Tag Archives: Jeff Richards

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954, Stanley Donen)

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.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

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).


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Above and Beyond (1952, Melvin Frank and Norman Panama)

Above and Beyond breaks one of my severest rules–don’t start with narration and then drop it. Above and Beyond starts with Eleanor Parker narrating the film, mostly because otherwise she wouldn’t be in it for the first hour. Once she is in the film full-time, the narration quickly disappears. I can’t remember the last time there was narration, but I don’t think it was past an hour and twenty minutes, which leaves about forty percent absent of narration. The film’s about the guy who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I’m not up enough on my World War II history (from the American perspective) to know where the film made allowances, but it creates a compelling enough reality of its own. In many ways, the character’s saddled with more immediate responsibility than anyone else ever had before, which creates the condition for its success even though it fails on certain narrative levels.

The audience knows what’s going on and understands what Robert Taylor (as the pilot and commander) is going through. Except Eleanor Parker, as his wife, doesn’t know and the story–for a good portion–is from her emotional perspective. The film takes place over two years, with only the last hour being told in scenic detail. The rest is summary, occasionally tied together with Parker’s narration, occasionally not. The film isn’t quite a biopic, because it’s Parker holding the first hour together. Though Robert Taylor gets a lot more screen-time (maybe ninety-five percent overall), Parker’s a constant. The scenes with the two of them together, therefore, have to be perfect. They have to establish them as a married couple, they have to establish them as characters worth caring about–and co-writers and co-directors Norman Panama and Melvin Frank pull off those scenes. Maybe five minutes in that first hour is dedicated to such scenes and Panama and Frank get the work done.

Parker’s an obviously choice as the film’s best performance because she gets to do so much–play wife, play fighting wife, play new mother, play friend–while Taylor only has two general moods: upset and more upset. But Taylor’s performance is the better one–not through any fault of Parker’s, but because Frank and Panama understand how to address the gravity of the situation. It’s through little moments with Taylor.

The film came out in 1952 and has either a complex morality about the actual bombing or an undecided one. It accepts most reasoning on the subject will end up being flippant, but the film’s not about the overall morality, but the character’s. Occasionally when you turn a big story–a too big story–into a movie, something gels and it holds. Above and Beyond is probably the best of that rather specific genre. Frank and Panama manage to maintain nice filmic sensibilities throughout–giving the audience something to laugh at, making the marriage compelling–while appreciating they can’t actually tell their story… because it’s too big.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama; written by Frank, Panama and Beirne Lay Jr.; director of photography, Ray June; edited by Cotton Warburton; music by Hugo Friedhofer; produced by Frank, Panama and Allan Fung; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Taylor (Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr), Eleanor Parker (Lucey Tibbets), James Whitmore (Maj. Uanna), Larry Keating (Maj. Gen. Vernon C. Brent), Larry Gates (Capt. Parsons), Marilyn Erskine (Marge Bratton), Stephen Dunne (Maj. Harry Bratton), Robert Burton (Gen. Samuel E. Roberts), Hayden Rorke (Dr. Ramsey), Larry Dobkin (Dr. Van Dyke), Jack Raine (Dr. Fiske), Jonathan Cott (Dutch Van Kirk), Jeff Richards (Thomas Ferebee), Dick Simmons (Bob Lewis), John McKee (Wyatt Duzenbury), Patrick Conway (Radio Operator), Christie Olsen (Paul Tibbets Jr), William Lester (Driver), Barbara Ruick (Mary Malone) and Jim Backus (Gen. Curtis E. LeMay).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 2: TECHNICOLOR.