|Seven Brides For Seven Brothers|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 27 April 1999|
It’s a tough call trying to figure out what standards to use to evaluate ‘Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.’ One the one hand, the film was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture. Despite the Academy Award it won for Best Score, the Johnny Mercer/Gene de Paul songs are not all that memorable. However, Michael Kidd’s choreography is flabbergastingly spectacular. To watch Russ Tamblyn and Jacques D’Amboise in particular in the barn-raising scene in Chapter 18 is to be in film-dancing heaven. On the other hand, there surely must be a university library section entirely devoted to the underlying messages in a cheerful, all-singing, all-dancing musical extravaganza based on Plutarch’s ‘The Rape of the Sabine Women.’
Based on Stephen Vincent Benet’s story ‘The Sobbin’ Women’ and set in the Northwest Territories in the 1800s, the screenplay by Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich and Dorothy Kingsley chronicles what happens when mountain man Adam Potipee (Howard Keel) comes into town seeking a wife. One afternoon’s meeting is all it takes for him to win the hand of comely Milly (Jane Powell). They are wed that evening and return to Adam’s cabin -- where Milly finds that he’s got six uncivilized brothers in residence. Milly, a no-nonsense type, gets the men to clean up their bodies and their manners and even instructs her half-dozen brothers-in-law in the niceties of courtship. So far, so good, but as soon as they run into a slight dilemma in wooing the girls they like (the menfolk in town pick fights with the Potipee brothers), the lads are dismayed. Adam takes a hint from Milly’s history book and helps his kinfolk simply kidnap their chosen sweethearts. The girls are initially horrified and Milly is furious, but all’s well that ends well.
The DVD comes with a 35-minute documentary on the making of ‘Seven Brides’ that includes interviews with director Stanley Donen, choreographer Kidd, and many cast members. The reminiscences are often charming, especially since a number of the ladies in the cast even now remember how sexy they felt in the then-daring outfits and just watching the guys dance. There’s also a hilarious observation on the censor’s note about a lyric in the Chapter 22 song "Lonesome Polecat," where the woebegone brothers lament, "A man can’t sleep/When he sleeps with sheep." (The solution reached was to avoid showing any sheep in the same shot with the singing men -- not nearly enough to prevent the image the line provokes.) More intriguingly, Donen reveals that there were actually two version of the film shot simultaneously -- one in widescreen Cinemascope and one in 1:3:3 full-frame ratio -- but that only the widescreen version wound up being seen theatrically because, given choice, no one wanted the other one. (DVD distributors, please take note.)
Soundwise, the musical numbers are beautifully mastered, though occasionally the volume dips in the straight dialogue sections. There are also a few frame flashes throughout the film, but the colors are vivid and the images sharp.
Returning finally to ‘Seven Brides’ themes, while the filmmakers are certainly at pains to show that Milly is her own person and Adam can’t bear to displease her, the events of the film uphold the pro-rape argument that if a woman flirts with a man, he’s got a right to overpower her and even if she objects, she’ll be very happy about the whole thing eventually. If the foregoing observation strikes you as a too-serious interpretation of a movie in which no actual rape or extreme physical violence against women (discounting being blindfolded and grabbed) occurs and you like M-G-M musicals, you’ll probably like ‘Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.’ If, however, this message strikes you as something other than entertainment, you have this reviewer’s blessing to give the film a miss -- though you might want to put the disk in and fast-forward up to the glorious dance sequence in Chapter 18 before giving up entirely.