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SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS(director: Stanley Donen; screenwriters: Frances Goodrich/Albert Hackett/Dorothy Kingsley/from a short story “The Sobbin’ Women” Stephen Vincent Benet; cinematographer: George Folsey; editor: Ralph Winters; music: Saul Chaplin/songwriter Gene de Paul/music Johnny Mercer; cast: Howard Keel (Adam Pontabee), Jane Powell (Milly Pontabee), Jeff Richards (Benjamin Pontabee), Russ Tamblyn (Gideon Pontabee), Tommy Rall (Frank Pontabee), Marc Platt (Daniel Pontabee), Matt Mattox (Caleb Pontabee), Jacques d’Amboise (Ephraim Pontabee), Julie Newmar (Dorcas), Ruta Lee (Ruth), Nancy Kilgas (Alice), Norma Doggett (Martha), Virginia Gibson (Liza), Betty Carr (Sarah), Ian Wolfe (Reverend Elcott); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Cummings; MGM; 1954)
“Corny as heck.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This B-movie surprisingly won the hearts of the public and became recognized as one of the most successful musicals ever. It’s exuberant, full of foot-stomping music and is deliciously fast-paced, but is studio-bound and corny as heck. There are eight earthy but not memorable songs composed by Gene de Paul and with the music by Johnny Mercer, and sung by the rich voiced baritone Howard Keel (“Bless Yore Beautiful Hide”) and the beautiful lilting soprano voice of Jane Powell (“Wonderful, Wonderful Day”). My favorite one being “Spring, Spring, Spring.” Michael Kidd gets the kudos for his spirited and innovative choreography. It plays as a song-and-dance fest that’s a loose adaptation by director Stanley Donen (“Funny Face”) and his team of writers from the legend of the rape of the Sabine women as taken from the short story “The Sobbin’ Women” by Stephen Vincent Benet. It’s filmed in Anscocolor (dreary color process) and set in 1850 in the Oregon Territory.

Red bearded backwoodsman farmer Adam Pontabee (Howard Keel) goes into town with the express purpose of taking a bride so he and his younger six brothers can have a cook and housekeeper. Within minutes he chooses hard-working, sassy bar cook Milly (Jane Powell), who falls in love at first sight with the hunk and after he downsizes the beard to a mustache they immediately get her preacher (Ian Wolfe) friend to marry them. Back on the farm the bride is surprised to find out she has to also take care of the six bachelor brothers: Benjamin (Jeff Richards), Gideon (Russ Tamblyn), Frank (Tommy Rall), (Mark Platt), Caleb (Matt Mattox), and Ephraim (Jacques d’Amboise). Five of the six were professional dancers. They all turn out to be slobs and Milly immediately begins to straighten them out by making them change their underwear daily and shave before breakfast, and finally gives them lessons in dance, manners and how to court women. After a month, they all get her OK to attend a barn-raising dance where the brothers compete with the townies for the local gals. The brothers gain the romantic interest of six of the gals (again, as with the boys, most are professional dancers): Liza (Virginia Gibson), Dorcas (Julie Newmar), Ruth (Ruta Lee), Alice (Nancy Kilgas), Sarah (Betty Carr), and Martha (Norma Doggett). But things go awry when the brothers can’t help getting into a brawl with the local boys, and spend a lonely winter on the farm pining for the gals. When the brothers threaten to leave the farm, Adam plots to keep them together by telling them he just read Plutarch’s Lives, a book he borrowed from Milly and calls “The Sobbin’ Women”, and tells them they will use the example of the ancient Romans with the Sabine women and carry off their future brides by force. They escape with the gals, as the townies can’t get through the mountain pass because of the winter snow. When spring comes the pass thaws and the townies come after the gals armed with rifles. But the gals refuse to leave the brothers and in a ridiculous ending, there’s a shotgun marriage for all the brothers and a happy ending.

It’s easy to see why the public loved this zesty film and its acrobatic dancing, and that barn-raising scene was a real showstopper.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”