Mexico and some of the Mexican extras were borrowed from Juarez (1939), also filmed that year at Warner Brothers.
• This film is the second in a four-part series, which includes: Secret Service of the Air (1939), Smashing the Money Ring (1939) and Murder in the Air (1940).

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Mad About Musicals: More than just singing and dancing

Come and meet those dancing feet … on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) this June.

Throughout the month of June, TCM is all singing and dancing Mad About Musicals series. And through a partnership with Ball State, TCM is offering a free online course dedicated to learning more about the movie musical.

Vanessa Theme Ament, PhD, is the professor of the course and is the Endowed Chair of Telecommunications at Ball State University. Prior to her work with Ball State, Dr. Ament was a Hollywood Foley artist, enhancing sound effects in films.

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in “Shall We Dance” (1937)

She grew up dancing as a child and has performed in musical theater and nightclubs over the years. Musicals are her favorite film genre and wants students of Mad About Musicals to know they are so much more than actors bursting into song and dance.

“The musical serves a different purpose for each decade, it’s not just people singing and dance,” Dr. Ament said. “They were serving a purpose and had a mission. There was a reason for the musical and over time that purpose changed.”

Comet Over Hollywood spoke with Dr. Ament on the phone last week to learn more about the Mad About Musicals course:

Comet Over Hollywood: What can people expect from the program?

Vanessa Theme Ament, PhD

Vanessa Ament: I would say being able to understand the history, culture and some of the main people involved (in musicals) and with why they were made. The course will go decade by decade and show how musicals developed and how they changed culturally and historically, as well as how the studios have their own style of musical.

The decades from the Depression in the 1930s to World War II to the world dominance of the U.S. in the 1950s to the cultural revolution in the 1960s and 1970s—we will show how the world changes affected how musicals were produced. It will be taught decade by decade so people can see how it evolves.

We have designed the course to be really “snackable.” Students don’t have to do all the moving parts. Those enrolled can do daily doses, watch a clip that demonstrates the history of a decade or a star or read behind the scenes of a person. They can also read lecture notes, watch videos we made or listen to the podcasts. At the end, there are quizzes to test how they are learning.

COH: What do you want people to take away from the course

VA: To understand that musicals have a lot more to them than they ever though—Technological and cultural importance. They reflect our country historically.

COH: Not everyone loves musicals. Why should they care or take this course?

VA: For people who don’t like musicals, I think they should continue not to like them but look at the films critically and look at it as an artistic act and historically. No one has to like musicals, but look at how the filmmaking was. Without liking the musicals, this can be analyzed further. Technologically, between 1929 and 1939, it was astonishing to see the difference, especially when you compare Broadway Melody (1929) and Wizard of Oz (1939).

COH: How are musicals important to film history?

VA: People were using singing and dancing as a way of expressing. Songs in films expression emotions that people want to say, but don’t always say to people in real life. I think people who don’t like musicals think, “Life isn’t like that.” Backstage musicals allow people to take a vacation from real life. Story musicals allow the characters to say all kinds of things that other people in real life don’t say.

COH: How were Ball State students involved with the course?

VA: The students helped design logos used for the course and helped shoot and edit the lecture videos.

COH: What is your favorite musical?

VA: There are so many that speak to me:

  • A Star is Born (1954) really shows the breadth of Judy Garland’s talent
  • Funny Girl
  • 1776, because the film is close to the stage play, and historically it is accurate
  • Guys and Dolls—Even with Marlon Brandon singing, he does a nice job in the role
  • Gigi—Vincent Minnelli was one of the best directors and the film is stunningly beautiful
  • My Fair Lady—George Cukor does a great directing job
  • Born to Dance—I love to watch Eleanor Powell dance
  • Singin’ in the Rain—for all the reason everyone loves it
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • Kiss Me Kate
  • Love Parade—I watched this recently and was really delighted by it. It’s very different and Lubitsch had an elegant style. It was Jeanette MacDonald’s first film and is really charming.
  • American in Paris—and really anything with Gene Kelly in it.
  • Royal Wedding
  • Holiday Inn
  • I love the “Well Did You Eva!” with Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby in High Society. I will watch the number four times.
  • Cabaret is a perfect film. Bob Fosse does a magnificent job
  • Funny Face—Because I love Gershwin

I love the 1950s musicals because we had won the war and they are high with American culture. It’s hard for me to turn down a musical. I’m a musical performer and know what makes them tick!

COH: If you could be in any musical, what would it be?

VA: Rosalind Russell is my favorite Mama Rose in “Gypsy.” That’s the role I would love to do one day.

COH: Any closing thoughts that you would like to share?

VA: It’s important for everyone to watch as many films as they can and learn how the movie musical has changed, how tech has changed, how sound has changed and what that has to do with the movie musical. Directors tried to be innovative like Busby Berkley and do different things, which is amazing. Musicals are a time capsule of our culture.

“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (1954)

There’s still time to sign up for the musical course! You have until June 17 to enroll in “Mad About Musicals.” Register here: https://www.canvas.net/browse/bsu/tcm4/courses/mad-about-musicals

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Musical Monday: The Broadway Melody (1929)

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:
The Broadway Melody” (1929)– Musical #121

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Harry Beaumont

Starring:
Anita Page, Bessie Love, Charles King, James Gleason (uncredited), Carla Laemmle (uncredited), Mary Doran (uncredited), Jed Prouty (uncredited), Eddie Kane (uncredited), Kenneth Thomson (uncredited)

Plot:
Sisters Queenie (Page) and Hank (Love) travel from the Midwest to New York with dreams of making it big on Broadway, where Hank’s boyfriend Eddie (King) is now progressing in his career. When the sisters try out for producer Francis Zanfield (Kane), he (and everyone else) is more interested in beautiful Queenie than Hank, which causes a rift in the sisters.

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Watching 1939: Yes, My Darling Daughter (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Yes, My Darling Daughter

Release date: 
Feb. 25, 1939

Cast: 
Priscilla Lane, Jeffrey Lynn, Roland Young, Fay Bainter, May Robson, Genevieve Tobin, Ian Hunter, Robert Homans

Studio: 
Warner Brothers Studios

Director: 
William Keighley

Plot:
Trying to follow in her mother’s feminist footsteps, Ellen (Lane) decides that she and her boyfriend Doug (Lynn) will spend a weekend alone in a cabin before he goes to Belgium for two years for a job. Though her mother Ann (Bainter) lived a single life in Greenwich Village, she isn’t thrilled at the prospect of her unmarried daughter staying the weekend with a man.

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Musical Monday: South Pacific (1958)

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:
South Pacific” (1958) – Musical #2

Studio:
Twentieth Century Fox

Director:
Joshua Logan

Starring:
Mitzi Gaynor, Rossano Brazzi, John Kerr, Ray Walston, Juanita Hall, France Nuyen, Russ Brown, Ken Clark, Archie Savage, Richard Harrison, Candace Lee, Warren Hsieh, Tom Laughlin, Floyd Simmons

Plot:
Set during World War II, the Navy is stationed on an island in the South Pacific. Nellie Forbush (Gaynor) is a Navy nurse who falls in love with Emile De Becque (Brazzi), a French civilian who lives on the island. Marine Lt. Joe Cable (Kerr) is sent to the island on a secret mission and the military wants De Becque’s help because he is familiar with the islands. De Becque is hesitant to help because of his love for Nellie, but her prejudices complicate the relationship when she realizes Emile has two Polynesian children. Lt. Cable has to come to terms with his prejudice Philadelphia upbringing when he falls in love with a Polynesian girl, Liat (Nuyen).

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For the fallen: Performers killed during World War II

During World War II, some of Hollywood’s top stars went overseas to fight. From Clark Gable, James Stewart and Robert Taylor, each returned home to their careers, though they also were changed people from their war experiences.

But some performers didn’t return home from World War II.

In honor of Memorial Day, I would like to highlight those who were killed during World War II, whether it be on the battlefield, in training camp, helping with the war effort, or surrounded by mysterious circumstances. some of these people were actors who enlisted, while others were taking part in the war effort:

Phillips Holmes

Phillips Holmes (July 22, 1907 – August 12, 1942) Phillips Holmes was an American actor who starred in 48 films from 1928 to 1938, though the bulk of his films were made in the 1930s. Some of his filmography includes An American Tragedy (1931), Dinner at Eight (1933) and Great Expectations. In 1938, Holmes decided to turn his attention to the stage. However, when World War II began, Holmes and his brother Ralph enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941 before the United States entered the war. Holmes graduated from Air Ground School in Winnipeg. On Aug. 12, 1942, while flying to another base in Ottawa, their plane collided with another aircraft in Ontario and killed everyone on board. Holmes was 33 years old.

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Watching 1939: Dodge City (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Dodge City (1939)

Release date:  April 1, 1939

Cast:  Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Ann Sheridan, Bobs Watson, Alan Hale, Bruce Cabot, Frank McHugh, John Litel, Henry Travers, Henry O’Neill, Victor Jory, William Lundigan, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, Gloria Holden, Douglas Fowley, Ward Bond, Cora Witherspoon, Thurston Hall (uncredited), Rand Brooks (uncredited)

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