Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a lot of fun. The songs are always pretty good, with some standouts and the dance numbers are fantastic (ditto the choreographed fight sequences–director Donen and cinematographer George J. Folsey shoot it all beautifully), and the cast is likable. But there’s not much ambition for the film.
Based on the opening titles–not to mention the first act–one might think the whole thing is going to revolve around the relationship between Howard Keel and Jane Powell. They’re newlyweds. After a fifteen to twenty minute courtship, she’s in love, he’s found the maid for himself and his six brothers. Turns out more than a maid, the brothers need a big sister, which leaves Keel without much to do. The film literally exiles him after a point, just because there’s nothing for him to do in the main action.
Because, as it turns out, the main action ends up being the six brothers kidnapping their six crushes and holding them hostage in their rustic, isolated Oregon farm for a winter.
The first half of the film is heavier with the musical numbers, but also with building up the cast’s likability. Keel, for instance, is at his most likable for the first five or ten minutes. Then, when he’s being a heel (no pun), Donen makes sure the film concentrates on the Brothers, who are always affable.
At least after Powell starts cleaning them up.
Russ Tamblyn’s good. Powell’s good. The rest of the brothers are all fine. Their romantic interests barely make an impression (as their big dance number is in long shot to show off the choreography).
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers isn’t deep. But it is expertly produced and, like I said, a lot of fun.
Directed by Stanley Donen; screenplay by Albert Hackett, Francis Goodrich and Dorothy Kingsley, based on a story by Stephen Vincent Benet; director of photography, George J. Fosley; edited by Ralph E. Winters; music by Gene de Paul; produced by Jack Cummings; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Starring Howard Keel (Adam), Jane Powell (Milly), Jeff Richards (Benjamin), Russ Tamblyn (Gideon), Tommy Rall (Frank), Marc Platt (Daniel), Matt Mattox (Caleb), Jacques d’Amboise (Ephraim), Julie Newmar (Dorcas), Nancy Kilgas (Alice), Betty Carr (Sarah), Virginia Gibson (Liza), Ruta Lee (Ruth), Norma Doggett (Martha) and Ian Wolfe (Rev. Elcott).