Thursday, February 9, 2023

Musical Watch: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

the movie that posits: women love being abducted and held against their will

Watched:  02/07/2022
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  First (and possibly last)
Director:  Stanley Donen

Holy cats, y'all.

I...  I don't even know where to start.  There's so, so many angles to this thing, so I'll try and capture my thoughts as best I can.  

I want to be very clear - Until this film, I (perhaps wrongly) believed I'm *pretty good* at contextualizing the cultural differences between our social norms and mores and those of yesteryear.  I may even be able to do period-piece stuff made in prior decades, trying to grok what the people of 1954 found charming about frontier life.  

In general, I can see a film and say "yes, I understand that there were ways that we viewed gender/ race/ manners/ religion/ etc..  that no longer reflect how we'd likely feel now" and I can go on with my life.

But.  Y'all.  I am adrift.  

My take-away is that the current interest in this film by classic film buffs is rubber-necking, ironic appreciation, or just outright hate-watching.  Or not!  Classic film buffs are an unruly bunch.  In its release year, this movie was very successful, financially and critically.  So I don't know anything about mankind anymore.

I've now seen the movie, and will only watch it again if it's my opportunity to bring the madness to the people.  

Some thoughts:
  • This is a movie which endorses kidnapping at best and possibly abduction and rape, depending on your reading of both the film's text and the much referred/ basis of the film to Abduction/ Rape of the Sabine Women - a well known bit of Roman mythology/ history that this movie turns into a jaunty tune to set up all the events of the second half of the film
  • It's clearly also somewhere between a movie about the powers of Stockholm Syndrome and the successful establishment of a cult
  • This movie is the future incels want.  It's a movie about men minus women who feel they *deserve* women and take radical action
  • Every single character in this movie is an absolute moron
  • This movie needed to end in a body count - there's no other believable finish
  • The movie is a musical with zero memorable songs except for the one where you're like "Are they.... singing about mass rape?" Johnny Mercer, I believe was responsible, and that seems insane
  • The main character (Howard Keel) is maybe the greatest asshole to ever grace the screen.  It's breathtaking.  Just a real shitbag from his first line to his last. When he's not insisting himself upon women, he's treating his new wife as domestic help.  And he's the one who thinks "hey, let's just go raid a town and collect its women for our own personal gratification."  He's an absolute psychopath.
  • The movie has this same lead state "all women are basically the same" and therefore fungible.  The movie never puts the lie to this idea.  So, good news, ladyfolk.  One of you is swappable for the other, really.  It's just a matter of hair color preference. 
  • There's a dance number that's really pretty rock solid in the middle
  • Someone tell me what the brothers are farming up there on the sides of mountains.  Somebody.  Anybody.  Rocks?  branches?  
  • Julie Newmar is in this movie, she's a head taller than all the other women and she clearly complicates every shot she's in.  But she's Julie @#$%ing Newmar, so you keep her in the @#$%ing movie
  • I cannot imagine the smells in the house of the brothers.  Like - simply can't wrap my head around it
  • Russ Tamblyn's career is fucking wild, man
Up until watching this movie, I thought it was about the mail-order-bride shenanigans of the 19th century, where, 160 years before 90 Day Fiancee, lonely-hearts on the frontier would correspond to women in the East, and those women would (sometimes) come out and marry them.*  This isn't the plot at all.

Instead, Howard Keel is a mountain man/ rock farmer in 19th Century Oregon (which was semi-settled as an all-White colony at one point, and this movie does not challenge that idea).  He comes down to town once a year to buy goods for his farm, and this time he also wants a wife.  And, after 5 minutes of looking, he finds one in Jane Powell.  Without mentioning he's bringing her to live by herself with his six brothers and basically be the maid.  Who he will pork, I guess.  It's very sophisticated.

Because she has an American can-do spirit, she actually goes along with this instead of getting right back in the wagon and going back.  

Inspired that their brother is now getting laid, the other 6 brothers go to a barn-raising/ hoe-down, dance, and basically harass girls and fight with the locals like the worst hillbillies to ever fall out of a tree.  Convinced they'll not be allowed to court the girls, the brothers then sneak into town, throw the girls in bags and ride off with them (no, really), intentionally blocking themselves into their own farm for winter by causing a deadly avalanche when the parents, siblings and townsfolk try to save the girls.  Who are in bags.

By the way, I have no idea how anyone eats anymore within two months of the girls' arrival, but worrying about "how will people eat if we double the population of our compound?" is not an issue in this movie and because the journey for the girls is to eventually fall in love with their captors is more important, we never learn what the bathroom situation is.  I had a lot of logistical questions.  

After months of assuming their children had been held like a bunch of Kimmy Schmidts for months on end, when the pass clears and the town-folk make their way to the farm, the girls all lie about being pregnant so they can get married to their favorite toothless hillbilly. Because brainwashing or something.  The movie makes no effort to explain that the brothers somehow de-asshole-ify.  We just see them wandering around in colorful shirts.

And, curtain.

People loved this movie.  It has awards.  It did boffo box office.  

I feel like you have to have the mind of a small child who can't conceive of bad things happening to good people to not be mostly horrified by the entire film. 

If anyone can tell me how this isn't a Blumhouse creation, I'd appreciate it.

*it was a profitable scam then and now as women would ask for money and then just stop corresponding when the money quit showing up. 

No comments: