Wednesday, September 10, 2008

“It’s not the heat, it’s the humanity.”

Well, I ended up putting the two Disney flicks that Thad sent me on the back burner yesterday because as I was innocently flipping channels to see what else was on I saw that TCM was running Brigadoon (1954) that afternoon…followed by Cabin in the Sky (1943). While I’m not quite as “musicals mad” as my friend and frequent TDOY commenter Pam, Brigadoon is one of the rare movie musicals welcome here at Rancho Yesteryear.

Tommy Albright (Gene Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Van Johnson) are American tourists in Scotland, determined to shoot a brace of defenseless woodland grouse, when they come across a strange village whose name serves as the movie’s title. Tommy falls head-over-heels for a girl named Fiona Campbell (Cyd Charisse), whose sister Jean (Virginia Bosler) is scheduled to marry a local lad named Charles Dalrymple (Jimmy Thompson)—so as luck would have it, the entire hamlet is ready to party like its 1999, and invite Tommy and Jeff as guests to the proceedings. The two men soon learn that there’s something not quite right about Brigadoon—it’s an enchanted village that appears for one day every one hundred years. Since Tommy has it bad for Fiona, he has an opportunity to join Brigadoon’s inhabitants…but he’s yet to convince himself he believes in its magic.

Brigadoon is a favorite for many reasons. First, it stars Kelly and Charisse, whose sensual dancing together neatly skirts around Topic A (Charisse once remarked before her passing that the film was her favorite among the movies she made alongside Kelly). It’s a much subtler movie than many of the Kelly musicals; not as much “in-your-face” as, say, On the Town (1949) or An American in Paris (1951). Plus the story (by Alan Jay Lerner) is so doggone captivating, and even though it breaks a few rules to give the movie a happy ending it never mattered that much to me (especially when both Kelly and Charisse have won me over).

Brigadoon is a beautiful film, masterly directed by the great Vincente Minnelli—and though I often remark that the proof is in the pudding, one of the things that makes this film so wonderful is that even though Minnelli and Kelly were refused permission to shoot on location in Scotland, the fact that it ended up being filmed on studio sets doesn’t hurt the film at all (in fact, I’m not certain it would have worked with “realistic” sets, seeing as the village is hardly “real” in itself). I love Minnelli’s trademark languid camera shots, how they lovingly caress the breathtaking beauty of the village and satisfy the longing of anyone who’s fed up with “the rat race” and would like nothing more than to spend tranquil quality time in a place where time really doesn’t matter.

I’m also a Brigadoon fan because it’s one of the few films I’m able to tolerate Van Johnson in. My blogging compadre Stacia at She Blogged by Night is currently soliciting responses to a post she’s written on which “great actors” annoy you the most. I originally thought about naming Clark Gable—who I haven’t ever liked in anything—but since that would mean my giving him points for acting I went with Van instead. I have no idea why Johnson fills me with such enmity, but apart from Brigadoon and State of the Union (1948) I’d rather chew off my own foot than watch him in a film.

One of my favorite musical numbers of all time is in Brigadoon—that wonderful soft-shoe bit by Kelly and Johnson in I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean—and the movie itself contains so many memorable songs: Almost Like Being in Love, The Heather on the Hill, etc. Unfortunately, they cut quite a few tunes from the stage version, particularly The Love of My Life and My Mother’s Wedding Day, whose lyrics were a bit too racy for the likes of the Breen office (and explains the shortened screen time of character Meg Brockie, played here by Dodie Heath). (Others excised include Come to Me, Bend to Me, From This Day On and The Sword Dance—all three of these can be seen as “extras” on the Brigadoon DVD, with the fourth [There But For You Go I] available only in its audio version.)


Linda said...

OMgosh, you don't like 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET? One of my favorites! I love Cecil Parker as Bob, especially in the scene where he has to report on following Miss MacDonald.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I'm always up for anything with Cecil Parker...and one of these days, I'll revisit Baker Street...but asking me to sit through a movie with Van Johnson is just altogether too painful.

Kirk Gardner said...

You know, a couple of years ago, I was in the stage version of Brigadoon (playing the Van Johnson role, by the way) and during rehearsals the actors were shaking their heads. When you're in the middle of it, doing it every day, the plot seems so full of holes you can't believe anyone would buy it. And yet, audiences just seemed to eat it up. Really remarkable (but I still don't have any desire to see the movie again soon).

Campaspe said...

What a wonderful defense of Brigadoon, an unfairly maligned movie in my view. I completely agree about the sets -- I think filming in Scotland would have ruined the fairy-tale aspect. Plus, the suits were quite right that the Scottish weather would have run the budget up no end.

Van Johnson is no favorite of mine, but no love for him in The Caine Mutiny? I thought his nice-guy persona worked very nicely against the character's opportunism.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Okay, Campaspe has got me--I do like The Caine Mutiny (though I wish it hadn't been so timid re: the U.S. Navy...even though it was necessary in order to secure their cooperation), but in all honesty I tend to overlook Johnson in a first-rate cast that includes Bogart, Fred MacMurray, Jose Ferrer, Lee Marvin, Claude Akins, etc. (If I had a nickel for every time I rolled marbles in my hand a la Bogie, I'd be a wealthy man.)

The Baby said...

Hey - finally saw The Band Wagon "on the big screen". Cyd was JUST GLORIOUS. Did I also tell you I got to see It's Always Fair Weather OTBS?

So so so good. Nothin' like 'em.