The Best of M-G-M: Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954)

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source: MGM

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

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source: MGM

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

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source: MGM

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….

The Girls

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source: MGM

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.

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source: MGM

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

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source: MGM

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.

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source: MGM

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.

Conclusion

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!

 

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Classic Film Reviews: Sudden Fear (1952)

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source: RKO Pictures

Poor Joan Crawford, she can never seem to catch a break.

She meets a handsome younger man and they get married. All is going well until he plots to murder you and then run away with your fortune with his younger, more daring blonde girlfriend. This ‘younger man’ troupe was the common theme in most of Crawford‘s films when she made the move from MGM to Warner Brothers in 1943. In no other movie is this more prevalent than the thriller/film-noir Sudden Fear.

Released in 1952, Sudden Fear stars Joan Crawford (at her most fabulous), Jack Palance, and Gloria Grahame. Joan plays Myra Hudson, a successful Broadway playwright who runs her productions like a well-oiled machine. Looking for a new male lead for her next play, she hosts auditions, hoping to find that one lucky man. That one lucky man does show up as Lester Blaine, played by Jack Palance. Lester gets the part, but come rehearsals Myra fires him, rather harshly, due to lack of romantic chemistry with his leading lady.

A few days later, the play has it’s premiere. Myra, happy and ecstatic that she’s getting rave reviews for her newest masterpiece, boards a train home to San Francisco. Coincidentally, Lester Blaine happens to be on the same train ride; Myra, understandably, feels put off by this.

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Gloria Grahame and Jack Palance in a publicity still for Sudden Fear (1952) source: RKO Pictures

But, after a few hours of laughing, throwing back drinks, and sharing a couple of stories, Lester successfully ‘woos’ her. They fall in love and Myra is absolutely smitten with her new man.  One night, Lester was due at Myra’s home for a get-together she was throwing for a successful play opening. After a few hours of being ghosted, Myra decides to seek out her beau, jilting a crowd of people who were now stranded at a house party without a hostess.

This is where the plot thickens.

She rushes over to his hotel, only to find him halfway down the steps getting ready to board the next train to New York. He claims that he has “no place in her life’ and that he doesn’t “belong to her world.” Despite that, the two reconcile and eventually get married. The newly hitched couple go on a mini staycation at Myra’s beachside home.

While walking down the steep steps of the beach house, Lester warns Myra that the way down has no guard rail. Why would he point this out? Why would a newly married man be worried about his wife suddenly dying? Anyway. The next day, Myra throws ANOTHER party, this time Lester actually shows up. However, what happens next changes the entire arc of the movie.

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source: RKO Pictures

During the soiree, a mysterious blonde makes her way into the mansion. This throws Lester off guard as he drifts in and out of the conversation. The blonde introduces herself as Irene Neves, played by the amazingly talented Gloria Grahame. The pair seems to be a little bit too friendly with each other, but, Myra pays no mind.

Cue the next scene.

Irene is kissing her date goodbye and runs up to her apartment. Suddenly a man comes up behind her and stops her from putting her key in the door. Surprise, surprise, the man is actually Lester. By this point in the film, expectations have been subverted so many times that, I’ve given up on guessing what happens. The two have a very heated (and very sensual) argument about why she’s here in the first place. Irene’s feminine wiles convince Lester to leave his wife, unbeknownst to Myra.

The next few days Irene and Lester develop a plan to run away together- but first Myra needs to disappear.

They spend a couple of weeks plotting, scheming and conniving ways to possibly remove Myra from the equation. During these weeks, Lester behavior becomes increasingly bizarre. Myra, finally, becomes suspicious of her husband’s odd behavior. But, here’s the kicker, Myra ultimately finds out about this whole plot to have her killed by unintentionally listening to a recording, from her dictation machine, of Irene and Lester discussing ways to have her murder look like an accident.

Frightened and heartbroken, Myra falls into a deep depression- refusing to leave her room for days out of fear of being killed. During this time, she plans her way to preemptively stop this by killing Lester and placing the blame on Irene.

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source: RKO Pictures

The plan sounds diabolical, but it just might work.

The next few scenes in the movie have Myra sneaking into Irene’s apartment with a duplicate key she had made a few days earlier. When she’s in the apartment, she hides in the closet until Irene comes home with a date. Irene’s date is very persistent on staying longer than he’s welcomed, but she eventually manages to get rid of him. She then leaves to meet Lester at a parking garage, leaving Myra in the closet.

Myra envisioned what it may be like to kill Lester, but when faced with the thought, she throws the gun away. Hysterical and disgusted with the prospect of killing her husband, she doesn’t go through her plan. As soon as she was about to leave the apartment Lester walks in. The phone rings and Lester pick it up. It was Irene’s date. Lester starts to get an uneasy feeling.

He walks around the apartment and he stumbles upon Myra’s gun wrapped in a handkerchief. Convinced Myra set him up, he rushes out of the apartment to his car and is hell-bent on finding her. Myra, stupidly, chases after him on foot. Lester spots her (or what looks to be her) out of the corner of his eye and then proceeds to hunt her down with his car. Lester slams on the brakes believing he was killing Myra, but it turns out to be Irene, who was wearing the same white scarf Myra was. Lester ends up killing himself and Irene while Myra in disbelief, walks of dazed and without a scratch.

 

Conclusion

I adore everything about this movie, the way it’s shot, the shadows, the acting performances- everything! Joan Crawford really gave it her all in this role. You felt the pain, and panic on her face when she found out that her husband was conspiring to kill her with a younger woman, and then that pain turned into concern for him when he ends up involuntarily killing himself at the end. Ms. Crawford unquestionably deserved that Oscar nomination she received in 1952,  and in my opinion, she should’ve won.

I also have to give it up to the two other actors who were starring opposite Joan in the movie: Jack Palance and Gloria Grahame. Their chemistry when they shared scenes together were dripping with innuendo. At times, I rooted for them to get away with it. You know, the Bonnie and Clyde effect, but alas, never count out Joan Crawford.

Overall, I would give this film a 9/10. It’s a film noir that you must put on your watchlist. The cinematography will have you thinking about it hours after you’ve finished, and the acting performances will make it a movie to remember.

The Mesmerizing Colour Palettes of Oceans 11 (1960)

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source: Warner Bros

I’ve always had a fascination with Las Vegas – vintage Las Vegas in particular. Vegas always had this aura of mystery and secrecy to me.

Despite it being a popular tourist destination, I have always felt that ‘Sin City’ was reserved for gangsters, ruffians, and showgirls that were desperately looking to con you out of your money. That’s the thing about Vegas because it has this shiny facade of colors and wealth, we don’t see that seedy underbelly underneath all of the glitz and glamour.

Come to think of it, that’s the perfect way to summarize the 1960 heist film Ocean’s 11. Starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop and Angie Dickinson otherwise known as ‘The Rat Pack’, Ocean’s 11 is basically a 2-hour self-congratulatory movie made to showcase how awesome it is to robe few casino with 10 of your closest friends.

It’s a very enjoyable flick, don’t get me wrong. It’s so enjoyable that I even have this poster of the movie on my bedroom wall. The problem with Ocean’s is that it isn’t the best plot-wise. There tends to be a ton of moments in the film where there’s a lot of standing and talking, talking and standing. That would be great if it were a courtroom drama, but for an action-adventure picture, it gets tired very quickly.

That’s where the cinematography comes in.

What’s so great about Ocean’s 11 is the way it looks. The movie’s cinematographer William H. Daniels did such a fantastic job on this movie that the cinematography makes up for what the plot lacks. The vivid colors contrasted with the black backgrounds is something I would frame and put in my living room.

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source: Warner Bros

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source: Warner Bros

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source: Warner Bros

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source: Warner Bros

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source: Warner Bros

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source: Warner Bros

As you can see above, there are dozens of instances in the film where the contrasts of colors are breathtaking.

Even though I don’t necessarily enjoy certain aspects of the movie, the cinematography more than makes up for what the script is lacking.

That’s what so great about this movie. It’s fun, slow-paced and doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you have the chance to watch it on TCM or buy it on DVD, it’s undoubtedly a great movie to cozy up with on a Saturday evening, paired with your favorite beverage and a nice bowl of popcorn.

Anybody Got A Match?

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You may be wondering why the title of this blog is grammatically incorrect. I probably would be asking myself the same question if I wasn’t a classic movie fan. For all you die hards out there you know exactly where this quote came from. And if you’re a classic Hollywood newbie, allow me to introduce you to this fantastic scene in Howard Hawks’ 1944 adventure-romance film, To Have and Have Not. The scene is so great, I decided to name this blog after it. Hope you enjoy!