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Carousel is the musical that did not quite make it, probably because
the "hero" is A) Dead B) A Criminal C) A known wife-beater D) A
But, it does have some of the greatest songs ever written and a masterclass in singing by Gordon Macrae. His interpretation of "Soliloquy" is the most complete 8 minutes of music you may ever experience. Starting with the noisy, boisterous first part which is about "My boy Bill" he sings the other half about "My little girl" with a tenderness which is as gently careful as the first section is confidently brash. This song was a great favourite of Sinatra, but, to my mind, it belongs to Macrae. The only other song he sings in the movie is "If I loved you" with its wistful lyrics. An expression of shy regret and missed opportunity, again sung with a depth of understanding and coherent expressiveness. The film also includes the anthem "You'll never walk alone" but there are lots of gaps in the way the story is told that may persuade you to feel that you are watching the Trailer rather than the actual movie. This, unfortunately, was Gordon Macrae's last musical. Regrettably, he became a victim of alcoholism and denied us the pleasure of hearing more of his wonderful voice.
"Carousel" is the musical version of the old film "Liliom"--a story
that was filmed many times since 1919. While I've not seen either
silent version, I have seen the Frank Borzage version (1930) and the
French language version by Fritz Lang (1934). I wasn't impressed by
either of these films--mostly because the leading character was pretty
despicable. He's a very selfish character who horribly mistreats his
poor wife--and I wonder how they can make this a romance with such a
horrible guy, as it severely undermines the story. So, "Carousel"
begins with a major handicap, as hating the leading character makes it
hard to fall in love with the film.
The film begins in New England. A very impressionable young lady (Shirley Jones) sees a handsome rogue (Gordon MacRae) at the carnival and the two inexplicably fall in love and decide to marry. I say inexplicably because he is a real womanizer and NOT the type to ever settle down. As for the marriage, it is a disaster--mostly because he is a ne'er-do'-well who is afraid to work or commit himself to his lovely wife. At times, such as when he learns he's about to become a father, he commits to changing but invariably he ends up returning to his old ways. Now I was a bit uncomfortable about this, as he apparently slapped his bride around--but they made LOTS of excuses for it, such as saying 'he's under a lot of pressure' or 'I only hit her once'! So much for a film that will empower the women in the audience! I just couldn't get past the fact he was a jerk who died while trying to rob someone!
This story is apparently all part of some flashback. You see, MacRae's character is dead and he's telling this to the head honcho up in Heaven because he wants permission to return for one and only one brief period. Now considering most of the flashback consists of him acting like a clod, you wonder how this is all going to convince the powers that be to grant his request!
As for the music, it's decent but the film clearly lacks the crowd-pleasing tunes of many of Rogers and Hammerstein's other works. "South Pacific", "Oklahoma" and the rest had more memorable songs--and didn't have to work so hard to compensate for an unlikable lead. Here, it's an uphill battle. Pretty, well made...but still a film that I had a hard time liking. Overall, it looks good but fails. Watchable but among the least in the Rogers and Hammerstein canon.
*** 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
"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.
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 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!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having heard about this film from a musician I was under the impression
I was going to be amazed by it. I was misinformed. The coloring,
costumes, and music were all great and enjoyable but the set drove me
The continuity was horrible. Most musicals made during this time were often shot in the studio, sometimes on location. This was shot at both. Although it may have seemed like a good idea it was poorly executed. They used studio shots and locations shots in the same scene but it was completely obvious and distracting. The images didn't even match.
One of the scenes in-which this is the most apparent is when one of the characters are dancing on the beach. At first she is on a real beach her costume flows with the breeze, The waves are moving in the background and sand slowly falls from the dunes however after a few minutes it cuts to the studio image. It is almost the same shot only the logs in the scene are slightly moves and the background has no life to it. In fact it is hard to even see a single wave.
This film is beautiful to watch at certain times however its depressing ending isn't the only thing that leaves you upset. But its attempt in using various shooting locations makes you confused and just simply annoyed
"Carousel" (1956) I say belongs to a curious and large group of US films that imply attacks on a neocon or neo-fascist society. The category includes "Ocean's Eleven", "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers", Man's Favorite Sport", "Picnic", "American President:, "The Fountainhead" and hundreds of others. Their storyline is always the same--the central character is being treated unjustly. He/she is under pressure to submit, conform, recant, give up, surrender, suffer-and A. Either does so and then renounces his surrender or 2. Fights and is harmed/killed or decides to conform, only for now. Consider the plight of Billy Bigelow, hero of "Carousel". His crime is getting girls to go to bed with him--a crime only to puritans. Losing his job for refusing to be a slave to Mrs. Mullins, his amorous boss and owner of the carousel he is barker for, he then can't find work--except low paying herring catching, with no guarantee he could ever earn enough doing that job, odious to him, ever to support his wife and expected child. He turns to crime, and dies in a foolish robbery attempt. Reprieved from heaven, he is allowed to return for one day to help his daughter, also an artistic type who is being equally tormented by the narrow-minded Establishment wage slaves to tyrannical bosses in the same puritanic town. From this unpromising material, Ferenc Molnar's play "Liliom", adapted by translator Benjamin F. Glazer with 'book' by Oscar Hammerstein II and screen play by Phoebe and Henry Ephron (also the producer), a film was fashioned fro, a Broadway success featuring Richard Rodgers' glorious music and his partner's clever lyrics. "When I Marry Mister Snow", "June is Bustin' Out All Over", "You'll Never Walk Alone", "The Carousel Waltz" and "If I Loved You" have all become standards, and the other songs are also serviceable. In this production, Henry King provided solid direction,. Rod Alexander the main Seven-Brides-like choreography, Mary Wills the costumes, Charles G. Clarke the difficult cinematography, Jack Martin Smith and Lyle R. Wheeler the successful Art Direction and Chester Bayhi and Walter M. Scott the varied and vivid set decorations. Within the cast, Barbara Ruick comes across most powerfully. The others are uniformly fine, with outstanding work by Audrey Christie as Mrs. Mullins and memorable work by Gene Lockhart as the Starkeeper and Dr. Selden, Claramae Turner as Cousin Nettie, tenor Robert Rounseville as Enoch Snow, Cameron Mitchell as Jigger, John Dehner as a factory owner, William LeMassena as an angel, and Jacques D'Amboise as a dancer featured in Agnes De Mille's "Louises's Starlight Carnival". Susan Luckey scores well as young Lousie; and Richard Deacon as a policeman. In the nominal leads, Shirley Jones sings well but has too little to do in an underwritten part; her big number, "That's All There Is to That" is a weak song. But Gordon MacRae is stellar in all regards as Billy, carrying the entire film by his more-than- expected singing and his on-target handling of an unsympathetic role. His versions of "Soliloquy" and "If I loved You" are the film's great highlights. This is a moving and engrossing film for most, one that lacks only a bit of clarity in the motivations of Billy to set it among the greatest musicals.
Anyone who has read my reviews of most musicals will know that they
don't enthrall me one bit. Specifically, as I watch them, I tend to
throw out the sorts of comments that Mike, Servo and Crow hurl at the
grade-Z flicks sent them by Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank on "Mystery
Science Theater 3000". Most of my comments related to the fact that
"Carousel" is set in Maine, which I usually think of as Stephen King
land. To be certain, the movie does have a character named Carrie.
Also, there's the fact that ever since I watched "Grandma's Boy", I
think of Shirley Jones as the character who performed a certain sexual
act on Charlie Chaplin. On top of everything, the carousel itself only
appeared in one scene...and the way that they filmed the scene, it
looked as though Julie was humping the horse-shaped seat!
As for the plot, Billy should have known better than to hook up with Jigger; if you hook up with slime-ball people, slime-ball things happen (Billy's just lucky that he didn't suffer the same fate as Steve Buscemi's character in "Fargo"). Speaking of the name Billy Bigelow, there's a history teacher named Bill Bigelow: he established the Rethinking Columbus curriculum, and expanded it into the Rethinking Schools project.
I understand that after reading my review, you probably take me for some sort of lunatic pervert. Go ahead and think that. I just can't imagine that 1870s Maine was that much like the events portrayed here. If you want to write me an angry letter attacking my reviewing style, then I welcome your jeers. I'm not changing my ways. To be certain, I would like it if Leslie Nielsen starred in a spoof of all the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.
Anyway, I figure that plenty of individuals absolutely adore this movie. I'll just never be one of them.
Yes, I fell in love again with the singing voices of Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae! They were so good together in Oklahoma. Both are Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, and will live forever in my memory for the song "Climb Every Mountain", "This Was a Real Nice Clambake", and Billy Bigelow's soliloquy "My Boy/Girl Bill". A great production!
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