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The first time I saw Carousel, I was ten years old and staying up late on a weekend. As I turned the dial, I came across the opening scene as Billy was sitting on a ladder in Purgatory (not heaven), polishing stars. This scene fascinated me. At this point I became engrossed in the movie which was to be my favorite for a lifetime. The music is perfect as it ranges from the dynamic "Carousel Waltz" to the simple and beautiful "If I loved You". As in The other R&H musicals that address social issues (racial prejudice in South Pacific and sexual harassment in Oklaholma), Carousel takes on spousal abuse and social discrimination. The scene, where Julie puts Billie's star in her pocket, as her daughter asks, if it was possible to be hit and for it not to hurt, has such deep emotion. Gordon Macrae and Shirley Jones are so right together in their roles as Julie and Billie. Frank Sinatra could never have pulled it off. I'm so glad he walked out on the role of Billy Bigelow. My only regret is that at least two numbers, that I am aware of, were edited out of the final version, "You're a Queer One Julie Jordan" and "A Whaling We Will Go" (not sure if this is the correct title). They were cut do to the extended length of the film. Another hour would have been fine with me.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Carousel" is probably the best musical Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, it was their favorite. A testament to how shaking the material was for it's audiences in the 1940s was it's run of just under 900 performances on Broadway, by all means respectable, but no where close to the lengthy runs of "Oklahoma", "South Pacific", "The King and I" or "The Sound of Music". The mentioned titles are darker than most audiences take them for, but "Carousel" is more blatantly dark and sophisticated than those, which would make a film version tricky. Indeed, the film is fairly sugar coated, mistakenly deciding to have it be a flashback from heaven, and to not have Billy commit suicide are both mistakes, taking away from the heartbreaking effect found in the stage version. Gordon Macrae and Shirly Jones are in decent form, but one does wonder how the film might have turned out if the originally fought after leads Frank Sinatra (who quit on the first day of filming) and Judy Garland had madethe film. One also might have wished that Nicholas Hytner's breathtaking revival was filmed and released (as Trevor Nunn's 1999 "Oklahoma!" was) or if the excellent 2002 Carnegie Hall Concert of the show (with Hugh Jackman and Audra McDonald) was televised. Since neither of them were, this film is worth viewing, even if it is on the whole disappointing.
Carousel (1956) is a movie based on Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical.
Henry King was the director. The movie has two things going for
it--some good songs and the two leads, Gordon MacRae as Billy Bigelow,
and Shirley Jones as Julie Jordan.
Other than that, I found it depressing and very outdated. The director made the decision to forgo realism for the sake of attractiveness. That's OK--the sky is light blue, the sea is dark blue, and every boat is perfectly painted. Even the docks are clean and tidy, including the boxes piled up and ready to be part of the plot when required. Very colorful, albeit antiseptic. Still, you can accept that as the director's concept.
The problem is that it's not easy to accept a musical about domestic violence, when the female lead tells her daughter, more or less, that when someone you love hits you, you don't really feel it. Maybe they could get away with this in the 50's--I hope not--but this is 2014 and that's simply not OK.
My suggestion--buy the CD for the music, and don't bother watching the film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It was 1944-5: late in WWII. R&H's two recent plays or films had
emphasized the idyllic rural Americana that many servicemen would be
returning to, at least initially. The general euphoria of "Oklahoma"
was marred only by the brutish malcontent Jed. Meanwhile, R&H
contemplated the challenging possibility of adapting thorny Hungarian
Ferenc Molnar's 1909 tragic play "Liliom" into a semi-tragic musical:
giving it a sometimes carnival atmosphere, rather like their concurrent
"State Fair" film, as well as an oceanside location, providing further
opportunities to lighten the overall screenplay. Also, they provide a
somewhat hopeful ending in place of Molnar's pessimistic ending. Molnar
initially refused to allow a musical adaptation, but was blown away
upon seeing "Oklahoma", thus changed his mind. However, he still had a
hand in molding the final screenplay.
Playing the main character, Gordon MacRae personifies a very different character than the 'boy next door' Curley he had just recently played in "Oklahoma". In fact, Billy Bigalow is much like menacing Jed: the villain in "Oklahoma". In fact, Liliom was Hungarian slang for 'tough guy'. He anchors his self esteem on his bluster as a carnival barker and roustabout, his facility with fists, and proclaimed popularity with the opposite sex. Only in the last characteristic does he differ markedly from Jed. He even dies similarly to Jed, by an accidental knife stabbing, following a criminal act.
As a seaside New England carnival barker and roustabout, Billy has a public platform for expressing his animal magnetism and to meet many impressionable young women. But, he has a complex relationship with his widowed employer, who much values his charisma for attracting customers, some of whom he romances transiently. But she also clearly has an implied sexual relationship with him, and doesn't want to lose him to another woman. She detects too strong a scheming girl in millworker Julie, and orders him to keep away from her, or he will lose his job. He makes an ultimately poor decision. Likewise Julie loses her job, because she stays out too late with Billy to return to the company rooming house(apparently all are single young women) before the door is locked. Both are given a chance to redeem their 'mistake', but decline, despite both claiming they don't really love the other: thus "If I Loved You", with an emphasis on the 'if'. Very strange and ultimately tragic behavior! Soon, Billy finds that he really misses his old job, and probably would have left Julie at the beckoning of his former employer, who also really misses him, except that Julie reveals that she is pregnant, which causes him to change his mind. Unfortunately, neither he nor Julie can find adequate alternative employment. Despite financial help from a relative, Billy is talked into a robbery attempt by his shady friend Jigger. It goes very wrong, and he ends up falling on his knife(very clumsily done), in an attempt to escape police.
The remainder of the screen play focuses on the troubles of his then teen daughter, who is ostracized by her schoolmates and their parents for being a poor, fatherless, girl, whose father was a thief and wife beater, and also upon the question of whether Billy's soul can be redeemed, in the eyes of God, if he is given one day back on earth to try to help his daughter from going down a wrong path. The final scene vaguely hints that he passed this test. Unfortunately, his minimal participation is hardly convincing in solving her basic problem. Also, we don't have any clue what she does after the graduation ceremony. Thus, I find the ending quite unsatisfactory, despite Lockhart's speech about not allowing one's parents' failings or bad luck to stand in the way of pursuing your dreams.
The film begins with a surreal scene, with Billy in some celestial waiting room, polishing plastic stars on strings, and arguing with the starmaster(apparently one of God's bureaucrats, played by Gene Lockhart), about whether he can or wants to return to earth for one day to try to help his daughter and perhaps see Julie. Later, when he does go, he tries to give his daughter a star he stole, but she doesn't want it. The intended significance of the star(s) is left to our imagination. Thus, this whole fake star business comes across as quite ridiculous, leading nowhere! It's holdover baggage from "Lilion"
Of course, R&H composed some of their most memorable songs, including the rousing "The Carousel Waltz", the questioning "If I Loved You", the euphoric dance-inspiring "June is Bursting Out All Over", the resigned "What's the Use of Wondering", the inspiring "You'll Never Walk Alone", the determined "Soliloquy", the joyous "This Was a Real Nice Clam Bake" and the romantic "When the Children Are Asleep".
As in "Oklahoma", there are two impressive dance productions, one ballet-styled. While Agnes de Mille wasn't on hand to direct the ballet, as she had been for the one in "Oklahoma", the ballet is based upon her creation for the stage version. Notice that, like several of Gene Kelley's ballets, hers depict the inner turmoil, as well as happiness, of the main subject(Billy's daughter, Louise, in this case). Her sense of a joyous free spirit, as well as her ostracism by mainstream society, is acted out, as is her attraction to carnival people, presumably in mimicry of Billy's youth.
"Carousel" may have been Roger's favorite of his R&H productions, and Shirley's favorite role, but it was not the favorite of audiences, with the flawed main character, and bizarreness and limitations of portions of the screenplay.
My gut instincts are telling me that modern filmgoers aren't going to
care for what I have to say about the 1956 Rodgers and Hammerstein
musical, "Carousel". Most of the people reading this will find my
opinion completely unacceptable. And in many respects, I can understand
where people are coming from if they say that they didn't like this
movie. If you have a permanent hatred for musicals, then "Carousel" is
definitely not going to change your mind about the musical genre. And
to be fair, even those who are big musical fans seem to be split on
"Carousel". As for me personally, there are significant flaws about
"Carousel" that I see as clearly as crystal. But as a big sucker for
musicals, there are things that "Carousel" does extraordinarily well
both on a visual level and on a musical level that are enough for me to
consider it a guilty pleasure.
It's important to note that Frank Sinatra was originally set to star as the main character of this picture. But due to the fact that he wasn't impressed with filming the same takes twice for two different cameras, he backed out. This is where "Oklahoma!" star Gordon MacRae comes in and takes over the role. And right out of the gate, I must say that this role seemed tailor made for Sinatra because MacRae does a heck of a job unintentionally impersonating his voice through this character. "Carousel" centers on Billy Bigelow (MacRae), a carousel barker with a bad reputation and a young mill worker named Julie Jordan (Shirley Jones) who both get fired from their jobs after essentially paying too much attention to each other one night. After being acquainted with each other against the wishes of their highly strict bosses, they fall in love and get married immediately. Yes, just after they meet each other for the first time that night, they get hitched three times faster than a typical Disney princess.
Well, okay. So from there, we see them develop a meaningful and identifiable relationship, right? No, their character development gets sidetracked as Billy becomes bitter for being unable to find work and hits Julie in frustration one night, which isn't shown on screen. We get a subplot involving Billy and his pal Jigger (Cameron Mitchell) planning a robbery of a wealthy person in town, which will later have significant consequences. There's also barely a subplot with Julie's friend Carrie (Barbara Ruick) and her boyfriend Mr. Snow (Robert Rounseville). Basically the plot of "Carousel" is about a newly married couple that experiences some sort of trouble allegedly, with too many subplots added into the mix. And all of the plots, including the central love story between Billy and Julie, are so hastily rushed that any trace of character development is completely missing. Yeah, I would say to go ahead and just fast forward through anything resembling a plot since it's so messed up and very sloppy structure wise. But the problem is that the film practically did that for us before we even though about it! That is exactly how unconfident the director and writers seemed to be in terms of the plot to "Carousel".
For that crucial aspect alone, I shouldn't be recommending "Carousel" especially considering the controversial developments that occur later in the plot. And yet here I am confessing that I have a soft spot for this flick. But to be fair, my recommendation is solely based on two things: the soundtrack by Rodgers and Hammerstein and the cinematography. Now you're thinking to yourself: that's not a good enough excuse to recommend a picture of this nature. But in this case, I'm making an exception. Whatever jaw dropping plot holes "Carousel" provides is made up for with the effort the filmmakers put into making this as great as it possibly can with everything else. The film's producer Henry Ephron really took advantage of the film's settings and made it as visually bright and atmospheric as possible for the big screen through the widescreen CinemaScope cameras.
Say whatever you will about some of the settings being filmed on stage as opposed to on location. Any way you slice it, even the on stage sets have a specific beauty to them. I liked the setting where the "If I Loved You" number took place with the traces of blue light against the mountains, lake, and buildings along with the little pond that shows the character's reflections. But of course, the cinematography on location in Maine and California are magnificent. The "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" and "When the Children Are Asleep" numbers stand out when naming scenes at the top of my head where the on location cinematography is put to its best use. In both of these numbers, the skies look sensational, the sun is clearly present and shining on our stars and dancers, everything seems to be really happening. With "June Is Bustin' Out All Over", I got the sense that the dancers were really scaling that building back and forth without breaking a sweat. Amazing! And as for "When the Children Are Asleep", I never got the sense that it was all green screened. I was sold that Carrie and Mr. Snow were really controlling the boat the whole time.
Nowadays, with all the green screens and CGI in the world and with barely a hint of movie musicals being made anymore, it's refreshing to look at a 1950's musical like "Carousel" to remind me of how magical movies during that era truly were. Though its plot is messy, I give it credit for at least not being another backstage musical. But above all, I love how everything else right down to the singing seems to be really happening on screen. Even if you end up not caring for this, just remember that "You'll Never Walk Alone". Boy, that closing song was awesome!
Gordon MacRae is Billy Bigelow, a smooth-talking carny barker who falls
in love with a mill worker (Shirley Jones) on the colorful coast of
Maine. Filmed on location, with a beautiful seaside setting as a
backdrop and a thrilling score for accompaniment, their romance
unfolds. But right before the birth of his daughter, Billy is killed
while committing a robbery. Now in heaven, years later, he returns to
earth for one day to attend his daughter's high school graduation and
teach her one very important lesson.
Like its immediate predecessor, Oklahoma!, this 1956 screen musical boasted then state- of-the-art widescreen cinematography, stereophonic sound, a starring romantic duo with on screen chemistry, and the Rodgers & Hammerstein imprimatur. Adding to its promise was a source (the venerable Ferenc Molnar play Liliom) that had already been filmed three times. Yet unlike the original Broadway production, and despite evident craft, Carousel proved a box- office disappointment. Why? Hindsight argues that '50s moviegoers may have been unprepared for its tragic narrative, the sometimes unsympathetic protagonist, and a spiritual subtext addressing life after death.
It's probably not shocking that I have a strange fascination with this
musical--though I barely sit through any musicals--when you consider my
top 4 favorite films: Brazil (director- approved cut), McCabe & Mrs
Miller, Blade Runner (director's cut), and Seconds. Brazil is a downer,
McCabe & Mrs Miller is a downer, Blade Runner is a downer although
there is a rather hopeful interpretation to certain epiphanies that
take place near the end--and Seconds?! Seconds is, from front to back,
the ultimate nightmare. Even my fifth favorite flick, Hitchcock's
Notorious, though not an outright downer, features two people in love
who only seem to know how to mistreat each other and squander any
chance they have at happiness.
So it is too with Carousel.
I remember I was about 10 years old when Carousel got run on TV. The only musical in my life up to that point was The Wizard Of Oz, and that was all I needed. Oz was so fantastic, with clear characters, clear villains, and some great songs adorning a fantasy/sci-fi world such as I was lapping up in books, that bits and pieces of things like Singin' In The Rain, or West Side Story seemed too much like real people in the real world, albeit singing like there was something magical about it (admittedly, I finally buckled down and watched all of Singin' In The Rain when I was at home sick, maybe when I was 18 years old or so, and my gosh if that ain't the best ride in the park...anyway, back to when I was only about 10...).
So anyway, me joining Carousel in progress, and sticking with it just long enough for--what's this? The story has suddenly cut to...Heaven?! (Y'see, I had missed the opening scene, where of course the movie starts in Heaven and then jumps back to the past.) Whaa?--so, this movie is about a ghost? And judging by this dude's behavior when he was on Earth it's not hard to surmise that he's gonna end up a ghost--or rather, did end up a ghost--due to some kind of unpleasantness. He's got a lowlife friend who likes knives, and quick crime for quick profit, and talks casually of murder. But the main fellow, Billy, seems like he doesn't want to go down that path, what with a pretty girl who just wants him him to get a job (or does she? She sings like an angel, but she's fairly undemanding of this terminally unemployed grump; more later, on the film's weird gender messages and how they don't go over so smooth today).
So, with this delightful and unexpected fantasy angle whacking me in the face, thus was I cured of thinking only The Wizard Of Oz could take me to pure fantasyland via song and dance. I think I had already seen Heaven Can Wait, and loved it, and this Carousel thing, where no one ever quite seems happy but everyone keeps singing anyway, got around my defences with its lunkhead ghost who only knows how to make a mess of things, and its mood of restless regret. And any time I stick with a musical long enough, the wonderful dance numbers, the colorful costumes, the gorgeous sets, the mellifluous voices do start to distract me from the story, in a good way. There's a certain shot of some boats heading towards a sunset, used as the wrap-up to Mr. Snow belting out a tune as they sail towards the clambake, that is just breathtaking. Earlier, the colors of the women's dresses, as they dance on the rooftops, with the docks and ships and that beautiful coastal-town horizon in the background, is another favorite visual moment of mine.
But not all the colors or clambakes or cavorting can quite dispel the underlying sadness that oozes through this strange musical. Again, it's kind of like people singing and dancing happily almost as--a cover for their sadness, their regret? I'm talking of the main characters, the ones at the heart of the story. The key to understanding this mood seems to lie, at least in part, with the way we perceive Billy. In today's world, the references to his slapping his wife (possibly only once, but these days that reads as thinly-veiled, cowardly denial of slapping her more than a few times), his unemployable status, and his inability to apologize for anything could be enough to put a viewer off Billy, and perhaps off the film entirely. I'm not going to launch into a list of the film's trappings which make it a wonderful extravaganza despite its borderline offensiveness in the 21st century, and yeah, I think Billy is, well, a jerk. But, to my mind, if there's one message I get from Billy's case, it's this: look what happens to him--he gets what he deserves. As you sough, so shall you reap.
So now, decades later, I have watched all of Carousel. Is it the Seconds of musicals? Hey now, I'm not sure I'm being completely facetious! Regret, regret, regret. Ducking and running. Desire to be happy, to make others happy, as it starts to unravel. Carousel has a supremely odd vibe for a musical, and I find myself hooked on it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You might think that with a title like "Carousel" you have a cheerful,
light-hearted film - and it is in parts but other parts are tragic, sad
and even violent.
It's the story of handsome but arrogant and selfish casanova Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae) and his developing romance with a smitten young lady called Julie but the carousel-owner Mrs Mullin is after him too (even though she looks a little too old for him). But Billy marries Julie and just when a happy ending was on its way with a baby girl, disaster strikes. When caught stealing aboard a ship Billy tries to escape resulting in a fatal accident. Both his women were at his side as he was died. Years later, his daughter has grown up and is part of a great multi-talented musical number then tragedy strikes for her; she kisses a funfair guy and everybody laughs at her. Billy was hardly a gentleman when he was alive so he has been given a single day to redeem himself and communicate with his daughter, urging her to do well in life.
The musical numbers are thoroughly outstanding; the dancers were incredible and the songs were nice but a few of them were frankly rather forgettable with no particular rhythm. I do hear that the play was longer than this movie; that's a shame, then there'd be more to the story.
"Carousel" is simply a beauty in the collection of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musicals.
Sadly, the star Gordon MacRae died of mouth-cancer and an attack of pneumonia at the not-so-old age of 64 (1921-1986).
It is certified U for Universal but does contain some mild language, violence and one distressing scene.
... This classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical continues to stand thee test-of-time! "Carousel's" soundtrack remains fresh & powerful as if these two great artists had just written the score! And the cast, led by Gordon MacRae & Shirley Jones, gave Broadway a run for-it's-money! 20th Century Fox spared no expense in this glossy production, with remotes filmed in New England. And kudos to thee musical crew, led by Alfred Newman, Kim Darby & Nelson Riddle as well as thee choreographer Agnes DeMille. Hollywood quite often gets=it-right & they did with this near-perfect production. Surprising "Carousel" didn't have more than 2-nominations or any award wins! But, to many generations, it will always warm-the-heart & uplift-thee-mind.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Carousel" is an adaptation of the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical
which, in turn, was based on a play by the Hungarian author Ferenc
Molnár. It transfers the action from Hungary to a small town on the
coast of Maine. The actual carousel of the title only plays a
relatively small role in the film, although at the beginning Billy
Bigelow, one of the two main characters, is working as a barker at the
local funfair. The other main character is Billy's girlfriend, and
later wife, Julie Jordan, a mill worker.
The story of Billy and Julie is told within the framework of a supernatural fantasy reminiscent of "Heaven Can Wait" or "It's a Wonderful Life". The film opens with a scene showing Billy in Heaven. Or is it Purgatory? At any rate, it is somewhere quite different from traditional Christian visions of the afterlife, a place of neither heavenly bliss nor hellish torment, a place where Billy's main occupation is polishing stars and where he has to report to the "starkeeper", a being who seems less like a god or an angel than a supernatural version of a factory foreman. It is to this being that Billy tells the story of his life and of how he died. It transpires that Julie was pregnant with their first child and that Billy, being unemployed at the time and worried about not having enough money to provide for the child, allowed himself to be talked into joining a no-good friend in a robbery. Unfortunately, the robbery was bungled and Billy was killed when he accidentally fell on his knife while attempting to escape. The final scenes are set fifteen years later when Billy is allowed to return to earth to help his daughter Louise, who he fears is also going off the rails.
Musically the film is a very good one. It contains some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most beautiful music; the two numbers which really stood out for me were the opening "Carousel Waltz" and that wonderful song "If I Loved You". I might also include "You'll Never Walk Alone", although this song has been rather devalued, at least in Britain, by its constant use as a football anthem, especially by supporters of Liverpool FC. "June Is Busting Out All Over" is also notable, less for the music than for the energetic ensemble dance sequence which accompanies it, comparable to the similar sequence in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers".
Dramatically, however, "Carousel" is not so good. Part of the fault lies with the casting. The two leads Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones (who also starred together in another R&H musical, "Oklahoma") both have fine voices, but on the basis of this film neither was a particularly accomplished actor, at least as far as the spoken word is concerned. Although MacRae was able to convey emotions and feelings well though music, as in his "Soliloquy", in his spoken scenes he comes across as too wooden. Shirley Jones makes Julie seem a rather weak character who does little to dispel the impression that she is a doormat unable to stand up to her bullying husband. The original idea was to cast Frank Sinatra as Billy and Judy Garland as Julie, but Sinatra withdrew after a disagreement with the producers and Garland's appearance never materialised. Both Sinatra and Garland could act as well as sing, and I can't help wondering how the film might have turned out with them in the leading roles.
The film, however, also suffers from a more fundamental dramatic flaw. Billy is not so much a hero as an anti-hero; arrogant, idle, shiftless and easily manipulated, especially by his dishonest friend Jigger Craigin. After he loses his job at the funfair he is unemployed, but not because there is no work to be had. He quite literally turns up his nose at an offer of a job on a fishing boat because he thinks that fishermen smell, and prefers to live off Julie's earnings. About his only redeeming feature is his love for Julie, but even this is suspect (we learn that he has beaten her).
This is far from being the only musical with a serious storyline. Rodgers and Hammerstein had also written "South Pacific" about racial prejudice, and Hammerstein had produced "Show Boat" on the same subject with Jerome Kern. Bernstein and Sondheim had covered juvenile delinquency in "West Side Story". All of those films, however, were centred upon sympathetic characters with whom audiences could identify; identifying with Billy seems much more problematic. It was a brave decision on Oscar Hammerstein's part to write a musical centred on an anti-hero. I cannot say how well that decision succeeds in the theatre, as I have never seen a stage production of the show, nor how well it might have succeeded in the cinema with a different actor in the leading role. All I can say is that it does not work well in this particular film.
"Carousel" was praised by many critics, but did not do well at the box office, even though musicals were very popular during this period. It was the only film of an R&H musical, other than the 1962 remake of "State Fair" which was not nominated for a single Academy award. It may be that its tragic theme may have alienated those cinema goers who looked to musicals to provide escapist entertainment, but perhaps the true explanation is that despite some great music this is not a great film. 7/10
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