Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Brigadoon ( 1954 )

"If you love someone deeply enough, anything is possible."

Aye, 'tis true. Tommy Albright ( Gene Kelly ) learns just how powerful love is when he comes to the enchanted village of Brigadoon and meets his true love Fiona ( Cyd Charisse ). Tommy and his friend Jeff Douglas ( Van Johnson ) come across the town of Brigadoon when they are lost in Scotland during a hunting trip. The town, which only appears for one day every 100 years, is stuck in the 1700s. Tommy meets and falls in love with the beautiful Fiona and then must make the decision whether to stay in Brigadoon and turn his back on the world he knows or whether to depart from it forever. 

"Why do people have to lose things to find out what they really mean?" -Tommy  

Of all of the musicals made during MGM's golden era Brigadoon has received the most motley assortment of reviews from critics and fans alike. Director Vincente Minnelli and Gene Kelly himself felt that the entire production did not reflect what they had originally envisioned for it. Most viewers can see the potential in Brigadoon that wasn't realized, hence, it feels like the film is only a shadow of what it could have been. However, that shadow alone is mighty entertaining!
Brigadoon has a lovely magical feel to it and I think the staged setting actually helps create this effect rather than hinder it. The balletic dance sequences - especially "Heather on the Hill" and its reprise - are beautiful to watch, as are the more lively numbers such as "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean". 

There are several elements that give the film a different flavor than most musicals, the most notable being its more downbeat tone. Unlike most of the characters Gene Kelly plays in musicals, Tommy isn't a happy-go-lucky fellow out to have a night on the town. Instead, we see him as a confused man. He went on a hunting trip to Scotland with his friend possibly with the hopes that a vacation would clear his mind and help him to decide what he wants in life, but it only helps to confuse him all the more. He is engaged to a beautiful socialite back in New York City but continually puts off the wedding knowing full well that he is discontented with his fiancee. Once he meets Fiona, his love for her clears the fog in his heart, but then he is torn between staying in what Jeff calls a "fairyland" or returning to "reality".
"Sometimes the things you believe in can become more real than all the things you can explain away or understand."

The film could have been developed into a light-hearted musical, much in the vein of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but then it would have risked losing its romantic mystic quality which really is the heart of the picture.  

Brigadoon, which was based on the 1947 Broadway show of the same name, features a number of excellent songs by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe including "Waitin' for my Dearie", "Almost Like Being in Love", the titular "Brigadoon", "Heather on the Hill" and "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean". Unfortunately, the film version cut "Come to Me, Bend to Me", "There But for You Go I" and "From This Day On".

Brigadoon went into production the same time that director Stanley Donen was planning his musical extravaganza Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer debated whether to drop one of the two productions because they felt they couldn't fund both projects at once. It was presumed that Brigadoon would be the more successful of the two films but Seven Brides producer Jack Cummings insisted they could make the film on a cut budget. The film ended up reaping in nearly four times its budget, while Brigadoon took a loss at the box-office.

Kelly was especially disappointed that the picture would not be shot on location in Scotland ( due to the weather ) and that, because of budget cuts, he would not be permitted to experiment with different dance sequences. But he was pleased to be starring alongside his friend Van Johnson. Originally, actors David Wayne, Donald O'Connor, and Alec Guinness (!) were considered for the role of Jeff instead of Johnson. Surprisingly, Oscar Levant was not considered, even though the sarcastic nature of Jeff would have suited him to a tee. 
Cyd Charisse was ideally cast as Fiona; she never looked or danced better. Charisse was happy to reunite with director Vincente Minnelli whom she worked with in The Band Wagon just one year prior. Albert Sharpe ( Darby O'Gill and the Little People ) and Barry Jones were also perfectly cast. Hugh Laing, a ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet, was cast as Harry Beaton, the one discontented citizen of Brigadoon. Jimmy Thompson ( Singin' in the Rain ) was the handsome Charlie Dalrymple and, if you keep your eyes peeled, you can spot George Chakiris and Stuart Whitman as extras. 

In spite of Brigadoon's failure at the box-office and its poor critical response, I believe it still remains a highlight in MGM's output of musicals. It may not be what the director or Kelly intended it to be, but what was created was a colorful gem in itself. Aye, a bonnie good film. 

4 comments:

  1. I love the show and I love the movie beyond its flawed adaption. The performances are sincere, and the "bar scene" captured my imagination early and continues to impress.

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  2. A charming musical, but I don't think it would have been better served for shooting on location. It was, after all, a fantasy about a mythical village. Fine performances, and I especially like Van Johnson in this role. Thanks for this delightful look back at Brigadoon.

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  3. I love the songs and the settings and agree that Cyd Charisse dances divinely. For me, the weak link is Van Johnson, who seems miscast (wow, Donald O'Connor would have been a great choice!). Despite its imperfections, it's a charming film, but still nowhere near as good as SEVEN BROTHERS.

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