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How can "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" be such a wonderful musical?
While the songs are lovely, they are mostly forgettable. The characters
of the six brides and five of the brothers are almost hopelessly
underwritten. Credit director Stanley Donen, choreographer Michael
Kidd, cinematographer George Folsey, and a perfect cast led by Howard
Keel and Jane Powell for creating one of the all time great musicals
and an unforgettable motion picture experience even 50 years after its
release. "Brides" has never been surpassed for ensemble performance,
and that includes "West Side Story". This is largely due to Michael
Kidd's choreography and the Donen/Folsey scene composition. Kidd
exploited the best elements of each character's dance style (one
brother is a ballet star; another, an acrobat) and created the most
bravura ballroom/freestyle dance number in motion picture history, the
barn dance sequence which formally introduces the "brides" to the
"brothers". Kidd's work would have been in vain, however, had not Donen
and Folsey so skillfully composed the scene. "Brides" is the best
example of scene composition of any wide screen musical I've ever seen;
every frame is filled with something visually interesting. Donen
frequently, but subtly uses Jane Powell's tiny stature for comic effect
by surrounding her with the tall brothers in submissive poses. Powell
is clearly always in control, but her size and generally cheery
temperament prevent her from ever seeming a bully. Donen also carefully
chose to dress the brothers in bright, distinctly colored shirts, which
enables the audience to clearly distinguish the characters during key
The movie also has a subtle feminist slant. Powell is clearly younger than her husband, Howard Keel, but she is also clearly a more mature and dominant character. For the time, "Brides" was also daring in its depiction of "good" women looking forward to enjoying sex. Prior to one song/dance number, bride Julie Newmarr poses on a bed in a position clearly representing "missionary position" sex, legs up and astride an imaginary lover's back.
Though the brides don't get as much screen time or individuality as the brothers, each looks as if she would be a great partner. Both the brides and the brothers get a satisfactory showcasing as couples in the last song, "Spring, Spring, Spring".
I'll leave others to explain the plot. I would like to mention that Donen had an uphill battle with the studio while making "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers". The studio had so little faith, they continually cut "Brides" budget to put more money into the lumbering "Brigadoon." Sets and even cast members were loaned out to other movies. Brothers Russ Tamblyn an Jeff Richards, as well as part of the set can be seen in "Many Rivers to Cross." Instead of Technicolor, the studio used Ansco color. Thus, "Brides" looks about as good as "Wizard of Oz," but no where near as good as "Harvey Girls" or "Meet Me in St. Louis." That's quite an achievement being the best photographed, best choreographed and best ensemble acted musical of the last 50 years. I think it's also the most entertaining. I give "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" a "10."
As an experienced woodsman compounded by being a fan of great music, it is so refreshing to see a perfect musical centered around men behaving like men. So many shows have slim little dandies spinning around and leaping to and fro and the only way you can tell them from a 13 year old girl is their shorter haircuts. I truly enjoyed seeing someone masculine (gay or straight doesn't matter) move in a skilled manner, and disprove the stereotypes of "White Men Can't Dance." Seven Brides for Seven Brothers has the great Howard Keel (the John Wayne of Musicals), supported by a cast of 6 men (some actors, some dancers and some acrobats) and the outcome is nothing short of spectacular. Michael Kidd's choreography is fantastic, demonstrating grace and strength, yet remaining believable in the fact that the skills could be something done by woodsmen. Mercers music, especially "Bless Your Beautiful" and "Lonesome Polecat" is simply awesome and are in my head for days every time I watch it. The cinema-scope and vibrant colors are unbelievably crisp. I watched this with my 2 year old daughter, and aside from her dragging me up to dance with her during the big production numbers, she sat in her chair and watched the ENTIRE 2 hour movie. A two year old that watches an entire 2 hour movie with her dad, you say!?! Do I need anymore proof of the perfection of this movie!? Bless Howard Keel, as he must be smiling down on me whenever I collapse back into my seat, exhausted from dancing with my little girl...who also slept very, very well that night.
Well, I wanted to show a musical to my critical viewing class but knew it would be difficult since the boys were the most unlikely candidates for liking musicals that I'd ever seen. I chose this because of the outstanding dance sequence and because the DVD had such an excellent "making of" which I showed first. It was wonderful to realize at the end of things that they totally got into it, even confessing that they were predisposed against it when I made my intentions known. They found the action funny, the dancing riveting and found lots to comment on in the growth of the relationship between Adam and Millie. One of my reluctant students even confessed to me that he'd found himself singing "Bless Your Beautiful Hide" in the shower one morning! This is a wonderful film for teens today and has the ability to draw them in. While they are totally aware of the sound stage sets and how "stagey" it looks, they also realize why it was filmed that way and manage to get past it. I showed this film only weeks after Howard Keel had died and was so glad that he had done the documentary, which is outstanding because all of the original cast were available to comment. It was charming to see them and how well they had aged.
It would be difficult, I suspect not to like, "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers". This film boasts an attractive frontier setting, famously excellent dance numbers choreographed by Michael Kidd, powerful Howard Keel as the head of the Pontifee clan and Jane Powell as the lovely girl who is swept off her feet by his charms. Of course when she finds out that he has six brothers, all scruffy backwoodsmen in need of manners and wives, trouble ensues. But all turns out well, with a little help from a lesson in Roman history, hard work, and the willingness of six other local girls to be (finally) swept off their feet. Howard Petrie, Ian Wolfe and such lovelies as Ruta Lee, Julie Newmar and Virginia Gibson contribute to the fun as the girls; the brothers include Russ Tamblyn, non-dancer Jeff Richards and some of the best dancers on the planet. The movie also presents some famous songs including, "Wonderful Day", "I'm a Lonesome Polecat", "June Bride" and, "When You're in Love" as well as "Goin' Courtin'", among others. Well-remembered scenes include the hilarious barn raising, the town dance, the sleigh pursuit and avalanche and the "Spring, Spring, Spring" vocal climax. Forget the acting, which is sometimes a bit potty; the director and the music add to a clearly-defined script a rare sense of frontier life, where taking risks for happiness and facing the precariousness of things where life is less than settled become necessary. Very few films have followed the lead of "Seven Brides" as a frontier or western musical; and none has been as well received nor appreciated. What a pity, its fans say, it was not given an outdoor setting instead of backlot scenery--and an "A" budget...It has a few flaws; but for five decades it has been one of the happiest musical films ever made; and that is quite an enduring achievement.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A former Broadway dancer and choreographer, Donen's initial encounter
with MGM was as choreographer on a number of musicals, including 'Cover
Girl,' 'Anchors Aweigh,' and 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game.'
Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers' tells the story of the seven Pontipee brothers, who are living a rough lonely existence on their farm in Oregon... It is also the story of a rugged young farmer, in 1850, who rides into town to trade for some supplies, and pick himself up a comely bride...
In town, Adam finds just what he's looking for'Pretty and trim, but not too slim. Heavenly eyes and just the right size. Simple and sweet and sassy as can be.' Adam meets the young spirited Milly working at a local inn... He is instantly attracted by her good looks and her cooking... For her part, Milly likes her tall, and self-assured man... Also his directness, and the sound of his good house in the wilderness... After a whirlwind courtship, the two agree to wed...
Millie chirps an engaging 'Wonderful, Wonderful Day' as she welcomes what she expects will be a perfect new life... But when she arrives at the ranch, all her dreams about love and marriage and such, are shattered... She discovers that her new husband has not been entirely truthful... Instead of an idyllic honeymoon cottage just for two, she finds he really wants 'a cook, a washerwoman, a hired girl,' for his small army of six sensitive brothers living in one filthy cabin...
After the shock, Milly immediately sets out to transform the young rowdy men into the region's most eligible bachelors, with an eye to marrying them off as quickly as possible...
Milly's good cooking and stubborn nature inspire the rambunctious young men that they cannot expect to attract wives if they dress and behave the way they do... They have to learn some social graces... At the perfect opportunity, the boys put Milly's teaching to good use, meeting the town girls whose glances express an obvious interest...
Unfortunately, the women are spoken for..
Adam could hardly believe it how his little wife tamed his backwoods brothers... He suggests to the wild and grieving 'Romeos,' reduced to what he can only describe as "a bunch of mamma's boys," forget gentle methods of love, and kidnap the unwilling gals they want, following the actions of the Roman with the Sabine women...
Howard Keel is at his commanding best... He develops an unorthodox solution to his brothers loneliness, much to the chagrin of the town fathers and their romantic rivals... With a voice singularly warm and precise, he rises magnificently to the occasion, singing a firmness 'Bless Your Beautiful Hide,' while he appraises the qualities of womanhood in general...
In her probably best screen performance, Jane Powell had the required amount of grit and spunk that was needed to lay the woman who could tame seven backwoodsmen... She sets about to refine her unkempt brothers-in-law giving them the manners and habits they need to court and to win their own sweethearts... Her clear, high, spring-water voice is just right for the songs, seemingly meant to be heard in the open with the mountains and meadows to echo it...
Unquestionably, the highlight of the motion picture is justly the 'Barn-raising' sequence... It begins as a 'challenge' dancea truly breathtaking display of acrobatic leaps and ballet steps, in which the brothers compete for the girls with the more 'refined' men of the town, and it ends inevitably in a noisy, undignified fight as the men actually try to raise the four sides of the wooden barn...
The collective presence of the six brothers is simply dynamic... All the players move rhythmically with grace and ease... Russ Tamblyn jumps both forward and backward over an ax held in his hands... Stanley Donen again displays his visual originality and creates a new style of musical, irresistible with its vitality and freshness, lovely to look at and hear...
A permanent place in the history of film musicals is obviously the fate of 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers' the minute Howard Keel begins to sing 'Bless Your Beautiful Hide'. His robust romantic presence and voice are perfectly suited to blend with Jane Powell's sweet soprano--the Nelson and Jeanette of the '50s era. Jane is as perky as can be as the girl who impulsively marries him only to find that she's expected to keep house for him and his seven handsome brothers. (Echos of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' here and a touch of political incorrectness). But all that can be forgiven, for what follows is the most outrageously entertaining musical treat from the MGM factory--singin' and dancin' like you've never seen before! The exuberant acrobatic dancing of the brothers is a special highlight--particularly during the barnraising sequence. And their wistful rendering of the carefully staged 'Lonesome Polecat' is another high point. Powell and Keel get to warble some enchanting tunes and both are totally charming and professional in their roles. Keel probably never had a better role--except perhaps 'Showboat' or 'Annie Get Your Gun', handsome, macho and utterly believable. By all means reward yourself with this gem--either in regular format or widescreen, it's certainly one of the greatest MGM musicals of the '50s. Perhaps, as others have noted, the only drawbacks are some of the obviously painted mountain backgrounds--but this never destroys the overall charm of the film. The songs are splendid and the dances are as zestful as any you're ever likely to see.
Howard Keel died yesterday bringing a lifetime of energetic and fun
films to a close. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was one of those
films. It had catchy memorable tunes with strong hooks that stay in the
brain for days. It took full advantage of brilliant color, fabulous
choreography, and even managed to have that one thing that too many
musicals eschew... a plot... complete with character arcs. Adam
Pontipee is the eldest of seven brothers who decides that living in a
squalor with six other scroungy bachelors and horrible cooking has gone
on long enough. When Milly agrees to marry him on the day they meet,
everyone's in for a shock.
Adam finds that a wife is more than a cooking and cleaning slave and that his actions can effect others far more than he ever thought. Milly learns that expectations and dreams don't always work out the way you hope, but they can still work out. The six brothers learn that there's more to life than chopping wood, that Adam isn't always right and that you can't just take what you want. And six young women (the brides) discover that there are more choices than the ones people put in front of you.
The movie asks some hard questions and doesn't answer all of them. Initially the brides are all quite take with the brothers, until the bachelors in town chase them back into the mountains. When the bachelors decide to kidnap the brides we have to ask ourselves how such an act could work out well. Before we heap indignities on the writers, we should also ask whether the townsfolk should be allowed to chase off anyone who might contend for the affections of the girls they have their eyes on. That's one of the finest points of this movie. These aren't matters of black and white. This is a story of humanity and of men and women. But mostly, this is a fine musical and part of Howard Keel's enduring legacy.
If you like musicals don't look beyond this one. MGM goofed when it
slashed the movie's budget and gave it away to Brigadoon in 1953 but it
doesn't matter for the simply stunning songs and choreography shine
through. As good as Brigadoon was, it is outclassed by this, for me,
the greatest musical of them all.
Howard Keel stars with Jane Powell but for me I cannot look beyond the awesome dancing talent of Matt Mattox as Caleb. Check out the 'polecat scene' and bookmark it on your DVD. It doesn't get any better than this. Thank you Matt, you were great!
Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) lives with his six brothers in a cabin in a
remote area of the woods. He goes to town one day and convinces a girl
named Milly (Jane Powell) to marry him. They return to the cabin, where
she suddenly realizes he has six brothers.
Milly tries to teach them some manners after her initial shock, but they are not entirely keen to change their ways. They are, however, anxious to get wives of their own.
After Adam reads about Roman capturing of Sabine women, he hatches a plan for his brothers - kidnap whoever they want to marry and bring them back to the cabin.
"Seven Bridges for Seven Brothers" is, today, somewhat of a classic; Stanley Donen adapts the screenplay by Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich and Dorothy Kingsley; their combined efforts are superb.
I have grown up on this film and was surprised at the fact that, after having seen it very recently, it continues to hold up as well as it did when I was younger. I recommend it to everyone of all ages - it's funny, charming, sweet-natured and very enjoyable.
i love this musical, i have ever since i was 16 yrs old and now i'm 22
going onto 23. i would have loved this musical to continue on forever.
its lovely. i love the brothers i love the brides. i think Jane Powell,
Howard keel, Russ & tommy were great. its all singing, all comedy fun
musical to watch over and over again. but one must face facts, its only
one film and not a trilogy. i wish you all to enjoy it.
here is a toast to the cast: Jane, Howard, Jeff, Matt, Marc, Jacques, tommy, Russ, Julie, Miss R. Lee (yes i know your name, but the Internet Movie Database is picking it up as a mistake), Norma, Virgina, Betty and Nancy. and to Micheal Kidd for his wonderful work and for Stanley for fighting to have this musical done. i'm glad this movie got better reviews than the silly Brigadoon, which was supposed to be the hit of that year. if i was you i would have said "in your face" to MGM for not having any faith in you, but hey your not me and you seem to be a good sport. this movie is a classic so thank you for giving it to your generation, my mothers generation, my generation and in future my children's generation. to the cast, i'm sad that i never saw the majority of you in other films, i hope that where ever you are that you are well and are happy. to Jane Powell, i adore your films and to Howard may you rest in peace (hopefully). to Russ i loved you in west side story. tommy - you cracked me up in the movie and made me laugh so hard, and i've seen you in merry Andrew which was a great film too. Jacques, your were the most good-looking of the brothers (along with Tommy), if i was bold enough i would have asked if you had a son (kidding!) and the rest of the brothers who were excellent, Jeff who was great in the bedroom where all the brothers are, Matt and Marc for there dancing as well. to the beautiful brides, i love the song June bride and i think all of you were great.
great job to you all
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