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Billy Bigelow has been dead for fifteen years, and now outside the pearly gates, he long waived his right to go back to Earth for a day. But he has heard that there is a problem with his family, namely his wife Julie Bigelow née Jordan and the child he never met, that problem with which he would now like to head back to Earth to assist in rectifying. Before he is allowed back to Earth, he has to get the OK from the gatekeeper, to who he tells his story... Immediately attracted to each other, he and Julie met when he worked as a carousel barker. Both stated to the other that they did not believe in love or marriage, but they did get married. Because the shrewish carousel owner, Mrs. Mullin, was attracted to Billy herself, and since she believed he was only of use as a barker if he was single to attract the young women to the carousel, she fired him. With no other job skills and unwilling to take just any job, Billy did not provide for Julie but rather lived off Julie's Aunt Nettie. But... Written by
In 1956, Twentieth Century-Fox had two Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II films in release - this film and The King and I (1956), as well as the CinemaScope version of Oklahoma! (1955). "Carousel", although a critical success, was a box-office failure (probably because of its very serious, downbeat plot), while "The King and I" was a smash hit both critically and financially. Because of this, Fox put all of its Oscar campaign clout behind "The King and I". The result was that "The King and I" was nominated for, and received, several Oscars, while "Carousel" became one of only three Rodgers and Hammerstein films to be completely shut out of the Academy Awards (the others being the critically savaged and unsuccessful 1962 remake of "State Fair" and the equally critically savaged 1999 animated remake of "The King and I"). Conductor and music supervisor Alfred Newman led the orchestra for both "Carousel" and "The King and I", and won for the latter film. One of "Carousel"'s art directors, Lyle R. Wheeler, and one of its set decorators, Walter M. Scott, also worked on "The King and I", and, like Newman, won Oscars for that film. See more »
The story is set in the years 1873 - 1888, yet Billy uses the term "midway" while describing the scene around the carousel. This definition of "midway", referring to the area of a circus or carnival containing sideshows and other amusements, was coined during the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893 to refer to the area of tawdry exhibits located on a narrow strip of land connecting Jackson and Washington Parks which was called "Midway Plaisance". The term "midway" would not have been used in reference to a carnival or circus prior to 1893. See more »
A star hurtles downward and explodes in mid-air; out of this appears the credit "Twentieth-Century Fox presents Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'Carousel'". The other credits all appear in a straightforward fashion. See more »
"He's Your Fellow And You Love Him, That's All There Is To Say"
I saw Carousel for the very first time in its first release when it played a double bill with Oklahoma. You can't do much better than that for an introduction to the American Musical Theater.
It would get a perfect 10 had it been done with the original two leads that were set for the show, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. Judy backed out before production started and Sinatra shortly after that, so Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones got to do a second Rodgers&Hammerstein classic.
Carousel is based on the Ferenc Molnar play Liliom and the original setting is in Molnar's native Hungary. On Broadway it was done by Eva Le Gallienne and Joseph Schildkraut and later in revival by Ingrid Bergman and Burgess Meredith. One man who did it in summer stock was Tyrone Power who if a straight dramatic version of Liliom had ever been done, would have been perfect.
Whether he's Liliom in Hungary or Billy Bigelow in 19th century New England, the part is one for a hero/heel that Tyrone Power patented on the screen. Probably Gordon MacRae benefited in no small way in having Power's favorite director Henry King in charge of Carousel.
Richard Rodgers was also used to writing for a hero/heel having done Pal Joey with his former partner Lorenz Hart. Billy is that kind of guy, a carousel barker and boy toy to owner Audrey Christie when he spots Julie Jordan and her friend Carrie Pipperidge, a couple of mill workers. It's love at first sight and marriage shortly after, but Billy's not a guy to change his layabout ways and it ends in tragedy.
One reason that Sinatra was also so right for the part was that he had made a successful hit record of Billy's Soliliquy back in 1945 when Carousel debuted on Broadway. It was a groundbreaking piece of musical theater that Dick Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein were responsible for in the Soliliquy. Billy's just been told by Julie he's about to become a father. In an almost 10 minute number he bares his soul to the audience and sings/thinks aloud the moves he's going to make. The song is almost operatic in quality, it takes a real singing actor to put it over like Sinatra, like MacRae is here, like John Raitt in the original cast on stage.
Though it's not Julie's song, Judy Garland had a successful record with You'll Never Walk Alone. I'm sure she would have sung it in the film had she seen it through. It's probably the big hit song from the score, still an inspiring number today.
Rounding out the cast is Cameron Mitchell as Billy's no good pal Jigger, Robert Rounseville and Barbara Ruick as Mr. Snow and Carrie, the second leads and from the Metropolitan Opera Claramae Turner as Julie's cousin Nettie who does sing You'll Never Walk Alone.
Two more who are perfectly cast are John Dehner as the officious mill owner that employs the girls and the heavenly star-keeper, Gene Lockhart in one of his last roles.
Even more than in Oklahoma, Agnes DeMille's ballet numbers are used to advance the plot. From the exuberant June Is Busting Out All Over to the dance that Billy and Julie's daughter does, all are done with taste and style.
Carousel is both tragic and yet uplifting and inspiring. It's a musical for all the ages to come.
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