Watching Stanley Donen's exuberant, musical masterpiece again gives me more reason to picket the next AFI event. This movie has aged better than Susan Sarandon. The songs are still great, the dancing still dazzles, and the whole family can enjoy it. Parents, forget whatever kid-friendly fare disguised as a toy commercial is playing at the multiplex this week, and go back to a simpler time.
Well, 1850 to be exact. High from his farm in the rugged Oregon Territory countryside, Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) makes a trip to town to pick up some goods for the long months ahead, including a wife. He's able to find most of what he needs at the general store, but his afternoon is looking fruitless until he stumbles upon a serving girl (Jane Powell) with passion and sass to spare.
It also doesn't hurt that she has a sweet voice to match his booming baritone, and looks like a young Jane Powell. The girl, named Milly, falls for Adam's sweet talk about the farming life and she's soon married quicker than Britney Spears in Vegas. However, Adam fails to mention that he lives with his six younger brothers, who seem content to live like barnyard animals.
Since this is the 1850s, Milly doesn't look for an annulment or a good divorce lawyer. She rolls up her sleeves, seeks solace in her Bible and gets to work. She cleans the house, sets Adam straight and soon becomes a surrogate mother to the six brothers, teaching them manners, proper grooming and dancing. This being a musical, the gents take to the dancing pretty quickly. The result: the girls in town (including a pre-Catwoman Julie Newmar) start to take notice, much to the annoyance of their suitors. Can the brothers curb their tempers and impatience to win the girls' hearts, even with Adam's barbaric advice?
Well, of course we know the answer, but the nuts and bolts of the story isn't what gives Seven Brides for Seven Brothers its evergreen status. For one thing, Michael Kidd's choreography, executed by a nimble and sure-footed cast, is brilliant. If you liked Donald O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh" scene in Singin' In the Rain (another Donen classic), you'll want to marry Seven's barn raising scene. The songs are catchy, and courtesy of Keel's cannon boom of a voice and Powell's gentle trill, they are often memorable.
Aside from her singing, Powell also delivers a great performance as Milly, making her alternately feisty, compassionate, and motherly. With the presence of singing and dancing farmers, Powell provides the movie with a much-needed human center. And here's the best part. For those who find the movie to be short sighted in its treatment of women (even though the musical takes place pre-Ms.), Milly is the most assured, independent and complete character on screen. She's the antithesis of most female leads in today's romantic comedies. That's just one more reason to watch one of the greatest musicals, if not movies, of all time, regardless of what the AFI and its voters say.
Run time: 102 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 22nd July 1954
Box Office Worldwide: $5M
Distributed by: MGM Home Entertainment
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 21 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Stanley Donen
Producer: Jack Cummings
Starring: Howard Keel as Adam Pontipee, Jeff Richards as Benjamin Pontipee, Russ Tamblyn as Gideon Pontipee, Tommy Rall as Frank Pontipee, Marc Platt as Daniel Pontipee, Jane Powell as Milly, Jacques d'Amboise as Ephraim Pontipee, Julie Newmar as Dorcas (as Julie Newmeyer), Matt Mattox as Caleb Pontipee, Nancy Kilgas as Alice, Betty Carr as Sarah, Virginia Gibson as Liza, Ruta Lee as Ruth (as Ruta Kilmonis), Norma Doggett as Martha, Ian Wolfe as Rev. Elcott, Howard Petrie as Pete Perkins, Earl Barton as Harry, Dante DiPaolo as Matt, Kelly Brown as Carl, Matt Moore as Ruth's Uncle
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