Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), is a musical film, photographed in Ansco Color in the CinemaScope format. The film was directed by Stanley Donen, with music by Saul Chaplin and Gene de Paul and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and choreography by Michael Kidd. The screenplay, by Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, and Dorothy Kingsley, is based on the short story "The Sobbin' Women", by Stephen Vincent BenÃ©t, which was based in turn on the Ancient Roman legend of The Rape of the Sabine Women. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which is set in Oregon in 1850, is particularly known for Kidd's unusual choreography, which makes dance numbers out of such mundane frontier pursuits as chopping wood and raising a barn. Film critic Stephanie Zacharek has called the barn-raising sequence in Seven Brides "one of the most rousing dance numbers ever put on screen."
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers won the Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture and was nominated for four additional awards, including Best Picture of the Year (where it lost the award to Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront). In 2006, American Film Institute named Seven Brides for Seven Brothers as one of the best American musical films ever made.
A backwoodsman named Adam Pontipee comes into town to search for a bride. After being laughed at by the owners of the town's feedlot store he goes out in search of a wife. He comes upon the local tavern where he meets Milly. He and Milly agree to marry despite knowing each other for only a few hours. On the journey home Milly talks about how she is excited to be cooking and taking care of only one man, visibly upsetting Adam. On returning to his cabin in the mountains, Milly is surprised to learn that Adam is one of seven brothers living under the same roof. The brothers have been named alphabetically from the Old Testament and in chronological order are: Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank (short for Frankincense, the Old Testament having no names beginning with F), and Gideon. All of the brothers have red hair and are well over six feet tall, except Gideon, who is younger and shorter than his brothers.
Milly teaches Adam's rowdy, ill-behaved younger brothers manners and social mores. She also shows them how to dance. At first, the brothers have a hard time changing from their "mountain man" ways, but eventually each comes to see that the only way he will get a woman of his own is to do things Milly's way. They are able to test their new manners at a barn-raising, where they meet six women they like â" Dorcas, Ruth, Martha, Liza, Sarah and Alice â" and the women take a fancy to the brothers as well. The women, however, already have suitors from the town, who jealously taunt the brothers into fighting during the barn-raising. At first the brothers try to resist and remember Milly's teaching, but Adam refuses to let himself be pushed around by the rival suitors, and calls his younger brothers cowards for letting them get away with their behavior. The rival suitors finally go too far when they attack Adam, which provokes Gideon into fighting back. A fierce brawl ensues in which the brothers dominate their physically weaker rivals. Although the brothers do not start the fight, they are banished from the town after destroying the barn in the process of fighting.
Winter arrives, with the six younger brothers pining for the women. After Milly asks Adam to talk to the brothers as she fears they will want to leave because of missing the girls; Adam reads his brothers the story of "Sobbin' Women" (taken from Plutarch's story of the Sabine Women) and tells them that they should stop moping around and take whatever action is necessary to get the women back. Aided by Adam, the brothers kidnap the women, then cause an avalanche so that they cannot be followed by the townspeople. They have, however, forgotten to kidnap a preacher. Milly is furious at Adam, as are the women because of being kidnapped. Milly consigns the brothers to the barn "with the rest of the livestock" while the women live in the house. Adam, surprised and offended by Milly's reaction, leaves for the trapping cabin further up the mountain to live out the winter by himself. Soon after, Milly realizes that she is pregnant with Adam's child.
Months pass, and the women vent their frustration and resentment by playing pranks on the brothers, such as hitting them with rock-filled snowballs. By spring, the women have forgiven and fallen in love with the brothers, who are now allowed to court them. Milly gives birth to a daughter, Hannah. Gideon rides to the cabin to inform Adam of his daughter's arrival and asks him to come home. Adam refuses, saying that he had said he would return home only when the snow had melted enough and the pass was open once more to traffic. Having time to think about his baby daughter, Adam returns home in the spring just as the pass is opening and reconciles with Milly. As a newly responsible father, he has become aware of how worried the townspeople would be about what has happened to the women. Adam realizes he was wrong to tell his brothers to kidnap the women. He tells his brothers they need to take the women back to their homes in the town, but his brothers are unwilling.
The women also do not want to return to their homes; they all want to stay at the farm with their new suitors and thus hide so they will not be taken back home. When Milly discovers that the women are not in the house, Adam tells his brothers to go after them and bring them back. The townspeople arrive, with the intention of taking vengeance against the brothers for the kidnappings. Upon finding the brothers trying to force the women to return, the fathers believe their daughters are being assaulted, and charge to their rescue. Alice's father (Ian Wolfe), a preacher, hears baby Hannah cry in the distance, and worries that the baby might belong to one of the women. The fighting is finally sorted out and the fathers, and other townsmen, round up the brothers and announce that they intend to hang them.
Alice's father asks the women whose baby he heard. They all decide, simultaneously, to claim the baby as their own. This misinformation gives the women and the brothers their wish: the townspeople insist that all six couples marry immediately in a shotgun wedding.
Brothers and their Brides:
- Howard Keel as Adam and Jane Powell as Milly
- Jeff Richards as Benjamin and Julie Newmar (Newmeyer) as Dorcas
- Matt Mattox as Caleb and Ruta Kilmonis as Ruth
- Marc Platt as Daniel and Norma Doggett as Martha
- Jacques d'Amboise as Ephraim and Virginia Gibson as Liza
- Tommy Rall as Frank and Betty Carr as Sarah
- Russ Tamblyn as Gideon and Nancy Kilgas as Alice
To perform the electrifying dance numbers and grueling action sequences, choreographer Michael Kidd wanted dancers to portray all six of Adam Pontipee's rough and tumble brothers. Kidd said that he "had to find a way to have these backwoods men dance without looking ridiculous. I had to base it all around activities you would accept from such people --- it couldn't look like ballet. And it could only have been done by superbly trained dancers." However, he was able to integrate into the cast two non-dancer MGM contract players who were assigned to the film, Jeff Richards, who performed just the simpler dance numbers, and Russ Tamblyn, utilizing him in the dance numbers by exploiting his talents as a gymnast and tumbler.
The other four brothers were portrayed by professional dancers â" Matt Mattox, Marc Platt, Tommy Rall, and Jacques d'Amboise. All four balanced on a beam together during their famous barn-raising dance.
The wood-chopping scene in Lonesome Polecat was filmed in a single take.
- Adam (light green shirt): Howard Keel, a professional singer, appeared as the eldest of the seven brothers. He also appeared as Petruchio in the film version of Kiss Me Kate, as well as appearing, in leading roles, in other musical films including Rose Marie and Show Boat.
- Benjamin (orange shirt): Jeff Richards was a former professional baseball player who topped out at the AAA level of the minor leagues. Although obviously athletic, he is noticeably in the background, seated, or standing during the dance numbers so as to not expose his lesser dancing skills. Unfortunately this often relegated his partner, the classically trained ballet dancer Julie Newmar, to the background as well.
- Caleb (yellow shirt): Matt Mattox, a professional dancer, appeared on stage on Broadway and also danced in many Hollywood musical films. His singing voice for the film was dubbed by Bill Lee.
- Daniel (mauve shirt): Marc Platt, a professional dancer, danced the role of Chalmers / Dream Curly in the original 1943 Broadway production of Oklahoma! and also had a dancing / speaking role in the 1955 film version of Oklahoma! as the friend of Curly who bought Curly's saddle for $10 at the auction and who said that Ado Annie's pie had given him a 'three day bellyache'.
- Ephraim (dark green shirt): Jacques d'Amboise, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, was given special leave for the filming of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (although he was recalled before filming was completed). He also danced in other musical films, including the role of the Starlight Carnival "barker" in the film Carousel (in which he partnered Susan Luckey in Louise's ballet). The Academy Award winning, and Tony Award winning documentary film, He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin' is about Jacques d'Amboise and his teaching children how to dance.
- Frank (red shirt): Tommy Rall, a professional dancer and singer, appeared on stage on Broadway, as well as in many musical films. These included the role of Bill Calhoun (Lucentio) in the film version of Kiss Me Kate â" and as one of the Gallini brothers in the film Merry Andrew (including him being one of the three featured acrobatic dancers in the circus engagement scene â" Tommy Rall is the dancer in the center wearing the red shirt). He was also in the film Funny Girl, in the role of the Prince who partnered Barbra Streisand in a parody of the ballet Swan Lake.
- Gideon (blue shirt): Russ Tamblyn beat Morton Downey Jr. for the role of youngest brother Gideon. Tamblyn showcased his gymnastics training throughout the action sequences.
Professional dancers played all seven of the brides.
The four girls, who Adam sees in the Bixby store when he first goes into town, are Dorcas, Ruth, Liza and Sarah.
- Milly: Jane Powell, channeled her experiences growing up in Oregon to create Milly. She and Howard Keel would later reprise their roles in a Seven Brides for Seven Brothers stage revival. She also appeared in dancing and singing roles in many other musical films, including Royal Wedding, and Rich, Young and Pretty and also A Date with Judy.
- Dorcas: Julie Newmar (Newmeyer), a classically trained ballerina, would later rise to fame as Catwoman in the 1960s TV version of Batman. She also won a Supporting Actress Tony Award for The Marriage-Go-Round (starring Claudette Colbert). She appeared on her neighbor James Belushi's sitcom According to Jim after the two settled a highly publicized lawsuit. Her singing voice for the film was dubbed by Betty Allen.
- Ruth: Ruta Kilmonis enjoyed a long stage and television career, working with Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis, Jr., Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, and Frank Sinatra. Lee appeared in the sitcom Roseanne as the first girlfriend of Roseanne's mother. Her singing parts for the film were dubbed in post-production by Betty Noyes.
- Martha: Norma Doggett performed in the 1940s-50s Broadway shows Bells Are Ringing, Fanny, Wish You Were Here, Miss Liberty, and Magdalena. Her singing voice for the film was dubbed by Bobbie Canvin.
- Liza: Virginia Gibson was nominated for a Tony Award in 1957 and performed regularly, as singer and dancer, on the Johnny Carson show.
- Sarah: Betty Carr was also a Broadway veteran, dancing in Damn Yankees, Happy Hunting, Mask and Gown, and Fanny (alongside Norma Doggett). Her singing voice for the film was dubbed by Norma Zimmer.
- Alice: Nancy Kilgas made her film debut in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. She danced in the film versions of Oklahoma!, Shake, Rattle & Rock!, and Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain. Her singing voice for the film was dubbed by Marie Greene.
- Reverend Elcott (Ian Wolfe) is the local preacher and father of Alice, one of the brides. He is the officiant in both wedding ceremonies in the movie.
Choreographer Michael Kidd originally turned down the film, recalling in 1997: "Here are these slobs living off in the woods. They have no schooling, they are uncouth, there's manure on the floor, the cows come in and out - and they're gonna get up and dance? We'd be laughed out of the house."
Lyricist Johnny Mercer said that the musical numbers were written at Kidd's behest, as an example "of how a songwriter sometimes has to take his cue from his collaborators." For example, Kidd explained to Mercer and dePaul his conception of the "Lonesome Polecat" number, the lament of the brothers for the women, and the two worked out the music and lyrics.
In his introduction to a showing on Turner Classic Movies on January 17, 2009, host Robert Osborne, as well as Jane Powell in her autobiography, The Girl Next Door, both say MGM was much less interested in Seven Brides than it was in Brigadoon which was also filming at the time, even cutting its budget and transferring the money to the Lerner and Loewe vehicle.
On the 2004 DVD commentary, Stanley Donen states that the film was originally shot in two versions, one in CinemaScope and another in normal ratio, because MGM was concerned that not all theaters had the capability to screen it. Despite the fact that it cost more than the widescreen version to make, he says, the other version was never used. However both versions are available on the 2004 DVD release.
The dresses worn by the female cast were made from old quilts that costume designer Walter Plunkett found at the Salvation Army.
Songs and Music
About the table
The information about the singers is based on that given in the CD booklet for the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
The "Main Title" incorporates the music for the songs: "Bless Your Beautiful Hide" and "Wonderful, Wonderful Day".
N/A is an abbreviation for 'not applicable' (for orchestral tracks - i.e. instrumental tracks without singers).
While Matt Mattox was the original singer for "Lonesome Polecat", his singing was replaced for this song in the movie by the singing of Bill Lee. Matt Mattox can be heard singing this song on the soundtrack CD.
The movie was the 5th most popular film at the British box office in 1955. According to MGM records it made $5,526,000 in the US and Canada and $3,877,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $3,198,000.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers came in third in a BBC Radio 2 listener poll of the UK's "Number One Essential Musicals" and was listed as number eight in the "Top 10 MGM musicals" in the book Top 10 of Film by Russell Ash. In 2004, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." In 2006, the film was ranked #21 on the American Film Institute's list of best musicals. In 2008, the film was ranked number 464 in Empire magazine's list of the 500 greatest films of all time.
The film has been criticized by Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, a professor of theology and women's studies, for its favorable depiction of abduction and kidnapping. She has described the musical as an "incredibly sexist, misogynist" film which "romanticizes gender oppression."
Awards and nominations
- In 1978, an adaptation with a book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, and new songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn were developed for the stage.
- From September 19, 1982 to July 2, 1983, CBS broadcast a weekly television series of the same name, which was loosely based on the film.
- Inspired by Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Bollywood released the film Satte Pe Satta (Seven On Seven) in 1982.
- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the Internet Movie Database
- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at AllMovie
- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the TCM Movie Database
- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Jacket Magazine: some background information