SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Jeff Richards, Russ Tamblyn
Director: Stanley Donen
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.55:1, Anamorphic Widescreen 1.77:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: June 5, 2018
“Well, Pa used to say, love is kind of like the measles. You only get it once. The older you are, the tougher it goes.”
I never thought I’d write these words, but Seven Brides for Seven Brothers may be the most delightful musical ever made about Stockholm syndrome.
The plot is simple enough: mountain man Adam Pontifee (Keel) comes to town in search of a wife. He sings “Bless Your Beautiful Hide”…yeah…while looking over what the town has to offer.
He finds it in Milly (Powell), a pretty blonde showing a penchant for back-breaking work as she tends to the town’s menfolk. It actually IS love at first sight, but Milly is also thinking Adam is about to rescue her from the work-all-day lifestyle she leads. She’s a bit surprised to find Adam lives with his six other brothers; all slovenly, unkempt, and expecting Milly to look after them.
Milly does, but with some ground rules, including cleaning them up and making them behave less like hogs and more like human beings. Then, when a big barn-raising party comes around, the brothers begin to think of married life for themselves.
The barn raising is a true event, filled with acrobatic dancing as the brothers try to woo some lovely lasses away from their uptight town beaux…yet when all is said and done, they defer to Adam’s “wisdom”, and a piece of history Milly told him about Roman times and the way the men made off with the Sabine women (which they interpret as “sobbin’”, meaning they’re waiting to be rescued).
The boys kidnap the girls and cause an avalanche behind them, ensuring no townfolk can get to them before winter’s end. But it isn’t sunshine and roses…Milly, appalled at their behavior, orders the men out of the house and into the barn, while she looks after the ladies.
Adam, having had enough, takes off for a faraway winter cabin to live by his mountain wits until winter is over. Once winter ends, he returns to find Milly has had a child (9 months of winter? Is this Westeros?) and the ladies are beginning to come around to his brothers, leading to the final showdown when the men from town arrive.
The plot is preposterous, and if taken seriously, could actually be offensive. I tried not to think about it too much…after all, the women in this piece do stand up for themselves, even if in the end they decide their kidnappers could be good husbands after all.
The cast is good…Howard Keel has a rich, strong baritone voice and delivers the unmemorable songs with gusto. Jane Powell sings in a lovely way, though maybe a bit too operatic for a country girl. Many of the brothers and ladies were cast from professional dancers, and young Russ Tamblyn (who would later be Riff in West Side Story and Dr. Jacobi on Twin Peaks) is especially fun to watch.
Hard to imagine, but this film actually became a short-lived TV series in the early 80s. I’d like to say the story was more about equality then, but I barely remember it.
This isn’t one of MGM’s highlight musicals, in my opinion, especially considering director Stanley Donen would make Singin’ in the Rain. As a cultural oddity, the film was shot in CinemaScope, which was new, and being afraid theatres might not show it, the entire movie was shot twice…once for the widescreen format, and once where everyone was gathered closer together for conventional framing. They needn’t have worried: CinemaScope was a big hit, so the alternate version was never used (it’s included on a second disc here).
As Billy Joel wrote, the good old days weren’t always good, and you can be forgiven if you naturally sadden at the limited prospects of the ladies in this film. But if you can put all that aside, the movie does deliver some easily forgettable fun in the margins.
BONUS TRIVIA: One of the young women, Dorcas, was played by Julie “Catwoman” Newmar, though credited with a different last name.
I hate to say it, but this film looks pretty awful. Colors are constantly shifting, images are not sharp, and the movie looks its age. It’s particularly noticeable around dissolve shots, where everything just recedes into messiness before some attempt to clean up again. Not one of Warner’s finer moments.
The songs aren’t that memorable, but the uncompressed audio delivers cleanly, without a lot of dynamic range or use (or need) for the rear stage.
The extras include a 2004 audio commentary by Stanley Donen, a 1954 short “MGM Jubilee Overture”, a documentary on the making of the film, a newsreel, and the Radio City premiere footage. The second disc contains only the alternate widescreen version.
I’m trying to imagine my fate if I had kidnapped my wife from her strong southern family…on second thought, let me conclude the review by saying Seven Brides for Seven Brothers offers a little bit of charm and fun if you can get your head around it. This Blu-ray offering, however, could have used a bit more work.