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"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 ***
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 MacCrae was excellent in his role as Billy. And, his voice was strong and beautiful. The Atlantic coast of Maine, and the movie was filmed on location there, 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 wife-slapper 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! Therefore,it is definitely not entertainment "good for the whole family", not by a long shot.
"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.
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!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There is a line across which conformity, the quotidian, and mainstream
convention can be pushed, where it transforms into some new sort of
radicalism; where psychology becomes so diffuse as to become
unfathomable, motivations become obscure and the complete absence of
recognizable human interaction makes a viewer question his
understanding of the world; crushing the zeitgeist and ushering in a
Carousel occupies some deeply weird space just short of that line. When you watch this odd, odd movie, you are so estranged from the endeavor, and destabilized as a viewer that the experience becomes deeply troubling. One's mind struggles to assign allegorical meaning to this shallowest of shallow movies; the whole production would drown in a teaspoon.
The merits of Carousel are harder to find than anywhere in the entire R & H canon. Horrid songs, people with the emotional maturity of five-year olds, a plot even more facile and inert than Oklahoma, and vacant characters, all of whom are freakishly whitebread. If you granted these characters 10,000 dumb remarks each and gave them a head start, they would still never stumble across the world of ideas. When they are talking about clambakes, beer or June, they are really only talking about clambakes, beer or June. You'd have to watch the Teletubbies to reach the same arid, 2-dimensional psychological space. Here's a blank, trifling world where people spend a whole scene getting fired and wondering who'll pay for the beer. It's like a Samuel Beckett piece, or a structuralist musical ("Carousel at Marienbad.") in which everyone is an empty vessel going through the motions. It's positively bizarre. One waves ones hands at the screen as if to say "Hey, remember me... the viewer? I had some ideas about how narratives work, when I came in... Do we agree on any of them?"
As an example of the score, the 1st song in the movie features a drippy secondary character deliriously singing a crappy song about her emotional entanglement with another secondary character whom we won't even meet for another hour. This occurs before the main plot even starts. This scene alone should pound the last nail into the coffin that R & H songs advance the plot. And "June is Bustin Out All Over" is the clumsy stumble over another rotting corpse on the way to the graveyard.
Carousel has suffered for it's efforts. No one clamors for revivals. It has no cult following. The DVD exists seemingly only for R&H completists.
I'd like to see what David Lynch could do with this this source material.
I really wanted to love this musical. It was beautifully filmed on location in Maine, all the songs are great and the dancing is amazing. The problem? Gordon MacRae. I like him, he's very handsome and has a great voice--not a bad actor either. It's just that his character was so unpleasant in this movie that it got annoying to watch. Shirley Jones' character was a problem too--way too sweet. I wondered more than once why she loved the guy and didn't just divorce him. So basically, I didn't like or respect the two main characters. Still, the songs were fantastic (especially "You'll Never Walk Alone") and the choreography during "June is Bursting Out All Over" was staggering. So, worth seeing for the songs and dancing--ignore the story and characterizations. Also, see it letter-boxed, it doesn't work otherwise.
*** 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
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.
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