Bachelors and Bachelorettes light up the screen in two versions of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS” – WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION
Blu-ray and DVD; 1954; G; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “Behind-the-Scenes Documentary ‘Sobbin’ Women: The Making of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,’ hosted by Howard Keel and Updated with Interviews of Jane Powell and Jacques d’Amboise”
IT MIGHT be love at first sight for pretty, hardworking Milly when she meets Adam Pontipee in the Oregon frontier, but she’s no pushover. That makes her one of the most unique, modern and delightful heroines ever to grace an MGM musical.
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” was a “pet project for Jack Cumming,” who also produced “Kiss Me Kate,” says Howard Keel, star of both films, in the making-of from the Warner Archive Collection. He assigned the husband and wife team Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, with Frances Dorothy Kingsley to adapt “The Sobbin’ Women” by Stephen Vincent Benet, which was based on the Roman story of the Sabine women, kidnapped by Roman soldiers. Stanley Donen of “Singin’ in the Rain,” the No. 1 musical on AFI’s list of 100 Greatest Movie Musicals, was picked to direct. “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” appears as No. 21 after favorites “Caberet,” “The Sound of Music,” “Chicago” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
Donen wanted to shoot the film on location, taking a year to capture the four seasons. MGM wouldn’t spring for it; they responded by cutting the budget, and sending the funds to “Brigadoon” starring Gene Kelly, figuring it would be the bigger hit.
Johnny Mercer (lyrics) and Gene dePaul (score) wrote the music. While it didn’t produce any big hits, the music both entertains and tells the story. Acrobatic dance numbers choreographed by Michael Kidd (“Guys and Dolls”) are fantastic. Kidd didn’t want to do the film, and was still grouching about it in the extras even though many of “Seven Brides’” numbers became classics to be copied by others.
“I can’t see any dancing in this movie. You’ve got these seven slobs living out in the country. They’ve got horse manure on the floor. They’re unwashed; they’re unshaven; they look terrible. These people are going to get up and dance? We’ll be hooted out of the theater, it doesn’t make any sense.” — Michael Kidd, Choreographer
Tricked into signing on, Kidd was enraged. “I’ve never been so furious in my life,” he says. But he then went on to arrange the Barn Dance competition between the Brothers and the Town Bachelors, and the stunning “Lonesome Polecat,” shot in one long, perfect take where the brothers, longing for their lady loves, chop wood in the snow.
The key to making it all work was giving personalities to each of the red headed brothers and their girlfriends. Russ Tamblyn, who plays youngest brother Gideon, was a gymnast and had an easier time learning the steps than his professional Broadway and ballet counterparts.
On the surface, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is an outrageously sexist story. Gorgeous Howard Keel as Adam Pontipee drives his wagon into town from his frontier farm way up in the mountains of Oregon. He’s going to pick up supplies and a bride, he boasts in the opening number, “Bless Yore Beautiful Hide.”
The response of the collective town is something like: “Oh, yeah?” But when Adam meets Milly, played by the remarkable Jane Powell, they spark to each other like a match to seasoned wood. Riding back to Adam’s farm, she spills her dreams of a home and family, taking care of one man and their children. She has her late mother’s packet of seeds for a flower garden, and two books from her late father to teach their children to read: “Plutarch’s Lives” and the Bible. Adam looks increasingly uncomfortable along the way.
Then tries to brash it out when they arrive home to find his seven unwashed, uncouth brothers, named alphabetically from the Bible: Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank (for Frankincense) and Gideon. Dumbstruck, Milly turns to her Bible for guidance, then turns the table on Adam and the boys, who quickly learn the value of good grooming and table manners. Or else. Then it’s off to the barn dance where, inspired by Adam’s success and Milly’s personality, they hope to find brides of their own.
A brawl between the brothers and the town bachelors doesn’t win the day. Back home, fed up with their brooding, Adam persuades the boys to head into town and kidnap their girls citing the story of Plutarch’s Sabine/Sobbin’ Women. The girls are captured, and the Pontipees set off an avalanche that will cut contact between the town and the farm until spring. Milly tears into Adam and the boys. In a huff, Adam retreats to a dangerously lone cabin in the upper altitudes. Gideon tries persuading her to bring him back, but Milly remains firm: “He has to learn he can’t treat people this way.”
No one can push Milly around, at least not for long and not without consequences. Following this smart young woman benefits every character in the film … a rare occurrence in a musical or any movie.
“Brigadoon” may have got the money, but Stanley Donen’s sets – interiors and exteriors – look far more authentic. The movie was actually shot twice: In super widescreen CinemaScope (2.55:1 ratio), a first for MGM and Donen; and one in a lesser widescreen (1.77:1 ratio) version. At the time, not every theater was equipped to handle CinemaScope prints, yet the standard was seldom used. Warner Home Video provides both on two separate discs, bringing the newly restored flat version to home screens for the first time.
Cinematographer George J. Folsey of “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Forbidden Planet,” used Ansco Color filmstock – great for color intensity, but subject to a short shelf life for its negatives.
In searching for a new source material, WAC stumbled upon a new Interpositive of the CinemaScope release. It was scanned at 2K, restored with brighter color and sharper detail. Blacks are unfailingly dark. Film grain is obvious throughout, although coarser in some spots, mainly titles. No marks, scratches or dirt are immediately noticeable, and easily absorbed while viewing.
The CinemaScope version has a beautiful, widescreen scope, as well as the new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The quality of negatives used to produce it varies, but they’re not distracting. It excels in showing more detail, especially nice in those dance scenes. The avalanche was so realistic, it was copied and used in several other films for the big screen and TV.
The “flat” version makes an interesting comparison; what it lacks in range, it makes up for in color and detail. The film source was still Ansco, but the color processing was by Technicolor. Actors had to be re-positioned for the smaller screen so the picture seems busy at times, crowding characters into the set and cutting off dance moves. Sound on the alternate is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
The film debuted with mono and four-track stereo tracks. It was updated to a 5.1 mix for earlier DVD releases. That track has again been updated to an immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack for the CinemaScope version complimenting Keel’s deep bass range and those barn-raising and avalanche-falling effects.
Expect to return to the “Song Selection” again and again. Use the subtitle option and sing along at will!
The bonus features have been ported over from the earlier DVD release, including the detailed making-of, where new interviews with Jane Powell and Jacques d’Amboise were added. All can be found on the CinemaScope disc including a commentary by Director Stanley Donen; the “7/22/1954 Radio City Music Hall Premier”; “MGM’s 30th Anniversary Newsreel”; and a vintage short subject, “MGM Jubilee Overture.” All are filled with fun facts and interviews.
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” was nominated for Best Picture, Best Writing, Best (Color) Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. It won for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.”
It’s great to introduce friends and family to an old favorite in a great new format; better still when they in turn share it with their friends. This is one of the best!
- Kay Reynolds