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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Musical Monday: Anchors Aweigh (1945)

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:
Anchors Aweigh (1945) – Musical #18

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Gene Kelly, Kathryn Grayson, Frank Sinatra, Dean Stockwell, Pamela Britton, Rags Ragland, Billy Gilbert, Henry O’Neill, Leon Ames, Grady Sutton,
Themselves: Jose Iturbi, Carlos Ramírez

Plot:
Two sailors (Kelly, Sinatra) are on leave in Los Angeles when they meet a lost little boy, Donald (Stockwell). When they return Donald home, they meet his Aunt Susan (Grayson), who raises the boy and has dreams of becoming a singer. To impress her, the sailors mislead Aunt Susan and tell her they know famous pianist Jose Iturbi, so she can audition for him. Now they just have to find Jose Iturbi.

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Musical Monday: Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)

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:
Du Barry Was a Lady” (1943)– Musical #173

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Roy Del Ruth

Starring:
Red Skelton, Gene Barry, Lucille Ball, Virginia O’Brien, Rags Ragland, Zero Mostel, Louise Beavers, Donald Meek, Ava Gardner (uncredited), Marilyn Maxwell (uncredited), George Carroll (uncredited),
As Themselves: Tommy Dorsey, Lana Turner, Dick Haymes, Jo Stafford

Plot:
All working at the same club, coat check boy Louis Blore (Skelton) and master of ceremonies Alec Howe (Kelly) are both in love with nightclub performer May Daly (Ball), where she sings a song as Madame DuBarry. May is in love with Alec, but she is holding out to marry a rich man. Louis wins $150,000 in a sweepstakes. Then he drinks a drugged drink and dreams that he’s King Louis XV and Lucille Ball is Madame DuBarry.

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Musical Monday: For Me and My Gal (1942)

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:
For Me and My Gal” –Musical #10

Poster - For Me and My Gal_03

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Busby Berkeley

Starring:
Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, George Murphy, Ben Blue, Richard Quine, Mártha Eggerth, Keenan Wynn (uncredited)

Plot:
Set in 1916 right before the United States entered World War I, the film follows vaudeville team Jo Hayden (Garland) and Jimmy Metcalf (Murphy). While traveling, Jo and Jimmy meet self-centered Harry Palmer (Kelly), who is looking for any way to reach the top. Jo falls for Harry and leaves Jimmy to start an act with Harry. Right before Jo and Harry are going to hit the big time, Harry is drafted into World War I. Harry takes extreme measures to stay out of the military and risks his relationship with Jo at the same time.

Judy Garland and George Murphy in the

Judy Garland and George Murphy in the “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” number in “For Me and My Gal.”

Trivia:
-Gene Kelly’s first film.
-The first time Judy Garland’s name was listed above the title, according to Judy: A Legendary Film Career by John Fricke
-“For Me and My Gal” is loosely based on Kelly’s character, the vaudeville performer Harry Palmer, who did become form a team and become engaged to performer Jo Hayden.
-The title was originally “The Big Time” and then “Applause” with hopes a title song would be written by Arthur Freed, according to DVD commentary by Judy Garland historian John Fricke.
-The script was written with Judy Garland in mind and George Murphy originally was going to have Gene Kelly’s role. When Murphy lost the role, he said it was one of the greatest disappointments of his life, according to Fricke.
-Eleanor Powell and Dan Dailey were originally slated in the cast. There were going to be two female roles (a dancer and a singer), but it was combined into Judy’s role, according to Fricke.

Notable Songs:
-“For Me and My Gal” performed by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly
-“Oh, You Beautiful Doll” performed by George Murphy
-“After You’re Gone” performed by Judy Garland
-“Ballin’ the Jack” performed by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly

My Review:
“For Me and My Gal” is a fun film with a plot that revolves around the art form of vaudeville, which was popular in nostalgia movie musicals in the 1930s and 1940s. The introduction to the film says it is “fondly dedicated” to the vaudeville performers who traveled from town to town and lived out of trunks.

Set in 1916, this musical was released in October 1942, right after the United States entered World War II. Production planning started for this film in 1940.

“For Me and My Gal” has catchy songs, great costuming and a compelling story line. But for me, the film is more interesting for two major reasons: This is the first truly adult role for Judy Garland.

Audiences were able to see Garland as a sophisticated young woman with an adult romantic lead and complex dance numbers. She wasn’t playing second fiddle to Rooney’s antics, which sometimes happened in her previous films, and her singing and dancing talents are further showcased.

Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and George Murphy in a publicity still for

Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and George Murphy in a publicity still for “For Me and My Gal.”

Before this film, Garland was primarily in child or teenager roles. Garland’s role in “Little Nelly Kelly” before “For Me and My Gal” also gave her the opportunity to play an adult role. However, it was a dual role- she was an adult who marries George Murphy and then Murphy’s child. It wasn’t quite the same as the woman she plays in “For Me and My Gal,” and part of the film kept her a child.

The second notable fact about this film is that it’s Gene Kelly’s first film role. Fresh from Broadway playing “Pal Joey,” studio heads were uncertain how Kelly would photograph, but Garland fought for him to be in the film.

A fact new to me is that “For Me and My Gal” is loosely based on Kelly’s character, the vaudeville performer Harry Palmer, who did become form a team and become engaged to performer Jo Hayden. The film closely follows Palmer and Hayden’s relationship with some changes. In real life, Hayden had a friend named Danny Metcalf who was killed in action. In the film, Danny Metcalf was split into two people- Jo’s brother Danny who is killed and her friend Jimmy Metcalf, played by George Murphy. Hayden and Palmer married in 1919 and Palmer died in 1962.

“For Me and My Gal” is an entertaining MGM musical that allows you to watch two Garland grow and Kelly start an impressive career. My only complaint is there isn’t enough George Murphy. Otherwise, it’s a ton of fun.

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Musical Monday: “Thousands Cheer” (1943)

t’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.

thousands cheer posterThis week’s musical:
“Thousands Cheer” — Musical #188

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, Mary Astor, John Boles, Ben Blue, Odette Myrtil (uncredited), Henry O’Neill (uncredited), Frances Rafferty (uncredited), Mary Elliot (uncredited)

As themselves: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, June Allyson, Gloria DeHaven, Red Skelton, Eleanor Powell, Ann Sothern, Lucille Ball, Virginia O’Brien, Jose Iturbi, Frank Morgan, Lena Horne, Marsha Hunt, Marilyn Maxwell, Donna Reed, Margaret O’Brien, Kay Kyser, Georgia Carroll, Bob Crosby, Cyd Charisse, Sara Haden

Band leaders: Kay Kyser and his band, Bob Crosby and his orchestra.

Plot:
Opera singing Kathryn Jones (Grayson) leaves her mother (Astor) to live on base with her military father (Boles), who is a colonel. Kathryn is also hoping to convince her divorced parents to reconcile. While on base, Kathryn hopes to build morale on the military base before the men are shipped off to fight in World War II. She meets former acrobat Pvt. Eddie Marsh (Kelly), who is not cooperative and isn’t pleased with being in Army. He hopes to transfer to the Army Air Corp, until the two end up falling in love.
The plot is a backdrop to a lavish military show Kathryn helps organize filled with comedic skits and music put on by MGM’s top contract players.

Trivia:

-Eleanor Powell’s first color film. Powell’s contract was not renewed with MGM after this film, according to “A to Z of American Women of Performing Arts” by Liz Sonnebon.

-Fifth role for Cyd Charisse and it is uncredited. After several small roles, Charisse was signed to MGM in 1946, according to Sonnebon’s book.

-Fourth film role for Gene Kelly.

Gene Kelly and Kathryn Grayson in a publicity photo for "Thousands Cheer"

Gene Kelly and Kathryn Grayson in a publicity photo for “Thousands Cheer”

-First film for concert pianist Jose Iturbi. Iturbi is one of many classically trained musicians that MGM studio head L.B. Mayer signed on to give the studio class.

-Ranks number 29 in MGM’s top grossing musicals. “Thousands Cheer” made $3,500,000 in the box office, according to “The Rough Guide to Musicals” by David Parkinson.

Highlights:

-Jose Iturbi. I enjoy seeing him in any film, whether he is acting or playing the piano.

-Gene Kelly tap dancing with the broom.

-Eleanor Powell in Technicolor. She again was filmed in color in her last film “Duchess of Idaho” (1950).

Notable Songs:
-“I Dug a Ditch” sung by several men

-“Daybreak” sung by Kathryn Grayon with Jose Iturbi on the piano

-“Three Letters in the Mail Box” sung by Kathryn Grayson

-“In a Little Spanish Town” sung by June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven

-“Should I” sung by Georgia Carroll with Kay Kyser’s band

-“Honeysuckle Rose” sung by Lena Horne

-“The Joint is Really Jumpin’ in Carnegie Hall” sung by Judy Garland with Jose Iturbi on the piano

My Review:
As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are several war time films just like “Thousands Cheer” – a thin plot with a ton of musical performances by big name stars.

However, “Thousands Cheer” stands out against “Star Spangled Rhythm,” “Thank Your Lucky Stars” or “This is the Army.” Maybe it’s because of the caliber of the MGM stars that makes it more enjoyable. Or maybe it’s the Technicolor.

But truthfully, I think it’s the way the film and the showcase of stars is structured. The first half of the film is a straight musical with a plot sprinkled with songs. The last hour to 45 minutes is roughly seven musical performances and skits designed as a show to entertain troops. The performances are shown like an actual show with Mickey Rooney as the emcee between each performance.

“Thousands Cheer” holds a rare quality against other talent showcasing films-the musical performances don’t grow tiresome. I was entertained the whole time, unlike films such as “This is the Army,” where my finger was itching for the fast-forward button.

Kay Kyser's singer and wife Georgia Carroll singing "Should I" in "Thousands Cheer"

Kay Kyser’s singer and wife Georgia Carroll singing “Should I” in “Thousands Cheer”

All of the performances and songs are quality entertainment. Frank Morgan and Red Skelton’s skits are humorous and all of the music is fantastic. The two songs that I think bring down the house are Judy Garland’s “The Joint is Really Jumpin’ in Carnegie Hall” (which should be no surprise) and Kay Kyser’s band with his wife Georgia Carroll as the singer. Carroll’s glowing closeup almost makes the movie for me.

This film is still early in Gene Kelly’s film career- this was his fourth film- but you can already see his star potential in his performance and the few dance numbers he was given. Kelly and Grayson also have good chemistry, and apparently MGM agreed, pairing them two years later in “Anchors Aweigh” (1945).

If you enjoy star spangled World War II films made for morale boosting and bursting with songs, this is for you.

Fun promotional pamphlet of caricatures of the "Thousands Cheer" songs.

Fun promotional pamphlet of caricatures of the “Thousands Cheer” songs.

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