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*** 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.
Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical-fantasy Broadway hit, originally based on Ferenc Molnar's non-musical play "Lillian" (filmed itself in 1930 and 1934), comes to the screen strangely enervated, without inspiration, with disconcerting flashback structure and sluggish pacing. Due to a misunderstanding about the way the picture was to be filmed, Frank Sinatra bowed out of playing Billy Bigelow at the eleventh hour, so the "Oklahoma" sweethearts Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones are reunited here; they have a nice rapport, though this story is much tougher in tone, and MacRae and Jones do seem a bit innocuous in these settings. MacRae swaggers about amiably, but he doesn't convince us he's abusive (he's too likable). Story begins in Heaven, with fancifully silly decor, but the narrative gets more sobering as the film continues--and yet the handling is still giddy and upbeat. It doesn't quite mesh, and there are too many songs, but with a big budget and this curious material it's certainly interesting. **1/2 from ****
*** 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.
In the process of exploring the great works of Rodgers & Hammerstein, I
came across this musical, again, one of their earlier works remade into
a Hollywood movie.
But it was a complete disappointment- Both the plot as well as the music. Although I didn't expect the plot to be very interesting since it was made such a long time ago, when slow movies had audience, I expected the music to compensate for the sloppy plot, but unfortunately, the music was also a letdown. Except a couple of songs, others didn't register well with me.
I will try to revisit the music sometime later, and find out if it is more appealing on multiple listens.
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.
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.
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.
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