DIRECTED BY

Stanley Donen

 

STARRING

Howard Keel
Jane Powell
Jeff Richards
Matt Mattox
Marc Platt
Jacques d'Amboise
Tommy Rall
Russ Tamblyn
Julie Newmar
Ruta Lee

 

RATED

G

 

RELEASED IN

1954

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 45 Mins.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers / The Pajama Game  

1/2

DIRECTED BY

Stanley Donen

George Abbott

 

STARRING

Doris Day
John Raitt
Carol Haney
Eddie Foy Jr.
Barbara Nichols

 

RATED

NR

 

RELEASED IN

1957

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 41 Mins.

when she falls in love with her new superintendent, Sid (John Raitt), in the middle of a campaign to get a seven-and-a-half-cent raise.

 

Among the redeeming qualities of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was its way of fluently lodging musical elements into everyday scenes. The Pajama Game compares. Its best moments come mostly within the factory, where steam and in-the-middle-of-being-sewn PJs are just as much fixtures as nondiegetic orchestrals.

 

“I’m Not At All in Love,” a number that arrives just as Babe starts thinking she might have feelings for Sid, feels like the cinemusical’s equivalent of girlfriends gossiping over cold-cut sandwiches and Diet Cokes. It also displays Day’s everywoman appeal. Though the actress is most associated with exercises in cinematic fizziness, from 1948’s Romance on the High Seas to 1959’s Pillow Talk, it’s in films like The Pajama Game, when she’s a wit and a situational hellion, in which I think she’s used best. “Racing with the Clock” and its slo-mo reprise are ingenious musicalizations of workday tedium. Day solo “Hey There,” set in her lonesome-looking bedroom, sublimely captures a moment during which she is totally sapped by the romantic-and-professional tug-of-war. (Day also sang live.)

 

The movie’s acme, “Steam Heat,” is also the most unnatural of the featured song-and-dance sequences. It encompasses three workers (Carol Haney, Buzz Miller, and Kenneth Leroy) dancing in loose-fitting suits, with bowler hats used as props, on stage at a union rally, scarcely complementing the plot. But its humor and stretchy, Bob Fosse-helmed choreography cause a long-lasting shiver of excitement. That “Steam Heat,” which is such a minimalist sequence, is truly the feature’s showiest moment also undergirds the quality that makes The Pajama Game appealing. Rather than conform to creating the sort of reverie that defined many a musical of the era, it has workmanlike energy that wonderfully melds musical idealism with everyday struggle. That the getting of a seven-and-a-half-cent raise is, in part, what makes the ending a happy one feels just right.

 

Seven Brides for Seven BrothersC+

The Pajama Game: B+

much prefer, narratively that is, The Pajama Game (1957), Donen’s first on-screen collaboration with long-time friend and big-break-giver George Abbott. (They would pair up again for the dynamic Damn Yankees less than a year later.) Adapted from the Abbott-originated stage play of the same name, The Pajama Game is concerned with Babe (Doris Day), a pajama-factory worker and union-board member, and the plight that bubbles up

I

telling Donen when he finally did agree to work on the movie. “They’re wearing these big, heavy work shoes, which trump through the mud all the time.”

 

Donen famously found a way to fluidly incorporate Kidd’s style of dance into the movie: by having all but two of the men playing the eponymous brothers be professional dancers; by turning quotidian tasks like chopping wood and barn-raising into dance numbers; by simply having really just one epically mapped and shot musical spectacle.

 

Everything Kidd touches in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers turns into filmic ore; some of the sequences showcasing his genius are among the cleverest and most exuberant to have made their way into the musical genre. It is a fortunate thing, then, that the movie is both a technical and artistic masterstroke: Much else about the film leans into swelled sexism and toxic masculinity — ever-difficult characteristics to stomach if there ever were.

 

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is set in the Oregon Territory around 1850. It stars the cornfed Howard Keel as Adam, a backwoodsman who, as the film opens, descends on the town in hopes to find a woman to quickly marry. The courting process be damned. His aspiration is laughably idealistic — teetering on loony — but, then again, he is the protagonist of a type of movie that stridently believes in things like soulmates, true love, and heteronormativity.

 

Barely after filling us in on his ambition, Adam meets Milly (Jane Powell), a self-determining, rosy-cheeked taverness. For these impossibly beautiful characters, it's love at first sight. Adam is taken with Milly’s humorous clamor and obvious domestic aptitude; Milly finds Adam handsome and charismatic — a personified romantic ideal. Hours later, they're husband and wife.

 

Home for Adam is a rickety log cabin in a nearby mountain clearing. Milly’s under the impression that, once they arrive, her task will be interior renovation — something she’s looking forward to. Adam, contrarily, remains tight-lipped, eclipsing her excitement. We can see why. It turns out that the former was upfront about his place of living, but, as Milly discovers, not about his exact situation. Adam rooms with his six brothers, all of whom have his same fire hydrant-red hair, his same Brawny-man build, his same in-your-face extroversion, and his same lamentable cleaning habits.

 

The basic premise of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is that, once the siblings see how great it is to have a woman around the house, they will be bitten by a love bug. The movie, which was based on Stephen Vincent Benét’s The Sobbing Women (1938) — in turn a parodistic take on the Ancient Roman legend The Rape of the Sabine Women — unfortunately does not see the men orthodoxly date and then propose. After a thrilling musical sequence during which the brothers charm several women, via dance, while participating in a barn-raising ceremony, their means of courtship drastically dip into frightening territories. At the beginning of the wintry third act, the siblings kidnap their objects of affection. Then, when near their cabin, they fire their guns at the peaks of Echo Pass, causing an avalanche and thus forbidding these women from escaping at least until spring.

 

Milly slaps their wrists when she finds out what they've done, and wisely bans the brothers from coming into contact with their prospective brides until their loved ones are able to pick them up around March. But the movie only dispassionately reinforces the idea that what these men have done is genuinely scary and wrong. Ultimately, the hearts of these women soften, and they grow to love their captors. The film inevitably concludes with a mass wedding. How couldn’t it, with such a title? The final tableau, though, felt less like a moving visual declaration of love to me and more a cap on a story of collective Stockholm Syndrome.

 

What to do with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, then? Donen’s directorial work is particularly inspired — invigoratingly artificial, teeming with fanciful, beautifully constructed musical tableaux. Kidd’s creations, particularly the rightfully legendary, amazingly athletic barn-raising sequence, tends to make arm hair spike. But the film’s messages are so pernicious that even the age-old “we must consider the time during which the movie was made” aphorism cannot cushion how uncomfortable it can be to watch.

he virtuosic choreographer Michael Kidd had reservations about working on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). In addition to simply being burned out at the time the film’s director, Stanley Donen, asked him if he wanted to collaborate, Kidd was generally convinced that his frisky choreographic style would clash with the tentative narrative. “Seven slobs getting up and dancing — it doesn’t make any sense,” he remembers

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April 9, 2019