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Opening on Broadway in 1947 with music by Burton Lane and lyrics by
E.Y. "Yip" Harburg (who wrote the lyrics for 1939's THE WIZARD OF OZ),
FINIAN'S RAINBOW was an unexpected smash that generated one pop classic
after another--"How Are Things In Glocca Morra?," "Old Devil Moon," and
"Look To The Rainbow" to name but three. But when talk turned to a film
version, not a single studio in Hollywood would touch it: although the
story was fantasy, it was also extremely satirical, contained elements
that had a decidedly socialist edge, and made one of the most wickedly
funny statements on racism seen up to that time. With Hollywood
operating under the production code and the nation drifting into the
communist paranoia of the 1950s, the whole thing was impossibly hot.
And so FINIAN'S RAINBOW remained off the screen for over twenty
years... until 1968, when a sudden splash of popular screen musicals
prompted Warner Brothers to bankroll it.
The plot is deliberately ridiculous, and finds Irishman Finian McLonergan (Fred Astaire) and his long suffering daughter Sharon (Petula Clark) in Tennessee, where Finian plans to bury a crock of gold stolen from a leprechaun (Tommy Steele) on the theory that the land around Fort Knox will make the gold grow. But things take an unexpected turn when they arrive in Rainbow Valley, where they encounter a commune of black and white tobacco sharecroppers doing battle with a viciously bigoted Senator (Keenan Wynn.) And when daughter Sharon is outraged by the Senator's racism and happens to be standing by the hidden crock of gold--she accidentally "wishes" the Senator black! Unlike the 1947 stage show, the big screen version of FINIAN'S RAINBOW tanked at the box office, and it is little wonder: both producers and then-novice director Francis Ford Coppola made a host of very basic mistakes with the material, the first of which was not keeping the film within its original 1940s context; they instead give it a 'contemporary' tone that not only undercuts the fanciful storyline but makes many of the story's elements seem heavy-handed. In the process they manage to blunt the edge of the original in a very significant sort of way. There are also a number of cinematic problems with the movie, which feels awkwardly filmed and still more awkwardly edited, and the film visibly shifts between outdoor set-ups and studio soundstage sets in a very uncomfortable sort of way.
All of that said, there is still a great deal to enjoy in FINIAN'S RAINBOW--the aforementioned score for one and the truly memorable performances for another. Astaire is timeless, Tommy Steele almost walks away with the show, Keegan Wynn (in spite of some rather ill-advised make-up) gives a memorable performance as the bigoted Senator, and Al Freeman Jr. is absolutely hilarious in the sequence where he applies for the job of butler in the Senator's home--I laugh just thinking about it! But the real revelation here is Petula Clark. Best known as a pop singer, Clark is perfection as Sharon McLonergan; it is a tremendous pity that she was never again so well-cast on screen. And together they manage to gloss over most of the film's weaknesses; if you're a musical fan, you're likely to enjoy it.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
The film version of "Finian's Rainbow" was conceived at a time when the
public's interest in movie musicals was on the wane; in fact, in light
of the poor critical reception accorded "Camelot" the year before,
studio head Jack Warner would have been content to pull the plug on
what he perceived as another sure-fire disaster. To an extent, his
feelings were justified - what had been a daringly provocative look at
racial strife in the deep American South as seen through the eyes of a
scheming Irishman and his less-than-supportive daughter when it debuted
on Broadway in 1947 was no longer very pertinent twenty-one years
later, and the fairy tale aspects of the plot - which included the
hyperactive antics of a leprechaun intent on retrieving his "borrowed"
pot of gold - were going to be a hard sell in 1968. The score, although
exquisitely timeless and highly recognizable, was old-fashioned in its
theatricality and not likely to result in a best-selling cast album.
Furthermore, directing the project was a virtual unknown, a "hippie"
from northern California named Francis Ford Coppola, with only one
prior film - a non-musical - to his credit. Given the odds the movie
was doomed, Warner basically maintained a "hands-off, don't-ask,
don't-tell" policy and simply hoped for the best.
The end result may not have been the "best", but it is considerably better than most critics described it upon its release. The overlong book, with several insignificant sub-plots, could have used some judicious trimming. Tommy Steele's performance as Og, the slowly-turning-into-a-human leprechaun, is frantically overblown. The film's editing is criminal in that Fred Astaire's feet are often unseen in his dance routines. And the attempt to blend reality and make-believe results in an awkwardly uneven balance of the two - Coppola would have been far more successful had he decided to emphasize the whimsical and play down the outdated political aspects of the story. But for all these shortcomings, "Finian's Rainbow" - from its spectacular opening credits to its nicely staged farewell to Finian - almost a goodbye to Astaire himself, for whom this would be his last dancing role - is pleasant entertainment, buoyed by its familiar score and anchored by the presence of Petula Clark, whose delightfully fresh and sweetly seductive performance is the true gold to be discovered here. At the time known in the States as the pop singer responsible for the mega-hit "Downtown", Clark drew on her previous experience as an actress in mostly grade-B British films and developed a character whose acceptance of a leprechaun hiding in the backyard well is as easily believed as her skepticism regarding her father's plot to multiply his borrowed gold by burying it in the shadows of Fort Knox and her fiancé's plans to grow mentholated tobacco. The Arlen/Harburg score - including such standards as "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" and "Look to the Rainbow" - could well have been composed specifically for her voice, which wraps itself around each note with a hint of a brogue and - in the case of "Old Devil Moon" - a raw sensuality suggesting the woman inside the sweet Irish colleen. Deservedly, Clark was nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe for her portrayal of Sharon McLonergan, and if for nothing else, her performance makes "Finian's Rainbow" definitely worth a look-see.
Finians Rainbow came along at a time where critics were telling us that they hated musicals, even masterpieces like "Finians Rainbow". They attacked many a fine musical such as "Sweet Charity", Hello Dolly" and they gleefully lynched Lucy in Mame. These were all great films but it was a cynical age and sadly the world is becoming more cynical. I would not trust a movie critic to mind my kids, let alone review my movies. Finians Rainbow is a brilliant film. Coppola took a much loved stage musical and adapted it beautifully for the big screen. The stagey sets were probably not what Copolla wanted but they work out well and look quite lovely.There is not only gold at the end of the rainbow but gold in the performances. The casting of Fred Astair was a stroke of genius. He is perfect. I saw Bobby Howes do it on stage years ago but I was very young and now all I can imagine is Asatair. He was a little older but can still dance brilliantly. The choreography may not be as energetic as early days but it suits old Finian. He was never a great singer but few Finians ever were. Bobby Howes did it on stage and while he was wonderful he could not sing. It does not matter in the role of Finian. These songs are all classics. Look to the rainbow must be the most wonderful song ever written. AS for How are things in Glocca Morra its impossible to sing without shedding a tear. Old Devil moon is sung by Petula Clark as Sharon and the very handsome Don Francks as Woddy. This must be the sexiest romantic scene ever in a musical. Petula Clark is superb and she sings the great classic numbers a bit differently from the Broadway star, she is captivating. By the way Astair and Clark have totally faultless Irish accents! Brilliant! Tommy Steele is a charmer at any time. I loved him in this and his scene with Clark when they sing the gorgeous Something Sort Of Grandish is just beautiful. Steele is delicious and you fall head over heels in love with him. The dialogue is wonderful with every musical cliché and reference. He hams this great role up to perfection. Don Francks as Woddy was new to me but what a star! The voice is perfect and he has magical presence. The movie is perfect and packs a very powerful anti racist message. Perhaps thats why some people who are too politically correct do not like it. They just don't get it. Perhaps they see their own racist values and it makes them uncomfortable. There is a great performance by Al Freeman Jr and the scene where he serves the bromide in the correct manner to the suffering Sentator is hilarious. He sings just one small section in one song and its a pity he does not have more, its a lovely voice. The whole movie is an Olympic event GOLD, GOLD, GOLD.If you don't shed a tear at the end of the movie as Astair bids farewell.. you do not have a heart. Its a 9/10 from me.
All politics aside, let's just enjoy the movie. This is a delightful tale of Irish immigration to America and, while wanting to be "All American", holding fast to tradition. Finian finds the elusive pot o' gold and steals it off to America. The drawback? If Og (the leprechaun) doesn't get it back in time he'll lose his magic and become ... dare we think it ... MORTAL! Tommy Steele, adorable as Og, is so charming and believable that there is no need for trick photography to make him appear "wee" in size. We accept his full size and never disbelieve that he is full-blooded Leprechaun! With such delightful songs as "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love," "Something Sort of Grandish," (sung by Steele), "How are Things in Glocca Morra" and "Old Devil Moon" (Pet Clark) the film is a delight from beginning to end. And who doesn't love the scene when Og begins to realize that being mortal isn't really all that bad? One of my very favorite films and one of the last of the Classic American Musicals! 4 Stars!
I first saw this movie as a young girl and developed an instant crush on Tommy Steele. The storyline is very entertaining with a keen sense of humor. It was also great seeing Fred Astaire again - I'm a big fan. This movie has some of the most memorable songs which are still among my favorites, of course many of them featuring Petula Clarke. If you are a fan of musicals and enjoy a bit of the blarney - then this movie will be right up your ally.
'Finians Rainbow' with Fred Astaire and Petulia Clark may not be in the
same league as 'The Sound of Music' or 'South Pacific' but why should
it matter. A movie does not need to be complicated or cost millions to
be enjoyed. It has beautiful music, Fred Astaire dancing and a growing
Lepricon! What more can you ask for?
I saw 'Finians Rainbow' for the first time (in the '60's) when i was a teenager. I was young and innocent and so was the movie. Now that I'm old, I love to sit back and watch 'Finians Rainbow' and other movies of this ilk ('Calamity Jane', 'Bye,Bye Birdie') and pretend i'm innocent again.
In the oh-so-great Fred Astaire's last musical movie, he wears no top hat,
tie or tails, but one step and you know he's Fred Astaire. His last proves
one of his most memorable roles, playing the crafty Irishman in the
the American south, amid the bigoted senators, gospel sharecroppers and
burying a pot of Leprechaun gold. Astaire's Irish accent is remarkably well- handled, and he plays the role much like Gene Wilder's portrayal of Willy
Wonka, or Dick Van Dyke's portrayal of Bert, the Chimney-sweep. The songs do
not work with his voice as well as they should, but it's still a delight to see him dance, especially working with Hermes Pan, his old partner choreographer from his old films of the Golden days. As the top part of the movie, he runs a close race against Petula Clark as his daughter, and Tommy Steele as Og, the
Leprechaun becoming a mortal man. Petula Clark may not look the part, and
may not be as youthful as Sharon should be, but she is a marvelous actress,
and sings the songs beautifully, and why her opening rendition of "Look to the Rainbow" is not included in the soundtrack is still a mystery to me. Steele may appear overbearing at times, but his performance is extremely well done, and
he sings and dances "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love (I Love the Girl I'm
Near)" with all the charm and grace of a young Gene Kelly. Veteran character
actor Keenan Wynn is also good as the racist senator turned black by a
mistaken wish, and his "mint julep" skit is just priceless. Barbara Hancock is a spectacular dancer, and her mute innocence makes her a marvelous character,
straight out of Truman Capote. Yip Harburg, the genius behind "Over the
Rainbow" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" gives us a marvelous
depression-era score of negro work-songs and black gospel choirs, mixed
surprisingly well with the Irish ballads and drinking songs of Sharon and Finian. It is plain to see that this is Copolla, of "Godfather" fame's first film, because he is plainly trying to find his style. But he directs the anti-racist story very well, which brings us to another point: the story is a remarkably liberal take on the
segregationist southern politics that still existed in the 60s. So watch this movie, and see a legend doing one of his best and most unusual roles yet! And see it for everything else too, if you can. 7/10.
Multiple levels of dramatic material exist in this film. At first glance it involves a serious amount of musical material. For such a film of initial minimal weight, there are several segments of song and dance lasting over 6 minutes. Other well-known musicals stick to shorter and more infrequent tunes. The first Glocca Morra scene and the "Betrothed" scene are lengthy and wide in scope. The music includes not only song but also lots of dance, changes of tempo and style of music, and story development. It's important to pay attention to not only the words of songs but also to the events of the drama that are told through music. On another level are quite modern social discussions. The idea of a utopia is focused on clearly as both a positive and negative idea. Rainbow Valley, when magnified, is a sort of community where all residents are of equal status and are ruled by a single man and his lackeys. Racism is also a topic that is discussed in a more blatant manner, and at most times in a comedic manner. Finian's Rainbow portrays plenty social mockery of the view of blacks as subordinates in a "southern" community while not abandoning humor at any point. The actors are charming (Petula Clark and Fred Astaire act wonderfully) and the music is substantially connective throughout the movie. The film is not as simple as most see it. To say the least, Finian's Rainbow deserves to be recognized as a significant addition to the genre of the musical. How are things in Glocca Morra?
This was Fred Astaire's last full-blown musical movie ("That's Entertainment II" is not counted). The original play, written back in the 1930's, dealt more with the organization of a union by a bunch of poor sharecroppers. But by the time this movie was finally set to be made, unions were no longer the "hot topic", thus the racism angle was embellished. Plot aside, which isn't difficult, the basis of the story is that Finian McGlonnagen (Fred Astaire) has stolen a pot of gold from Og the leprechaun (played to perfection by Tommy Steele) and has plans to bury it near Fort Knox, thinking that the "magical properties" in the ground there will make more gold for him. Not exactly Pulitzer stuff here, but an enjoyable movie. A great vehicle for Keenan Wynn, showing why he was the best character actor of his day, and Tommy Steele, who disappeared from American movie screens far too soon. Great music; Good movie.
Whimsical is not a word I get to use often, but that's exactly what Finian's Rainbow is. Based on the 1947 stage musical it's part fantasy and part political satire. The plot follows the quintessential Irishman Finian(Fred Astaire in his last full screen role) and his daughter Sharon (Petula Clark) as they basically flee to America with a pot of gold stolen from the leprechaun, Og (Tommy Steele). After an amazing opening credit sequence ("Look To The Rainbow"), they arrive in "Misitucky" which is supposed to be near Fort Knox, to bury the gold in the belief that it will multiply. The small hamlet of Rainbow Valley becomes their home, a kind of Tobacco Road with very poor but very happy hippie-like inhabitants. Here Sharon meets her love interest Woody (Don Francks) Add Keenan Wynn as the villain, Senator Hawkins, a racist Southern stereotype that during the course of the story turns black. Several minor plots weave in and out, creating a rich and unique film. Astaire used to sound stages and carefully planned dance numbers balked at dancing outside in a field and the director, Francis Ford Coppola (an odd choice, but what's done is done) tried his best to meet his demands. Ironically the field sequence, which comes early in the film is beautiful and very well done by the choreographer Hermes Pan, who was subsequently fired from the film. Petula Clark clearly steals the movie. The camera loves her in this and her natural beauty and performance are such a pleasure to watch. Astaire, who was criticized cruelly for his appearance (he was 69 at the time) is as usual charming and no one danced like he did. Francks holds his own and makes a nice compliment to Clark. Tommy Steele's performance rolics between delightful and way too over the top. Beautifully filmed, it does suffer from jarring "this is real, this is fake" scenery but if you just go with it, it's not that bad. The DVD presents Astaire's dance numbers complete and full body (something Astaire always insisted on but was overlooked in the original release) Finian's Rainbow is known now more for many of it's songs than itself as a whole, but it's still very much worth a look, especially if you love musicals.
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