Julie Newmar (Dorcas) was already an accomplished dancer but she never got a chance to show off her skills because her dance partner Jeff Richards (Benjamin Pontipee) was a former professional baseball player with no dancing skills.
MGM considered this a "B" picture--it had higher aspirations for the more expensive Brigadoon (1954). For this reason, the studio slashed the budget on "Seven Brides", forcing Stanley Donen to use painted backdrops instead of filming on location.
The film was originally going to be titled "The Sobbin' Women", but MGM executives thought that audiences would not be interested in seeing a film with this title. It was first retitled "A Bride for Seven Brothers", but the censors thought it sounded too risqué, so it was altered to "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers".
The censors weren't too happy about the line in the song "Lonesome Polecat" where the brothers lament "A man can't sleep when he sleeps with sheep". By not showing any sheep in the same shot as the brothers, the film-makers were able to get away with it.
MGM did not have high financial expectations for the film, and chose instead to allocate its resources to Rose Marie (1954) and Brigadoon (1954)--films that, as it turned out, never matched this film's commercial and critical success.
For the famous barn raising dance sequence, the cast rehearsed for three weeks in order to get the intricate choreography down. It was during one of these rehearsals that Russ Tamblyn wandered over to the set along with Jeff Richards to see how the scene was coming along. "Michael Kidd called me over and said, 'Rusty, somebody told me that you're a good tumbler, that you can do some flips'," said Tamblyn in a 2004 interview. "So I did a back flip for him. 'Fantastic!' he said. 'We'll put it in a number.' I told him I really wasn't a dancer, except for some tap dancing. But he said, 'Listen, this is just like square dancing. All you have to do is lift your legs high. You can do a lot of acrobatic stuff. It's perfect.' That's how I became a dancer in Seven Brides."
Howard Keel called the film, "one of my happiest filmmaking experiences at Metro Goldwyn Mayer...The cast was magnificent, and the chemistry irresistible. Jack Cummings had his stamp on the whole picture. Jane Powell, as Milly, was perfect, and I loved working with her. She was cute and persnickety and a multi-talented pro...It truly was one big happy family."
Director Stanley Donen said that producer Jack Cummings originally planned to use existing American folk songs for the film's musical numbers. After months spent searching in vain for the right music, Donen recalled, the decision was made to commission an original score.
Jacques d'Amboise's credit includes the acknowledgment "Courtesy New York City Ballet", but he still had to leave before filming was finished because he was under contract with them. A stand-in for him was used during the last few days of filming. You can see someone else playing Ephraim as the brothers are pacing downstairs during the baby's birth.
Despite the extra work that shooting two different versions created, the cast had a marvellous time and Stanley Donen embraced the challenge of CinemaScope. He thought that with seven brides and seven brothers, the story itself lent itself perfectly to the medium since so many characters often had to be onscreen at the same time. He utilized every inch of the frame to maximize the visual impact of the new technology. The studio, who was being extremely tight with the budget, wound up having to put more money into the production anyway, despite trying to cut every corner. "I had to shoot and cut everything twice-restage scenes, put in a different set of marks, light it differently, loop it," said Stanley Donen. "We had two cutting rooms going, and it cost the studio another $500,000, which was a lot for then."
Though Howard Keel was happy with most of the production, he disagreed on two points in reference to his character. He first objected to Adam reprising the song "When You're in Love" after Milly first sings it. He felt it didn't work because Adam at that point in the film couldn't possibly understand what love was all about. Secondly, he objected to singing a soliloquy number when he's holed up by himself in the winter cabin. It was, Keel felt, too similar to the soliloquy from Carousel (1956). As a result of these disagreements, the original two writers Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich walked off the picture. The third writer, Dorothy Kingsley, took over. "I'm sorry about the original script writers walking away," Keel says in his autobiography, "but I think I was right, and Jack Cummings agreed with me."
On the 2004 DVD commentary, Stanley Donen claims that there were two versions made of the film: one in CinemaScope and another in the standard screen ratio of the day. Each scene shot in CinemaScope had to be re-shot for the standard version. This was out of MGM's concern that not all theatres had the equipment to screen films in CinemaScope. Although the standard version was more expensive than the CinemaScope version, it was never released theatrically. However, it did play on Turner Classic Movies in the late 1990s and is featured as a special feature on the 2004 DVD.
Stanley Donen always saw this film as one of his fondest memories as well as was quick to always point out the enormous contribution by choreographer Michael Kidd to the overall success of the film. "I enjoyed Kidd enormously," said Donen. "His contribution to the film was gigantic."
When Adam first goes into town, at Bixby's general store he sees four "spoken for" women that will later become his sisters-in-law: Ruth (bonnet with blue ribbons), Sarah (hat with black band), Liza (bonnet with pink ribbon), and Dorcas (hat with brown band).
According to the DVD commentary, director Stanley Donen wanted to and was willing to film on location in Oregon, where the story is set. However, due to MGM's demand of filming a standard version for theaters that couldn't not show Cinemascope, that wasn't possible due to the budget. As a result, many outdoor shots were filmed at MGM with painted canvases as backgrounds.
The dress colors worn by the six soon-to-be-brides during the barn-raising scenes are: Dorcas - mauve/white checked ; Ruth - blue; Martha - green; Liza - pink/white checked; Sarah - yellow/white checked; and Alice - salmon.