Al does Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

“What do I need manners for? I already got me a wife.

The Scoop: 1954 G, directed by Stanley Donen and starring Howard Keel, Jane Powell, and Russ Tamblyn.

Tagline: A LUSTY, MIRTHFUL, GIRL-STEALING MUSICAL . . . with Seven Great Songs!

Summary Capsule: Men commit felonies in the name of love.  And sing about it.  A lot.

Al’s Rating: “No, you are not allowed to dance with your axes like that.  No, stop it.  No, you–oh, great, now they’re all doing it.”

Al’s Review: I was lured to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers with the promise of a good Dorcas.  See, a few months ago, I found myself corresponding with a young woman named Dorcas for work.  Not realizing people still named their daughters Dorcas, I felt it worthy of bringing up elsewhere and one of our readers directed me to this film, promising it not only had a pretty excellent Dorcas in it, it was a great musical to boot.

One hour and forty-two minutes later, I can confirm that there is indeed, a pretty excellent Dorcas in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  She’s sassy and acerbic and, despite her limited screen time, makes herself seem a lot more interesting than all the rest of the women in the film put together. It’s also worth noting she’s played by a young Julie Newmar, whose waist is so tiny it’s almost freakish.

The rest of the movie, though… well, is it possible to like a musical and hate all the songs in it?  It’s not an angry hate, mind you. It’s more like being paralyzed in disbelief by the sheer volume of crappy songs that are shoved into this film.  They sing about how wonderful it is to get married in June.  They sing about the proper way to get a date.  They sing about how the men are chopping wood and they’re all sad or something.  It’s just hell.

Okay, let me back up a moment here.  Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is the story of Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel), a backwoodsman who goes to town one day to find a wife and marries a local girl named Milly (Jane Powell).  Upon returning to Adam’s farm, however, Milly discovers why you shouldn’t get married on the first date: Adam has six wild brothers who live with him and he now expects her to cook, clean, and play mother for everyone.  Instead of running back home and getting divorced as fast as she can, Milly stupidly decides it would be far easier to tame the seven Pontipees and find wives for all of them.  Thus, instead of one nice, quick song about the joys of annulment, we get dance instructions and lessons about etiquette and when to use which fork at the dinner table and blah blah blah choke gag die.

Unfortunately, all of Milly’s hard work fails to pay off when the men of town, afraid for their women, embarrass the Pontipees and goad them into a public brawl.  Adam is undeterred, though, and convinces his brothers that the only logical course of action is to kidnap women from town and imprison on the farm until everyone falls in love.  Yes, it turns out this is a story about that old standby of musical theater, Stockholm Syndrome.  And what could be even more messed up than that plot development?  The plan works.  The brides and the brothers fall in love and everyone lives happily every after.  I mean, seriously?  C’mon, National Organization for Women!  You should be all over this!

Actually, as long as everyone is resisting the urge to burst into song over the delights of shoveling out the barn, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a lot of fun, in a 1950’s cornball sort of way.  In fact, I’ll even put my man card at risk and mention that, while the songs were excruciating, the dancing was fantastic.  The choreography at the barn-raising was as fun and complex as anything else I’ve seen on film, from musicals to kung-fu movies.

It’s certainly not for everyone, but I really did have a great time watching this. It’s completely goofy and beyond absurd, but it made the theater geek in my heart beam with enjoyment and—let’s face it—this may be your only chance to see a movie with a lady named Dorcas in it.  Just keep the mute button handy.

The manliest men that the Old West has to offer. No, really, this is the best they could do.

Intermission!

  • The seven brothers are named Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank, and Gideon.  According to the film, they were all named from the Old Testament, except Frank, because their mother couldn’t find any names that began with F.
  • Howard Keel is apparently very proud of this movie, but I completely lost it watching him sing in that Davy Crockett outfit.  Sorry, Howie.
  • How does Julie Newmar not just fold in half when she tries to stand up?
  • No, really guys.  You *have* to stop dancing with your axes.  Please.
  • During “Wonderful, Wonderful Day,” birds fly onto the set and and several crash into the matte background.
  • The story that gives Adam the idea to kidnap girls from town (and inspires the awful, awful song “Sobbin’ Women”) is The Rape of the Sabine Women, an old Roman legend.

Groovy Quotes:

Milly: Don’t you like girls?
Gideon: We ain’t never hardly ever seen one.

Milly: Well, it wouldn’t hurt you to learn some manners, too.
Adam: What do I need manners for? I already got me a wife.

[about Frank]
Caleb: There were no F names in the Bible so Ma named him Frankincense because he smelled so sweet.

Milly: Somehow it just don’t seem fitting for a man to spend his wedding night in a tree.

[teaching the Pontipees how to talk to a lady]
Milly: Say something nice, Gideon.
Gideon: Nice night for a coon hunt.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Brigadoon
  • Anything goes
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6 Comments

  1. i remember this movie as being one of those cute antiquated flicks. one of those ‘romantic as long as you do not think to deep about the whole thing’.

    it’s the same ‘switching your brain off’ mode that makes it possible to enjoy ‘gone by the wind’. it’s a fantasy that was never real (not even at the times those stories were written: i’m pretty certain slaves never liked being slaves, and women never liked being kidnapped) and it should be watched as such: as a fairytale. not as a documentary about the old west.

  2. I get a kick out of this movie and always have, but it’s very “50s MGM,” and that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. That said, some of the most fabulous dancing ever put on film, including that barn-raising number.

  3. I see your ‘Sobbin’ Women’ and raise you ‘I Never Trust a Woman’ from Jupitor’s Darling:

    That said, I still love this movie for the dancing, and for being the movie that sold me on widescreen, as opposed to fullscreen.

  4. @selena, I hope you don’t take my criticisms of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers too seriously. I really did enjoy the heck out of it, I just can’t get over the fact that this movie would never, EVER get made today.

    @Eunice, you absolutely made my night. That was magnificent.

  5. Pingback: Choosing the big day « Hart on My Sleeve

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