I don’t think there’s any other film that fills me with such as happiness as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers does. Released in 1954, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a romantic-musical-comedy starring an all-star cast of talented singers, dancers, and actors, spearheaded by the two leads of Howard Keel and Jane Powell.
Set in the 1850s in Oregon Territory, the film’s plot follows the Pontipee brothers as they go about their lives in the backwoods of Oregon. Filled with astonishing dance numbers, breathtaking backdrops and sensational character acting, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is one of MGM’s most memorable and least appreciated musicals.
Now, in order to see how phenomenal this film is, let’s go through each group of characters – one by one.
Adam & Milly
The main characters in ‘Seven Brides‘ are Adam and Milly Pontipee, a newly wedded couple who struggle to come to terms with getting married so quickly without knowing each other.
One day, the eldest brother Adam Pontipee, played by Howard Keel, goes into to town to find himself a caretaker, or as he calls it- a wife, to help him and his 6 brothers. He gets to the town square and searches all over for a suitable mate to marry. He eventually finds a wife in a small, blonde, but a boldfaced woman named Milly, played by Jane Powell.
When they first meet, Milly is a barmaid at a tavern serving her food to warry travelers. Insistent on trying some of this food, Adam sits down, anxiously waiting to taste one of Milly’s meal to determine whether or not she’s fit to be his wife. It turns out- she is! With a bit of coaxing and bargaining, Milly agrees- only on one condition: she gets to finish the chores she’s obligated to do before she hightails it out of there.
With many objections from Milly’s family, she marries Adam anyway.
When the two get to the cabin, Milly is in shock. She didn’t realize Adam had 6 other brothers until all of them come rushing out like wildmen to the front porch to see what all the hubbub is about.
This is where the movie starts to pick up…
The brothers introduce themselves, and explain that their parents named them alphabetically with names from the Bible, starting with Adam, then it goes as follows: Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank (short for frankincense), and Gideon. All of these brothers are big, strapping, young gentlemen (well, all except for the youngest Gideon), and Milly wonders why she has to be the sole woman in the household taking care of their messes.
So, she concocts a plan to marry the 6 brothers off.
In an attempt to socialize the boys to the outside world, Milly takes a few of the brothers to the marketplace where they run into a couple of local girls. Milly encourages the brothers to introduce themselves to the young ladies, but alas, their backwoodsman ways take over, and they end up scaring the girls away.
Cue the women coming into the story arc….
After teaching the brothers how to properly court a woman, the boys try out their new skills at a local barn raising contest. This where we meet the 6 women that will eventually be paired off with the boys: Dorcas (played by Julie Newmar), Ruth (played by Ruta Lee), Martha (played by Norma Doggett), Liza (played by Virginia Gibson), Sarah (played by Betty Carr), and Alice (played by Nancy Kilgas.)
Once the brothers get to the barn raising, their new style and ‘swagger’, if you will, immediately attracts attention from the girls they originally scared off. The only problem is, these girls already have suitors that were courting these girls waaaaay before the Pontipee Brothers showed up. Thrilled and overjoyed at this newfound attention, yet also seething with jealousy, the 6 brothers (at the insistence of the eldest brother Adam) enroll themselves in a barn raising contest.
They begin the contest. and the other group of suitors (who look like an 1800s version of a street gang in West Side Story) start taunting the brothers- and by taunting, I mean getting pretty violent. This violence inevitably escalates until the whole event and barn come tumbling down.
The next scene we see the brothers beaten and bruised after their huge brawl. They also happen to be very lovesick and yearning for their girls. To counteract this Milly asks Adam to give his brothers a little pep talk.
At this point in the film, we see the movie enter the final 30 minutes of its 102-minute runtime and what happens next is indisputably the most exciting and hilarious.
The Whimsical Ending
After giving his brothers a rousing pep talk (in which we get a musical number about kidnapping women), the brothers go out into the harsh winter snow to do just that- steal their women back. Unbeknownst to Milly, the brothers bring the girls back to the Pontipee homestead, only to be reprimanded by her and forced to sleep outside for the remainder of the season, while the girls cozy up inside without them- ouch!
Irate at what Milly is doing, Adam flees, setting up house at another cabin a few miles away. Soon after her husband leaves, Milly finds out she’s pregnant- the plot thickens.
The winter ultimately passes, and the girls get restless. So, they start playing pranks (ex: throwing rock-filled snowballs, and dumping their dirty bath water) on the brothers outside as they’re doing their chores.
The funny part is, these girls experience a bit of Stockholm Syndrome and end up forgiving their captors by the time spring rolls around. Now that everyone happy and in love, there’s only one more problem to solve- Milly’s baby and it’s absentee father.
Everyone’s there at the birth of Milly’s daughter, except Adam Pontipee. Perturbed at this fact, the youngest brother Gideon hops on a horse and makes the dangerous trek up to Adam’s
mancave cabin. He confronts Adam and tells him, in layman’s terms, that he’s a horrible person. Adam, understandably, takes offense to this and refuses to come back. He tells Gideon that he’ll only return when the rest of the snow melts down.
After Gideon leaves, Adam contemplates what his brother just said, and decides to return to the cabin earlier than expected. When Adam arrives at the Pontipee household, he promptly reconciles with his wife, and has a ‘come to Jesus moment’ as a new father. He recognizes that they need to return the girls to their kinfolk or else the rest of his brothers won’t be able to marry.
For some INEXPLICABLE REASON, the other 6 brothers think that keeping the girls away from their families is a good idea and the crazy thing is, THE GIRLS ARGEE WITH THE BROTHERS. Anyway, Milly convinces the brothers to go round up the girls- and they do.
The girl’s families show up to the cabin, and they are very very angry, in fact they threaten to lynch the boys for kidnapping their daughters. When they walk in and confront the Pontipee brothers. Alice’s father, who’s conveniently a preacher, hears a baby crying, and believes it’s her’s. In fact all the men in their think that baby is their daugthers. In order to settled this, they ask who’s the child’s mother.
In true, MGM musical fashion, all of the girls simultaneously claim that baby belongs to them, thus forcing all 6 of the brothers and girls into a shotgun wedding- literally.
According to Jane Powell, she says that, at the time, MGM was more interested in promoting and investing money into the 1954 film Brigadoon starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse than ‘Seven Brides.’ MGM considered Brigadoon an ‘A’ picture, and they didn’t want to waste time funneling funds into a ‘B’ picture which would be ‘Seven Brides.’
The studio couldn’t have been more wrong.
No offence to Brigadoon lovers, it’s a good fillm, but not nearly as fun (or as memorable) as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
The performances given by Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox, Marc Platt, Jacques d’Amboise, Tommy Rall and Russ Tamblyn as the other 6 brothers to Howard Keel‘s Adam, definitely elevate this movie. My favorite number, in particular, is the barn raising scene, which you can watch: here. I just marvel at the athleticism and dancing skill that these men had.
Oh! How could I forget about the girls! Even though their parts weren’t as hefty as the brothers, the ‘June Bride‘ sequence is absolutely lovely. These ladies conveyed what it’s like to be stuck in a backwoods cabin, longing for a touch from her lover.
As for Jane Powell and Howard Keel, they did a fantastic job, but for the bulk of the movie, I must commend the supporting cast because without them, I’m not sure what this movie would be.
In the end, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a delightfully whimsical film about love and heartbreak, if you ever have the chance to watch this musical on TCM or on DVD, in the words of Shia LaBeouf: JUST DO IT!