The Best of M-G-M: Summer Stock (1950)

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source: MGM

Ahhh, there’s nothing like watching a good ole’ fashioned MGM musical during the summer months. Funny enough, the perfect musical for this season has the word “summer” in its title.

It isn’t necessarily about rainy days or hot summer nights, but when you watch it, you’ll definitely feel compelled to go outside and experience the great outdoors, or in this movie’s case, a farm.

Directed by Charles Walters and co-starring Judy Garland, Gloria DeHaven, Phil Silvers, Marjorie Main and Gene Kelly, Summer Stock is a lovely little film about love, farms, and stage performances.

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source: MGM

In the film, Garland plays Jane Falbury, a headstrong Connecticut farmer who has a religious dedication to her craft. Even though she’s worked hard to make sure that her property runs like a well oiled machine, three years of bad crops have seen her farm go to ruin.

Unfortunately, with no crops, comes no revenue.

Despite going bankrupt, Jane still manages to pay for her sister Abigail’s acting lessons in upstate New York. To add to her list of problems, two of Jane’s farm hands quit to take office jobs in Hartford.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, she is forced to beg her boyfriend’s father (played by Ray Collins) for a loan to buy a tractor to kick-start the effort to try to revitalize her farm. Asking for a favor from her future father-in-law knocks her ego down a peg, but, she swallows her pride and gets it done.

When Jane returns to her property, she finds it being overrun by a group of troupe performers. Frustrated and confused about what’s happening, she demands to speak to the person responsible for this.

After a couple minutes of looking around, she runs into her sister, Abigail (played by Gloria DeHaven). Abigail explains that she invited the troupe down to Connecticut so they would be able to have a space to put on their stage play.

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source: MGM

Naturally, Jane doesn’t take the news too well.

She tells Abigail to send these people packing, but before Jane could really get worked up, Abigail’s boyfriend, Joe Ross (played Gene Kelly) steps in to diffuse the situation. His attempts to sweet-talk Jane work, however, there’s a catch. In order for them to stay, they must put in their fair share of farm work; in other words, they must help Jane with her daily farm duties.

The troupe agrees, and Jane proceeds to split them into groups of three, showing each trio how and what needs to be done around the farm.

Later that day, after an exhausting few hours of showing actors how to manage a farm, Jane lends her housekeeper a hand by washing dishes from the previous night’s dinner. In an attempt to lighten the mood, Jane decides to do an impromptu tap dance for her own amusement, but in actuality, it was to poke fun at Abigail’s boyfriend, Joe.

Unbeknownst to Jane, Joe was standing behind her the entire time. Embarrassed, she swiftly apologizes, but he didn’t mind. To her surprise, Joe was impressed that she could even dance in the first place. Fast forward a couple of days and, somehow, word gets out that Jane is hiding an acting troupe on her farm.

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source: MGM

Because of this, she is concerned about what the local townsfolk might think when they encounter a bevy of stage performers in a relatively small, quiet town. Unfortunately, her fears come true when she’s summoned to explain herself in front of the town leaders.

While she’s gone, an actor back at the farm thought it would be a good idea to take Jane’s tractor out for a joy ride.

In true classic Hollywood fashion, something bad has to happen, right? Absolutely! The guy ends up wrecking Jane’s tractor and has no quick way to fix it before she returns home from her meeting. By the time a solution to the problem has been found, Jane has already returned.

She finds out what happened, and angrily tells Joe that his troupe needs to return to where they came from. Panicked, Joe tries to maneuver his way out of another sticky situation.

Before anything gets too out of hand, Joe reveals that he and his troupe members pulled together some cash to buy Jane a new tractor.

summer-stock

source: MGM

Jane reconsiders her decision, and changes her tune. While all of this is happening, however, Abigail disappears from the farm. This is a problem, considering that the play is about open in a few days time. Joe, Jane and the rest of the troupe try to search for her, with no use.

Instead of going to search for Abigail, Joe gets another ‘bright’ idea. He suggests that Jane takes her sister’s place in the show. Well, Jane’s boyfriend overhears this, and staunchly objects. Jane, sick of his act, threatens to call off their engagement. Orville takes offense to her tone, and storms off of Jane’s property.

As the film progresses, we see Jane and Joe rehearsing, laughing, singing, and eventually falling in love.

A couple of days pass, and opening night for the musical finally arrives. Just before Jane and Joe are about to take the stage, Orville returns, this time he has Abigail with him.

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source: MGM

When Abigail confronts Joe and Jane, she instantly expects her sister to relinquish the role that she had before she went rogue. Obviously, Jane flat out tells her no, and when she sees that her sister and Joe, clearly have feelings for each other, she quits harassing them.

At the end of the film, we see Jane and Joe get on stage to perform together, but before they do, Joe proposes marriage which Jane, happily, accepts.

Conclusion

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source: MGM

Perhaps, Summer Stock is better known for its antics off-screen than the acting that you see on screen.

Judy Garland was going through a rough time making this film- and it shows. In certain scenes, you see Garland looking pretty overweight and tired. Now, I don’t have an issue with this, a Judy Garland movie is still a Judy Garland movie to me, but at the time Summer Stock was released, it was very noticeable.

This was the period where Garland‘s drug addiction was spiraling out of control. According to Gene Kelly, he tells film producer Joe Pasternak that he was only doing Summer Stock as a favor to Garland because he, “had every reason to be grateful for all the help she had given me.”

It was a well-known secret that Garland had a problem with psychiatric medications, going all the way back to her Wizard of Oz days, and unfortunately, the problem lasted well into her adult years.

Luckily, for Garland who was hoping to get her life back on track, the script for Summer Stock happened to land right on her lap. Fresh out of rehab, and ready for a new start, MGM offered Garland the lead role with the hopes of getting her to work consistently again.

behindthescenesof Summer Stock

Behind The Scenes of Summer Stock (1950)

During production, however, it proved to be a difficult problem.

There were multiple instances where Garland couldn’t work due to depression. This inevitably caused delays in the movie’s schedule, which frustrated the cast and crew. Emotionally, physically, and mentally Garland was gone.  But somehow, someway director Charles Walters and company got through the difficult shoot and created a pretty decent movie.

Despite the behind the scenes hubbub that Summer Stock is known for, the movie manages to be incredibly entertaining.

With its high flying dance scenes, interesting plot, and a hilarious supporting cast of actors like Phil Silvers, Marjorie Main and Eddie Bracken, Summer Stock is certainly a classic movie musical. Even though the movie had some issues off camera, it never showed. In fact, it added to the movie’s enjoyability.

When watching it, you appreciate Judy Garland even more, just due to the fact that she went through all of that and still managed to put out the performance that she did. If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend that you do. Not only is it a fantastic musical, it also gives you a chance to appreciate how much of a professional Judy Garland was.

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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!