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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Happy June!  Since it is my birth month, I am being self-indulgent and writing about all of my favourite movies.  For some of the more well-known movies out there, I will be mostly reflecting on the why it is one of my favourites, as opposed to the usual format of a plot rundown and a wee little bit of reflection.  Not all of my favourite movies are classics – some fall into the guilty pleasure category – but whatever.  It’s my birthday month, deal with it.  OK, disclaimer out of the way, let us begin…
Oh, and from this post out, the movies are pretty much at random.  The first three were my three all-time absolute faves.  After that, it’s just movies I really, really love. 

#348: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) Thank God for unapologetically sexist movies.  And I mean that sincerely.  If this movie had been made today… wait, what am I saying?  This movie would never be made today.  Feminist groups would kill it before it even began.  But, I adore this movie, and never subscribed to the modern feminist ideology, so here we go!

The players:

Adam Pontipee: Played by Howard Keel.  Adam is the patriarchal role model for his six brothers.  He lives in the mountains in a cabin with them, and might be a little on the brutish side, but is secretly a romantic at heart.  Even if he won’t admit it.

Millie: Played by Jane Powell.  Millie falls in love with Adam at first sight, and marries him.  She’s beautiful, but tough as nails, and doesn’t take crap from Adam or his brothers.  You go, girl.

Gideon Pontipee: Played by Russ Tamblyn.  Gideon is the youngest of the brothers, and has the main subplot.  He is truly a romantic and wears his heart on his sleeve.  He also hangs the moon on Adam, but eventually learns to hold his own against him.

Alice: Played by Nancy Kilgas.  She is Millie’s best friend, and falls in love with Gideon.  She’s sweet and romantic.  And yeah.  That’s about it.

Really, those are the main players.  The rest are the brothers (each have their own distinct personalities):
Benjamin, played by Jeff Richards; Caleb, played by Mat Mattox; Daniel, played by Marc Platt; Ephraim, played by Jacques d’Amboise; and Frank played by Tommy Rall.
The Brothers and their Brides

And then there are the Brides:
Dorcas, played by the incomparable Julie Newmar; Sarah, played by Betty Carr; Liza, played by Virginia Gibson; Ruth, played by the always entertaining Ruta Lee; and Martha played by Norma Doggett. 

Don’t ask me who winds up with who beyond the main two couples, because I have no clue.  They’re all just… there. 

OK, so here’s the rundown:

It’s the 1800s, Oregon territory.  Adam Pontipee has ventured down from his cabin in the mountains to town to trade for supplies.  And a wife.  Yeah, you read that right.  Just go with it.

See, Adam’s brothers are hooligans, and in desperate need of a woman to take care of the household.  So, he figured he’d just go on down to the town and pick up a bride.  Without telling her about his six stinky brothers, of course.  Honestly, he does say that if they lived in a more civilized area (“back East”, no less) he’d take the time to court a woman, but really, there’s no time.  Gotta get a wife before winter sets in!

So, he wanders the streets checking out all the ladies of the town, singing “Bless your Beautiful Hide”.  Again, just go with it.  It’s Howard Keel, so for some reason it totally works.  Eventually, he meets Millie. 

Millie works at the local inn, serving up tasty stew to a bunch of lowlives, but manages to charm them with her blue, blue eyes and stern personality.  Just what he needs!  He sneaks up on her while she’s milking a fucking cow and proposes.  She agrees, but says that she would “need to finish her chores first”.  She fell in love at first sight, you see…

So, on the way to the farm she prattles on and on about how she hated having to deal with all the assholes at the inn, and is super excited to have just one man to take care of.  Even sings a song about it.  Oh, Millie, this is not going to end well…

They get to the farm, and Millie is introduced to her new family members.  She’s pretty quick to see what the deal is, and decides to make the best of it.  She makes dinner, and the guys behave like the animals they are, so she flips the fucking table on them.  Millie, you are kinda my hero…

She has a fight with Adam after he shows up in their room expecting a wedding night.  She tells him she’s not really a wife, but essentially hired help, and thus entitled to a room of her own.  “I’ll work alongside ya, Adam.  But I’m not sleepin’ alongside ya.”  He opts to sleep in the tree outside the bedroom to save face (don’t want the brothers to know he’s got no game)  But, he’s Howard Keel and dreamy, so after a little talk about love at first sight, and all that jazz, she sings a song “When you’re in Love”, and decides to let him come in afterall.  *Sigh*.  Well, it’s the 50s.  Go with it.

The next day, Millie is kicking ass and taking names. She cooks up a fantastic meal for the boys, but won’t let them eat it until they strip… so she can get the lice out of her clothes.  Get your mind out of the gutter!  She also makes them bathe and shave.  Damn woman…

Breakfast.  The boys are all wrapped in blankets, and apparently clean up good.  For real – these are some handsome, handsome men. 

Millie goes into town for some supplies, and the boys tag along, hoping to see real, live girls!  Um, don’t they have a farm to run?  Anyway, while in town, the guys try to be all suave, but obviously suck at it, because they offer women a “chew of tobacco”, which is apparently a huge insult, so a fight breaks out.  Oh, those mountain men… can’t take them anywhere.

So, later that night, the guys get a lesson from Millie on how to be a proper gentleman.  OK, this song is just plain fun.  It’s called “Goin' Courtin’”, and is one of my favourites. 

I also like this song, because coming up shortly after this is the famous barn raisin’ scene, and this shows how the guys learned how to dance.

So, yeah, here we go.  It’s the barn raisin’, which Millie had mentioned in the previous scene, and it’s a few weeks later.  So again, at least we know the dudes didn’t just suddenly learn how to dance.  A very nicely done set up.  The guys all meet their respective girls, but again, they kinda swap partners around a lot, so I think they’re just pumped to be near women.  Except for Gideon, who falls in love with Alice right off.  They are really adorable together.

Ah, the famous barn dance.  It starts off with your basic dance-off, and blasts into kickass really fast.  The brothers, it should be noted, are mostly played by professional dancers from the New York City Ballet Company (a couple aren’t, and they just kinda stand around and cheer for the barn dance).  Russ Tamblyn was a dancer, yes, but primarily a tumbler.  A-freaking-mazing.  Is it any wonder he was always my favourite brother? 

This number really shows that dancing is not for sissies.  These guys are incredible.  I just can’t say enough about it.  So, I’ll shut up and let you see for yourself:

There are no stuntmen, no tricks, just athleticism and awesomeness.  And perfection – seriously.  If these guys fucked up even a little, they would have been severely injured.  You have to admire that kind of talent.

OK, ok, enough gushing… it’s time to raise the barn!  It’s a competition to see who can raise their side the fastest, so of course while the Pontipee brothers are seriously working hard and trying to keep out of trouble, the suitors are trying to cause trouble and provoke their tempers.  The guys hold out as long as they can for Millie’s sake, but eventually wind up getting in a huge brawl that knocks what’s already been built of the barn to the ground.  Millie is heartbroken.

After getting cleaned up and properly chastised by Millie, Adam and Gideon have a nice little chat about love on the front porch, and Adam reprises “When you’re in Love” to Gideon, who thinks he may be in love with Alice.  See, he’s the only one I buy being in love with one of the girls.  It’s really sweet.

Fast forward a few weeks.  The guys are missing their girls bad.  They mope around, and sing a weird little ditty about being a “Lonesome Polecat”.  (In the stage show, there’s a song called “We’ll Never Make it Through the Winter”.  I actually prefer that one – it’s hilarious).  So, Adam decides he’s gonna take them out of their funk by telling them the story of the “Rape of the Sabine Women”, in which a bunch of women in Roman times were captured against their will, but went all Stockholm on their captors and fell in love.  Well, of course, the guys think this would be a great idea, so they go out to kidnap the girls. 

Quick note: Howard Keel is one hell of a singer.  Yet, he only gets, like, 3 songs.  What the Hell, MGM?!  So, this is actually my favourite of the 3, because it’s funny as hell, got a catchy melody, and he really rips into it.  So, enjoy.  YAY, SEXISM!

So, the guys go into town and grab their girls (hilariously, I might add!), and before the angry townsmen can catch up to them, they cause an avalanche, locking them up in the mountains until spring.  Oh, Millie is not gonna like this one bit!

Millie kicks all the guys out of the house, including Adam, and makes them sleep in the barn.  Adam, not one to be told what to do by his woman, heads up to some trapper cabin (?) to wait out the winter, leaving Millie, his six brothers, and six very frightened girls.

First the girls are hella mad, and throw snowballs with rocks in them at the guys, dump snow from the windowsills on their heads, etc.  But then, they start to come around a little, and decide there are worse things in the world than being trapped on a farm with six sexy mountain men and nothing really for entertainment…

Of course, when the “I can’t be unsexy to save my life” Dorcas (Julie Newmar) actually mentions that they are sleeping in the brothers beds, the girls get a little shocked, which means catty, and they get in a fight.  Millie tells them to knock that shit off – she can’t deal with their drama, because she’s pregnant.  The girls melt at this, and then… this happens:

I’m sorry, but  So, yeah, then they’re all counting down ‘til spring, and falling in love with the brothers, and all is well on the farm.  Millie has her baby, the pass opens, and Gideon tries to get Adam to come back, but Adam is all “I’m a man.  I don’t take no orders from women-folk”.  Gideon stands up to Adam, calls him a dumbass, and tells him to come home.

Adam comes home.  To do the right thing and bring the girls back.  But see, the girls don’t want to be brought back!  They have fully given into the Stockholm Syndrome, and want to stay in the mountains with their men!  But the guys from the town are on their way!  So, then we have a quick game of hide and seek across the farm.  Someone hears Millie’s baby, and freaks out, assuming it belongs to one of the other girls. 

They all wind up in the barn, and the parson asks who the baby belongs to.  All the girls, smarter than previously thought, smile, and say in unison “Mine!”  Cue the hilarious shot gun wedding.  The end.

Seriously, this movie is so sexist, it’s laughable.  But at the same time, the women are in complete control the whole time.  So, it’s not as bad as one would think?  I mean, yes, the women eventually give in to the men’s desires, but not without a whole lotta resistance first. 

So, why do I love this movie?  It is really lovely to look at.  They had a nothing budget (MGM blew their cash wad on Brigadoon that year), but it is still beautiful.  The songs are kind of hit or miss, but the good ones more than make up for the bad, and the actors really sell them.  This is one I grew up with, and have learned to appreciate more and more over the years.  I mean, it’s based on Roman history!  That’s pretty intellectually awesome considering this was sort of looked at as a “B” movie at the time.  Also, the actors.

Jane Powell has one of the most beautiful voices, and this is one of her finest performances.  Millie is sassy, strong, and holds pretty much all the power in the Pontipee household, even though she really didn’t want it.  Howard Keel is Howard Keel.  Tall, lean, booming voice, and sexy as hell.  Funny, too.  We don’t hate Adam because we know that he just doesn’t know any better, and he is played with an undercurrent of humour to go with the sexist ass he is on the surface.  I crushed hard on Gideon as a kid because Russ Tamblyn was adorable, hella talented, and played Gideon so sincerely. 

You really should check this one out – it’s just all kinds of fun. 

That’s a Wrap tonight!  Tomorrow, something from this millennium!  Wheeee! 

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