Milly: Somehow it just don’t seem fittin’ for a bridegroom to spend his weddin’ night in a tree
This is personally one of my favourite musicals, mainly because of the dance scenes. The songs are good but the dances are incredible and I often watch them repeatedly on YouTube! The story is quite questionable, but I suppose it’s credit to the music/dance that people still like the film as a whole (unless I’m alone in liking it…) If you don’t look too deeply into the story and just accept the film for what it is, you will have a very entertaining couple of hours!
The film is set in the 1850s and starts with Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) going to town in hunt of a wife. He has 6 younger brothers and they all live in a cabin as woodsmen or farmers, something like that! Adam meets Milly (Jane Powell), who was working at the tavern, and within the space of a few hours they are married. So Adam brings Milly back where she meets all the brothers, which Adam had neglected to tell her about. She is then further shocked to see how dirty the cabin (and the brothers) are, and also how rude and ill-mannered they are.
The film then has Milly teaching the brothers how to behave and court women, which they use to great effect and also to not so great effect… After being banned from town, the brothers pine after the women they had seen and danced with. Adam then tells them to take action- so of course they kidnap all the women and bring them back to the cabin! As it’s winter, the route to town then gets blocked so the women have to spend several months at the cabin where they predictably end up falling in love with the brothers.
The Brothers- Benjamin (Jeff Richards), Caleb (Matt Mattox), Daniel (Marc Platt), Ephraim (Jacques d’Amboise), Frank (Tommy Rall), Gideon (Russ Tamblyn)
The ‘Brides’- Dorcas (Julie Newmar), Ruth (Ruta Lee), Martha (Norma Doggett), Liza (Virginia Gibson), Sarah (Betty Carr), Alice (Nancy Kilgas)
An interesting dynamic through the film is Adam and Milly’s relationship. They have moments where they get on with each other, but then moments where they are completely against each other, such as in the kidnapping of the women! Their baby at the end of the film adds an extra dynamic and changes Adam’s views on women. Milly is always in the right, like she looks after the kidnapped women and cares for them away from the brothers. I normally dislike characters that are seemingly ‘too good’ and always right, but in this case I actually really like Milly! I think she is played wonderfully by Jane Powell and it is so hard to not watch her when she’s on screen, even when she’s surrounded by men towering over her!
The story clearly has imperfections and not really aged well. The kidnapping of the women is not okay! Milly does say how wrong it is, but then they end up with the brothers anyway so the message could be taken the wrong way….The views of the brothers, mainly Adam, on women are also pretty bad and unacceptable. To enjoy the film it’s best to accept that they’re the views of a man from around 1850 and not get offended by them.
But onto the music! The songs and the music score really make the film such an enjoyable watch. ‘Bless Your Beautiful Hide’ which Adam sings when he’s looking for a wife is the main song, and the tune is reprised in other pieces, like the barn dance scene. I do like this song, but it can get into your head and then it can start to get a little annoying. Howard Keel though is as good as expected in this song and all the others! For me though, my favourite song is ‘Wonderful, Wonderful Day’ sung by Jane Powell. Her voice is beautiful and it always makes me feel happy! I would maybe say it’s one of my favourite songs from any musical, but then I change my mind quite often about this…
The dances however are the main attraction of this film. The most famous dance scene is the barn raising dance, and quite justifiably! It lasts for around 6 minutes but this flies by and is not long enough! The townsmen and the brothers compete to dance with the women, so each take turns to ‘steal’ the women in the dance. Then the brothers and townsmen show off to each other with tricks (like somersaults on planks, running on a spinning log etc). The actors playing the brothers are all dancers, except Russ Tamblyn/Gideon who is an acrobat (so he still manages to dance pretty well!) and Jeff Richards/Benjamin. It is quite obvious Benjamin isn’t a dancer as he’s always in the back of scenes and never has a moment to shine dancewise, unlike all the others who have lots of attention on their dancing. Another fab thing about the dance is the colour! All the brothers wear different colours so it’s very easy to tell them apart (Benjamin is in orange, look out for him)! The women also wear colourful dresses so the dance is visually pretty to watch. However much I say it can’t replace watching the whole thing so watch it. It is PURE JOY!
Another song/dance scene I love is Goin’ Courtin’. This isn’t one that’s as famous as the barn dance or other songs, but I think it’s fantastic! Milly sings, teaching the brothers how to correctly court a woman. It comes before the above dance, and so it includes teaching them to dance, which is quite funny when you think it’s trained dancers pretending to be rubbish and learning to dance. Safe to say they quickly become very good! Jane Powell is so small compared to all the brothers but she is totally engaging and works well with all the brothers, in terms of singing, acting, and dancing. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it but I’m pretty sure I know it word for word and I wish it was twice as long. Like the barn dance it’s a complete joy to watch and my only problem is that I’ve spent so much time watching it!
I won’t go into every dance scene, but honourable mention to Lonesome Polecat which I think was shot in one take. It is a slower song after the quick pace of some others, sung by brothers as they’re doing chores (chopping wood etc). They do all of it in time with music and is really fun to watch and nice to listen to.
It’s not a dance, but I felt I had to mention the barn raising which happens after the dance. Groups of men competed to build one side of the barn, with the brothers being one team. However the other men resented the perceived intrusion of the brothers and eventually it turns into a full on fight. It’s fun to watch and cleverly done and just adds to a great film. I do feel sad for the man who’s barn was partly built then knocked down again in the space of a few minutes…
Overall , although the film has a questionable story and some dubious views on women, it is really fun and entertaining to see. There are some amazing dance and musical numbers that for me rank very highly out of every musical performance. The actors all perform, dance, and sing well, but for me the star is Jane Powell. She’s completely engaging in everything she does, whether singing or dancing, and steals the scenes she’s in with the brothers and the women, and even Adam/Howard Keel!
If you love musicals, see this film. If you don’t love musicals, watch clips of the film and then you will probably want to see it anyway!