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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.
So let me state for the record that I love a good musical. People breaking out into random song and dance to express their emotional problems never bothered me. That being said, Carousel was such a disappointing chore of a movie to watch that most of the entertainment value came out of me and my family's heckling. So why did I give it a 3 instead of nothing at all? Well it wasn't a complete waste. I can appreciate a well choreographed dance scene, and the vocal talent was pretty good, but the songs were terrible! Lets have a clambake and then sing in groups about seafood? The characters were so flat and stumbled into such forced and trite situations to drag along a plot that barely registered. About half an hour into the movie I mentioned out loud how I wish the film were more about a carousel and less about absolutely nothing. I know movies that have been adapted from stage shows have a sort of hokey and exaggerated quality to the acting, but there's a point of absolute ridiculousness where I draw the line. Where was that line for me? I held out until one of the characters told a girl she could defend herself from stalkers by giving them a big sensual hug. Being from a completely different generation who's attention span has evolved to being inpatient of anything that doesn't read like a commercial or music video, I can still take into consideration that Carousel was made at a point in movie history where directors took their time to relay the story. But Jesus tap dancing Christ,it took EVERY character SO long to say what was on their mind, you could have cut a good 45 minutes out of this movie and not have missed anything. what astounded me most was it's classic status and high IMDb score. I can kinda speculate that the only people really interested in looking up the information about this movie are the ones who loved it. So for every user that gave it 10 stars, there's probably 10 more users who couldn't be bothered to even finish watching this exhausting Rogers and Craperstine clunkerdump.
I had no expectations at all and knew nothing about it when I was given a chance to see this in my country the least known of Rodgers-Hammerstein musicals. The first thing you are met with is some metaphysics, and then the show starts and goes on throughout in splendour and marvellous choreography throughout in a very rustic environment of fishermen and very ordinary people, who by the music are raised to a lyrical level of some prominence. It's a wonderland of beauty very originally mixed up with great human passion and drama including an upsetting tragedy with reverberating shock effects. The story is curiously exotic and strange for an American musical, but then the original story is actually Hungarian taking place in Budapest and is a bleak tragedy indeed, which even Giacomo Puccini asked permission of the author to make an opera of, which he would not risk it getting debased by. Rodgers & Hammerstein succeeded in transforming it for the stage and make it work with wonder, changing the end, of course. The actors, none of them very known today, are all outstanding, and no objections against the story and its morals or lack of morals are justified. This is a fairy tale brought down to reality with its metaphysics and fairy tale wonders made real in the cinema and enhanced by the overwhelming excellence of the music. You can see it as a morality, of course, but then it is a very edifying one, turning the bleak tragedy of failed human efforts at some worldly success and love into a triumph of the actual good will. This is not only a film to wonder at and enjoy but to do so more than once and again.
*** 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!
... 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.
"Carousel" is the exclusive Rodgers and Hammerstein work that belongs on the
stage. It is an intimate, tender story that cannot work by being turned into
the equivalent of a Hollywood musical spectacular. In other words, its
whimsical elements are unlike the other 1950s musicals of the duo, which
makes it harder to sustain on the set of a film determined once again to be
the most handsome and expensive musical of its day.
Gordan MacRae and Shirley Jones again work magic in the second of their musical teamings, the first being Oklahoma! the year before. The supporting cast could do a little better, but on the whole, they aren't too bad. In the surrounds of 1890s New England, with the splashes of carnival colour, clam bakes, youth and romance, it is of course a step up on the darker, foreign non-musical piece that inspired it.
I actually thought the screenplay could have been a bit stronger. Although mass humour was not a strength of the team, this one certainly was missing it. The score, with some of the most beautiful of songs is a strength. These include, "If I loved you", "June is bustin' out all over" and of course, the team's trademark song, "You'll Never Walk Alone". I was actually most enchanted by the opening musical piece, not an overture, but a composition called "The Carousel Waltz". And the dancing, although they shouldn't rely on it too much, is a treat.
But the musical is a fantasy, and the all important spell that needs to be cast is missed. This is definitely not the best of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that were made. But it is generally nice wholesome entertainment that the whole family will enjoy.
*** 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.
Unfortunatly, I don't get the cable channel that frequently shows this film,
I assume, in widescreen. (It's no longer AMC) I missed the chance to see
it in a theater when it was presented at a local matinee. So I ended up
with the original pan-and-scan video. Therefore, poor Booth Bay Harbor,
Maine, (and San Francisco, where the final shot was filmed) was not
showcased in all its glory, but you make do with what you
Now to the film itself: I have seen this show on stage, and I really liked it. I have listened to several recordings, including the 1994 revival, and I have always been spellbound by the marvelous score, R and H's best and indeed one of the best ever, I think. Unfortunatly, some of that score was cut from the film, which hurts it, especially in the beginning. Maybe that's what was missing; just the deletion of "You're a Queer One, Julie Jordan" takes something away from "Mister Snow" and even "If I Loved You," which also has given up some of the introductory verses to the latter song sung by Julie. Therefore, it's just not as intriguing and entrancing. And yes, it is annoying that the first scene was an added one to take away the pain. (I won't say more) As for the acting, Gordon Mcrae's Billy Bigelow... well, something was missing. Same with Shirley Jones' Julie Jordan and Barbara Ruick's Carrie Pipperidge. I can't put my finger on it, but something was missing. (Though, like I said, it may be the cut part of the score)
But then "along come" the spirited rendition of "June Is Bustin' Out All Over," which finally brings that spark of life that's been missing so far. Director Henry King finally seems to get a hold of himself, and from then on, the film is great. Mcrae's "Soliloquy" is a tour de force, and Jones is perfect in "What's the Use of Wond'rin." Both act just fine, too, from then on, as does Ruick and the rest of the cast, including Cameron Mitchell as Jigger Craigin. (Too bad we don't get to see what the chereographer did with "Blow High, Blow Low," though; that was cut, too) The scenes with their daughter, played by Susan Luckey, are even a little touching. (Unfortunatly, though, the ballet showcasing her starts and ends on the beach, but for the entire middle section makes a jarring transition to an indoor set, which takes away from it a little) So, it regains its footing from a dissapointing beginning to finish off beuatifully, even with the sentimental "You'll Never Walk Alone." See the movie, but better yet, rent one of the recordings, including the film's own soundtrack, which includes the cut "Queer One" and "Blow High" and which I'll listen to right now.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'll just say it now: in all my years, "Carousel" is the most depressing, saddest movie I've ever seen. Of course, Shirley Jones did a very good acting job as Julie Jordan, a young girl so in love with Billy Bigalow,and Gordon McCrae was excellent in his role as Billy. And, his voice was strong and beautiful. The Atlantic coast of Maine was perfect for aesthetic effects, as was the beautiful color of the movie. But the story was extremely sad. What else can you say about a story which, in turn, is about a sorry, bitter, temperamental man who gets dismissed from his job as a barker on a carousel, then becomes a no-good thief and, because of that, his daughter (born posthumously) is harassed terribly? This is not, I personally feel, one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's best. Again, good acting and other good qualities, but what a depressing story!
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