Release Date(s)1954 (June 5, 2018)
Studio(s)MGM (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, made during the waning glory days of the MGM musical, has not only a tuneful score, but also a strong plot and some of the best choreography that ever graced a movie. Based loosely on Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story “The Sobbin’ Women,” the film is set in 1850’s Oregon territory. Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel), a backwoods farmer, comes to town in quest of provisions and a wife. Millie (Jane Powell), a young boarding-house maid, catches his eye and he proposes. She also finds him attractive and, given her current circumstances, agrees to marry him that day. On the buckboard ride home, Millie sings of her romantic dreams about setting up housekeeping with her new husband. Reality hits when she arrives at the farm to discover that Adam lives with his six unkempt, ill-mannered brothers. She sets about civilizing them and eventually they realize that they all would enjoy having wives of their own.
Among the brothers are professional dancers Tommy Rall, Marc Platt, Jacques D’Amboise, and Matt Mattox. Non-dancer Russ Tamblyn keeps up with them with spirited gymnastics. The good-looking Jeff Richards, a non dancer under contract to MGM, is the sixth single brother. Among the girls are Virginia Gibson, Ruta Lee, Nancy Kilgas and Julie Newmeyer, later known as Julie Newmar who became famous as Catwoman on TV’s Batman.
In the excellent making-of featurette, choreographer Michael Kidd discusses his initial reluctance to to design formal dances for rough-hewn country boys, but soon found ways to create convincing choreography that suited the characters’ physicality and the plot. In fact, the highlight of the film is a lengthy, exhilarating barn-raising number in which the brothers vie with the men of the town for their chosen girls’ affection.
Though the score by Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul never yielded a hit, it is lilting and perfectly defines characters and advances the plot. “Bless Your Beautiful Hide” is Adam announcing he’s come to town determined to bring back a bride. “Goin’ Courtin” features Millie showing her brothers-in-law how to be mannerly gentleman and dance with young ladies. “Lonesome Polecat” is a plaintive song in which the boys express longing for their girls as they chop wood in the dead of winter, coordinating each motion of their axes and saws with the song’s tempo. “Sobbin’ Women” finds Adam convincing his brothers that, like the Romans in a tale by Plutarch, they should abduct the women they’re pining for.
Because of budgetary constraints, much of the movie was filmed on the backlot, which hurts the overall visual impact. A glaring example is the song “Wonderful, Wonderful Day,” filmed against painted mountains and pine trees, which blend artificially with studio grass and flowers. Even the barn raising dance is entirely studio bound, though the outdoor artifice is less distracting because of the energetic dancing.
The movie was filmed in CinemaScope, a widescreen process that required director Stanley Donen to shoot each scene twice, once in the new format and once in standard flat-screen format for theaters that, in 1954, still hadn’t installed wide screens. The long rectangular image is especially impressive when the brothers and their girls are all shown at the same time, literally filling the screen. In more intimate scenes, it’s tough not to be distracted by the swaths of scenery flanking the principals.
Unlike many of Metro’s musicals of the period, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was not filmed in Technicolor, but in Ansco color. MGM’s typical bold, bright hues would have looked inappropriately pretty on a working farm. Subdued colors dominate until later, when the boys have been civilized and each brother sports a different bold-colored shirt.
Though the film depends so much on music, the sound is not sharp, despite the DTS HD Master Audio technology. This may be due to the age of the film and soundtrack elements. Though the arrangements are lovely, sound separation is muddy. The soundtrack sounds like a mono LP.
Bonus materials on the 2-disc Special Edition Blu-ray release include commentary by director Stanley Donen; the documentary featurette Sobbin’ Women: The Making of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers hosted by Howard Keel and featuring interviews with Jane Powell, Jacques D’Amboise and Tommy Rall; New York premiere and MGM 30th Anniversary celebration newsreels; the vintage short MGM Jubilee Overture; and the complete alternate standard screen version.
- Dennis Seuling