Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1954.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1954.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve heard of this movie, and the basic synopsis, but I never got the impression it was a musical. So I don’t know much of anything. I’d even forgotten until I looked it up that the reason it reminds me of the legend of the Rape of the Sabine Women is because it’s based on it.

When I think of frontier musicals, I think of the infamy of Paint Your Wagon. Which I haven’t actually seen and would probably like better than its reputation.

I think Howard Keel wore the same mustache that’s pictured in the last movie I saw him in. I think I’d like him better without it.

After watching the movie:

After years of living on a remote ranch with only his six other brothers, Adam Pontipee decides it’s time to get a wife to clean up the place and cook for him and his brothers. On his yearly visit to town to sell grain, he announces that he’s going to go home that night with a wife. He actually manages to charm the hardworking Milly into marrying him, and after her initial shock and anger at his not mentioning the six other men at home, she sets to work civilizing the Pontipee brothers. They all decide they’d like to have wives, and get sweet on some girls at a barn raising festival, which ends in a fight. Separated from their girls by distance, winter, and the fact that all the men in town hate their guts, the Pontipees mope around the ranch until Adam takes an idea from one of Milly’s books, and has his brothers ride into town and kidnap the girls Roman-style. Milly lays down the law on them, but with months until the snowed-in mountain pass between them and town thaws, they’re stuck with each other for the duration.

I’m not sure if I was struck before by how good Howard Keel’s voice is. He has a fantastic baritone that could probably make anything sound good. Jane Powell’s voice fits the style well, but I don’t care for that vocal style. It was common then, but modern singers sound more natural. Nobody else has much time to stand out except maybe Gideon.

There are outdoor scenes that clearly have painted backdrops, but while it’s distracting, I don’t mind because they’re very pretty backdrops. I was more annoyed by being distracted with the musical similarity between Bless Your Beautiful Hide and a song from Disney’s Johnny Appleseed. (There was also some distraction from moments that paralleled Snow White and the Seven Dwarves heavily.) I also found the song “Lonesome Polecat” a bit unsettling with the wood chopping done not just in time to the music, but two choppers creepily synchronized, like the deadliest Motown backup backup singer lineup. It’s still a pretty good song, and an interesting experiment in choreography, but the synchronized chopping, combined with the melancholy music and color scheme, was just creepy.

This musical ranks very favorably on the factor of songs being organically part of the narrative. Some of the dance routines got a bit bogged down in showiness, but the showiest one is too entertaining to ignore, as the Pontipees and the men from the town steal the women back and forth on the dance floor at the barn raising. Likewise, some songs seem to sit there just being pretty, but I can’t argue they don’t have a place in the story. Is anything important served by Milly singing about her dreams of marriage coming true? No. But it’s relevant, and it gives the musicians something to do.

 

Watch this movie: as a splash of colorful, fun music.

Don’t watch this movie: with a low tolerance for suspension of disbelief.

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