Thursday, October 15, 2009

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers

Directed by Stanley Donen
Written by Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, Dorothy Kingsley
Based on the story 'Sobbin' Women' by Stephen Vincent Benet

Cast: Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Jeff Richards, Russ Tamblyn, Julie Newmar

"7 Whores For 7 Rapists!" is what one classy IMDB discussion board contributor calls Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and on paper that would be a fairly accurate summation of this adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benet's short story "Sobbin' Women". For example, all a Pontipee brother has to do is offer a virginal townie babe a "chaw of tobaccy" and the little pissant pig-waller of a mountain settlement just falls apart completely. Fistfights erupt, there's much wringing of hands and sure enough a bland Johnny Mercer tune soon fills the MGM soundstage. Something along the lines of 'moon spoon in June' because 'Seven Brides' is Mercer's most sexless, least memorable work. In fact, the whole piece is no more hot and heavy than your average 'Spin and Marty' episode on The Mickey Mouse Club.

The premise is pretty thin: Seven biblically named Pontipee brothers live in squalor somewhere high up in the mountains of Oregon. They're tall drinks of water, these Pontipees, and they're blessed with feckin' gorgeous heads of Technicolor henna-d hair and lush, bear-ish beards. They're such handsome, well-intentioned boys you can't help but love them of course and they just love to beat the stuffin' out of each other which makes for some well-directed, physical shtick (credit to choreographer Michael Kidd? or ace director of musicals and adult romantic comedies Stanley Donen?). They're lusty, horny, filthy, adorable guys who just need to, um, get their beans snapped so to speak

"Do you like girls?"
"I ain't hardly seen one."

Oof. big brother Adam (basso cantante Howard Keel) takes it upon himself to don his best buckskin fringe and go to town to snag hisself a bride, to hell with the bros. He sings an annoying, misogynist tune, "Bless Your Beautiful Hide" which basically instructs the girls to "it puts the lotion on its skin..." with a twinkle in his eye and thus succeeds in turning off an entire community of uptight, stud-hating white settlers. As he wraps up his song, he spies Milly (supershort Jane Powell) through a window. Milly, a hapless stew-ladler, loves Adam's ass at first sight and they meet cute over freshly-ladled chow. Adam eats her steamy hash and before you know it they're married! Bored already, Adam drives an ecstatic, lovesick Milly back to his butt-hut on high but not before pausing in a meadow so that his shorty can sing some doggerel while he looks on, apparently near death from abject fatigue. Frankly, by this point I'm embarrassed for Milly and I'm thinking maybe it's time to get some shut-eye...But! Then! Milly arrives at Chez Pontipee and the Seven Brides' adorability factor spikes dramatically! Millie, it turns out, is a spitfire and she's going to whip these Pontipee pig-fuckers into shape! She feeds them flapjacks and some shredded green stuff and the brothers tear after the spread like the lithe, sexy professionally-dancing slobs they are. Millie's not having it and whereas today's frontier bride would've adjourned for a cig break, Jane Powell hangs in there and bitches and bitches and bitches.

Next morning: First things first, Milly wants the brothers' union suits. To wash! Howard Keel sits out the next half an hour of the movie so Jane Powell is going to fondle some funked-up grundies. I wish!

That afternoon: Still no Howard Keel so Milly figures she's going to teach these uncouth doorknobs to dance. Good luck with all that, Jane Powell. These guys are as straight as the day is long. Nope, guess not. Brother-on-brother waltzing and reeling and stomping happens. Real men stomp in the yard and are nice to each other it seems. Eh...not really, only on MGM lots. Milly Powell sings "Goin' Courtin'" during all this feminizing which made me turn the volume down so my roommate didn't have to suffer all of "Milly's Trillin'". Yeesh. Later we learn that Adam just wanted a broad to do maid stuff around the house which makes Milly cry.

Finally fit for society, the Pointpee brothers go a-courtin' on Sister Milly's watch. These fellas are gonna raise a barn and snag a Technicolor-co-ordinated babe which reminds me of my own Amish upbringing (before I went rogue). The newly civilized brothers manage to court and spark some city-bred slags while lantern-jawed Brother Benjamin Pontipee gets a go at luscious Julie "Catwoman" Newmar! Dang! Inevitably, little brother Gideon (Russ Tamblyn, Amber's dad) gets the leftover, squeaky little blonde babelet. Boo! I'm sorry but all the brides seem Jew-y and privately schooled so I'm not really buying any of this frontier shit at all. So...a dance-off happens (dark, urban, sinister Jane Austen types vs. Our Boys) and I realize that Michael Kidd's choreography is all about skipping and 'exuberance'. Perfectly suited for can-do America circa The 50's. Russ Tamblyn (Gideon) is made of rubber or something. A barn is raised, sex is implied. The brothers succumb to the allure of brawlin' however because these city fops just could not respect their newly-acquired gentlemanly ways and so Milly cries again and cocks are blocked. This movie should've been called 'Blueballs For Seven Clownshoes'.

Then everybody goes home and mopes. The brothers dance in purifying-white snow with castrating axes and laconic barnyard animals while they sing "I'm A Lonesome Polecat", the one Mercer gem in the whole score. I really like this song and I'm thinking Elvis should've covered it. Or perhaps Fleet Foxes.

Where in hell is Howard Keel?

We know what comes next. Dudes are seriously up in arms over the lack of lovin' and that youngest Pontipee is all caught up over that little Carol Kane Simka Gravas girl. Lantern-jawed Benjamin considers leaving because without any hope of ever hittin' the skins again he's like when doves cry or something. And if Benjamin leaves then Caleb leaves and then Daniel leaves and then Ephraim...well, you get the picture. Howard Keel appears and has had enough of all this brotherly faggotry: "Let's go bag some bitches!" So they do! Jane Austen fops get swatted, babes get bagged and some really bad atmosphere acting goes down. I'm particularly disappointed with a certain blonde-tressed blue-frocked Stella Adler graduate's efforts at portraying anxious dismay as the Pontipee sleigh books through the avalanche-prone mountain pass. Was a song sung? I don't know because I was too caught up in the plot to notice. Props once again to Stanley Donen for keeping things moving along at a brisk pace.

Once again, Jane Powell has had it. Rape/kidnapping is so not cool in her book. Brothers: Sleep in the barn! Adam: Get lost! Victims: Hit the sack (your oppressors' bed)! Howard Keel hotfoots it to his mancave far, far away from this nattering lot of ungrateful, rape-haters. A long, long winter ensues. Not hide nor hair of these sexually frustrated brothers is glimpsed but the Brides are frisky and prancing around in their unmentionables (as they sing "June Bride", snore). Whore Of Babylon Julie Newmar wonders which one of her hunky rapists has slept in the bed she's lounging in. Psst: Lantern-Jaw, dummy!

Meanwhile, Howard Keel has no screen-time but his character, Adam, is probably thinking deep gestative thoughts in his symbolic mancave because Jane Powell is pregnant. Spring comes and Jane/Milly hatches her chile as the six brother-fathers pace anxiously. Boiling water is fetched by the brides which of course signifies labour. Adam saddles up and rides home because baby brother Russ Tamblyn punched him upon delivering the news of the delivery; That's what guys do, I guess. At least they didn't croon about it.

Guess what the whole ensemble sings about in the splashy Technicolor number that quickly follows? Spring! All the brides and brothers are paired off and finally Julie Newmar knows which one of the dancing creeps is her man. She cradles a lamb and oozes sex and sings "Spring, Spring, Spring" with Lantern-Jaw and all the in-laws. Guess she's not too anxious to go back to Squaresville...not with this mountaintop Plato's Retreat keeping it all in the family. The townspeople storm the pass to reclaim their womenfolk but the freaky Pontipee cultists are unconcerned, they're playing a rousing game of "musical chairs". It's 1850 and Janet Reno hasn't been born yet, so the angry mob is doomed to fail. 'Seven Brides'' ur-Waco plays out as 'Goin' Courtin'' reprises it up on the soundtrack. The Brides play the preggers card so the brothers marry their baby mamas at gunpoint. The NRA dabs their eyes and sniffle and squeeze hands in the darkness while the Family Values families give themselves adreneline shots and file out briskly in an orderly fashion for fear of another man-dance and explicit carnal metaphor.

Do I like this movie? Yes, but with serious reservations. ***

Choice performance? Russ Tamblyn, Brooklyn representin' even as a mountain scrub. Also he beat out Morton Downey Jr. for the role.

Influence seen? every challenge-dance ever choreographed by Kenny Ortega.

Oscar nominations: Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Color Cinematography, Musical Score. Won for Musical Score.

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