Sometimes films succeed, despite an enormous “As If” factor.
For example, As If there are people in spandex who fly around and fight crime, or a mysterious tropical island with a supersized gorilla.
However, movies are good at convincing us to suspend disbelief for the sake of a Good Time, and we’ve been mulling this over ever since we saw the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954).
The film takes place in the Oregon Territory in 1850, where menfolk are Hard At Work clearing land, building fences, etc. But they need to delegate chores and produce a new generation, so they must enlist some Women.
Howard Keel stars as the oldest of seven wood-chopping-and-water-hauling brothers. On a Wife Hunting expedition to town, he meets waitress Jane Powell, and persuades her to marry him a mere hour later.
Inspired by Keel’s matrimonial success, the six younger brothers go Wife Shopping, too. Unsurprisingly, they meet six prospective brides, and they kidnap them à la the ill-fated Sabine Women of ancient Rome (who are discussed in the film, believe it or not). The women become trapped at the farm, thanks to an avalanche that conveniently blocks the mountain pass, and – you guessed it – these hapless women fall in love with the brothers.
We’ll leave it to the professionals to sort out any Stockholm-Syndrome issues; our focus is on the twin themes of the film, namely love and discord.
These are unorthodox love affairs, even, we suspect, in the pioneering wilderness, yet we can imagine there wasn’t much time for courting between chopping and hauling.
However, there was plenty of time for dancing, apparently, and this is where Seven Brides for Seven Brothers stands apart from so many musicals. The dance is innovative and original, and, as strange as this sounds, it feels organic to the Hollywood-as-Oregon wilderness.
Take a look at the famous Barn Raising scene, where characters hold a barn dance in an artful echo of the film.
The dance begins as innocent flirtation. However! The handsome brothers-just-down-from-the-mountain anger the townsmen. The men compete for the women’s attention, and soon the dance becomes a brawl.
Watch as they fight on raised wooden planks:
And look at this guy dancing with an axe, which probably isn’t real, but even so:
Here’s the thing about Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It was not adapted from a Broadway play; rather, it based on a short story, “The Sobbin’ Women” by Stephen Vincent Benet.
However, it did debut on Broadway in 1982, after a couple of start-and-stop American tours in the late 1970s. While critics in various states liked the touring show, New York critics hated it, and the production closed after just five performances.
Yet, in 1985, it opened in London’s West End for a six-week run, before moving to another West End theatre for an additional five-week engagement.
As for the 1954 film, it was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, and it won Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.
You have to admire this film, not only for its choreography, but also for for its celebration of colour. MGM reduced the production budget to funnel resources to the upcoming Brigadoon (1954), which the studio thought would be a much Greater Movie (as if). So Brides filmmakers were reduced to using backdrops instead of actual on-location scenery. Yet, the backdrops are beautifully painted, and they reflect the optimistic Can-Do attitude of the film.
Then there are the fab Walter Plunkett costumes. Plunkett, if rumours are to be believed, found old quilts in a thrift store to make homespun dresses – much to the glee of the MGM accounting department.
We encourage you to give Seven Brides for Seven Brothers a go. The story is unlikely, and really dated, but the Barn-Raising dance and colourful cinematography are, in our opinion, worth the Price of Admission.
This post is part of The Fifth Broadway Bound Blogathon, hosted by Taking Up Room.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: starring Jane Powell, Howard Keel, Jeff Richards. Directed by Stanley Donen. Written by Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, & Dorothy Kingsley. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1954, Colour, 102 mins.