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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The "Carousel Waltz" that opens this play/film is one of the most
beautiful melodies ever composed by Richard Rodgers, and I say that as
someone who is more of a fan of the Rodgers/Hart shows than the
Rodgers/Hammerstein ones. Mr. Rodgers also supplied some of his most
gorgeous songs for the rest of the score, including "You'll Never Walk
Alone" and the Kern-esquire "If I Loved You." Unfortunately I've never
been able to completely get into Hammerstein's book because of the
unpleasant combination of sentiment and patronizing male superiority.
It's well known that Rodgers wrote melodies to match Hammerstein's
lyrics (as opposed to the way he worked with Lorenz Hart, which was to
supply original melodies and wait for Mr. Hart to set them to his
brilliant words). In this piece there are a number of songs where this
method makes the songs too Hammerstein-heavy for me to bear, like the
"overbearing" odor of "Mister Snow" and the soothing emptiness of "When
the Children are Asleep." Rodgers' music seems perfunctory for these
songs just as much as it seems majestic and emotionally fitting for
songs like the famous "Soliloquy" which is staged in this film version
on a real beach.
The direct sentiment of so many of the songs wouldn't bother me so much if it wasn't coupled as I said with an almost misogynistic viewpoint. "What's the Use of Wondrin'" deserves derision in my opinion just as much as some of Hammerstein's other songs like "Old Man River" and "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" deserve praise. Basically the song is saying that women should accept abuse from their husbands, and even states that the woman is a possession of the husband. Hammerstein often worked with ambiguous heroes (Gaylord Ravenal in "Show Boat" for example is a gambler who leaves his wife) but in this case I feel like he went too far in trying to humanize someone who in reality doesn't deserve the sentiment that's lavished upon him. At every opportunity the play makes excuses for Bigelow's spousal abuse, and it includes a disturbing sequence where Julie Jordan tells her daughter that being hit could be painless, in fact it could feel like a kiss. In my opinion we're not supposed to read Julie Jordan as a masochist, so this whole sequence matches up with "Wodnrin'" to send the message that Bigelow's wife beating was somehow OK because he did it with love.
Leaving aside the objectionable and praiseworthy aspects of R&H's play, I would like to mention the excellence of the actors in this production. A lot of people seem to lament that Frank Sinatra decided to opt out of this movie because he didn't want to shoot the film twice (in cinema scope and normal). I'm glad things worked out that way personally. Sinatra is too slight of build to be really imposing as Bigelow, and his voice isn't as powerful as MacRae's. While I prefer MacRae's performance in "Oklahoma!" and I think Shirley Jones had more to do in that film as well, I think they were great in this film and I wouldn't really want to see anybody else. The supporting cast is better in general than in "Oklahoma!" as well. Cameron Mitchell's Jigger is a more believable portrayal than Rod Steiger's Judd Fry, and Barbara Ruick's Carrie is a huge improvement over Gloria Grahame's Ado Annie. Claramae Turner isn't quite as much fun in this one as Charlotte Greenwood in the other one, but the role isn't as much fun either, more of a singing role.
Ultimately "Carousel" is a very hard film for me to evaluate. I really do enjoy it for the most part despite my problems with the lyrics of some of the songs. But it's a case of style over substance in my opinion. Hammerstein is trying too hard to make the characters both appealing on a basic "Americana" level and complex in a way that would satisfy his ambitions as a playwright. To me Julie Jordan is a really hard character to empathize with, like some wraith out of someone's imagination of what women were once like. To some extent this is made up for by the skepticism expressed by her aunt, but for the most part the film seems to depict her self-sacrificing and unconditional nature as admirable which I just cannot swallow. She seems like a weak person being presented as some kind of saint in Hammerstein's ethos. Bigelow himself is a total idiot, but a lot of the quality of the film and play does come deliberately from the contrast between his emotional high and low points. I wish that Rodgers' extraordinarily beautiful music could have been coupled with a less odious story. The whole part with Bigelow coming back from the dead just feels so ridiculous, like "Topper" wanting to take itself seriously. So much talent went into making Hammerstein's vision come to life that it has some charm and vitality almost despite itself.
*** 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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with a thinner than average plot.
Aside from the ravishing Shirley Jones, this film has little to
Mostly forgettable songs in an alleged tale of love and redemption...
Billy Bigelow is a drifter, carnival barker, and ladies' man...Julie Jordan, pretty, prim, and demure, is the target of his flirtations as the movie begins. These two people make the most mismatched "romantic couple" this side of the fatal Henry Higgins/Eliza Dolittle pairing...and despite their differences they end up married to each other, if for no other reason than spite and stubbornness (the song "If I Loved You" basically catalogs the reasons that the pairing forebodes imminent disaster). So, of course, in the spirit of soft-headed 50's romanticism, these completely incompatible people end up married, EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE REFUSED TO EVEN ACKNOWLEDGE LOVE FOR EACH OTHER!
The now bored, unemployed, and out of circulation Billy takes his frustrations at no longer being the "Cock of the Walk" out by slapping the wife around occasionally, and belittling her in front of her friends. (How frigging heartwarming!) When encouraged by her friends to dump this dead weight, Julie replies with a "stand by your man" kind of song! Will true Love save the day here? (Gee, I wish there was a sarcasm font!) Next, Billy discovers that Julie is pregnant with his child, so, does Billy settle down to find reasonable employment? Of Course Not! Billy Bigelow's poor character and poorer decision making lead him into an attempted crime that was so ineptly executed that it had NO chance at success and leads directly to his death.
In the name of "Love" and "Responsibility", he has condemned both his widow and his child to a life of misery and ridicule as the spouse and child of a felon who met with justice! At the gates of Heaven (yeah, right, this guy rates a glimpse of heaven!), Billy is informed that he must undo the damage he has done to gain admittance.
In the 15 years since his death, his daughter has become a hellion as a form of defense against the life long ostracism she has faced as a consequence of Billy's actions...She plans to run away from home to become a carny and a tramp (a chip off the ol' block!).
Billy, returned to earth, and pretending to be a friend of her father's, tries to reason with the girl, but, damaged and resentful, she refuses any gift from him...His response is to smack her! (truly touching!) His daughter reports the incident to her mother, adding that the slap felt like a kiss! (Who writes this stuff? I guess it makes Julie pine for the good old days when she had a husband around to beat her too!) Anyway...we move on to the Daughter's High School Graduation...where the shame he has brought upon his family is demonstrated by townspeople's shunning his daughter (honestly...there is not ONE redeeming character in this whole mess!) with a refusal to even applaud her graduation.
Finally, the graduation speech is delivered by one of the heavenly characters (God, or for the purposes of this play, the "Starkeeper") in disguise. The speech is a moral dissertation that the graduates truly are neither helped or hindered by their parents successes or failures...Billy's big redemptive moment? Whispering to the daughter to "believe" this moralistic claptrap! Oh...and he finally whispers to his widow that he ALWAYS loved her! (shoot me now!...How Damn Heartwarming!) The show is brought to a close with a reprise of the entire cast singing the inspirational "Climb Every..." no wait!...Same song different words!..."You'll Never Walk Alone." The now "redeemed" Billy heads off for heavenly eternity! (What a HAPPY ENDING!)
Dark...depressing...misguided...romantic drivel...I can barely contain my contempt for the libretto on which this film is based.
R & H...churned out some clunkers...and somehow put a happy face on them...King and I, for instance, celebrates a brutal despot...South Pacific...racism lives!...Flower Drum Song...Illegal immigration and Loveless Arranged Marriages! (although they softened the ending of the source novel by omitting a character's suicide)...Pipe Dream...Love and Brothels! ...Carousel easily rivals the worst of the worst, and any redeeming qualities of film-making, music, singing, or choreography are completely sabotaged by the dreadful story with which they are mounted.
My Fair Lady or Music Man may have their flaws, but in this writer's opinion, are more entertaining than ANY play in the R&H catalog! But, as I said earlier, at least, Shirley Jones is still lovely to look at, and has a beautiful singing voice!
A really wretched adaptation of one of the best Broadway musicals. Most of the songs are left and Robert Rounesville is tremendous. If only, they had just filmed the show as written. Instead, they begin in "heaven" on one of the phoniest looking sets ever. The story is off-kelter from the get-go. Better to listen to any of the numerous recordings of this great score than sit through this inept crime of a film. No wonder film musicals died.
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.
I think this is better than Oklahoma, though both are very good indeed. Carousel is a beautifully-filmed musical, though I didn't completely understand the beginning. The choreography was fantastic, specially in the number in the fishing village, and I found little problem with the direction. The songs and score by Rodgers and Hammerstein was just outstanding. After Sound of Music, this is possibly their best work. I have the rousing title number in my head, after watching it just last night, and I love "You'll Never Walk Alone". As for the performances, just brilliant. As Billy Bigelow, Gordon McRae put a lot of passion into the character, especially with the singing about his unborn child. As Julie, Shirley Jones was also lovely, though she was better in Oklahoma. I loved this film. It is just so colourful, and sometimes moving. 9/10 Bethany Cox.
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