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Warner Home Video presents
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: SE (1954)

"Bless yore beautiful hide,
Wherever you may be,
We ain't met yet, but I'm a-willin' to bet,
You're the gal for me."

- Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: November 03, 2004

Stars: Jane Powell, Howard Keel, Jeff Richards, Tommy Rall, Russ Tamblyn
Other Stars: Marc Platt, Matt Mattox, Jacques d'Amboise, Julie Newmar
Director: Stanley Donen

MPAA Rating: G for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:41m:57s
Release Date: October 12, 2004
UPC: 012569592629
Genre: musical


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+A-A- A

DVD Review

As Bing Crosby remarks in That's Entertainment, "The next time anyone says that dancing is for sissies, remind them of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." And he couldn't be more correct. The muscular frontier musical pioneered a new style of athletic dancing, incorporating elements of gymnastics and ballet, and liberating men from the de rigueur uniform of top hat and tails. Reminiscent of Oklahoma!, but with more bounce and humor, Seven Brides overcame studio disinterest to become one of the all-time classics, and its masterful merging of story and song still enchants audiences today.

Fans of the film have yearned for years to replace MGM's mediocre, non-anamorphic DVD release, and Warner has finally complied, venturing back to the vault and fashioning a sumptuous two-disc special edition that's well worth the double dip. In addition to an all-new anamorphic digital transfer with remastered 5.1 audio, the studio also includes the film's rarely seen alternate widescreen version. That's right, alternate version. Back in 1953 when Seven Brides commenced production, Cinemascope was still a novelty, and just a fraction of theaters were equipped to show movies shot with the super-wide lens. Worried MGM executives thus demanded director Stanley Donen film an alternate version of Seven Brides to ensure the musical could play in any theater and reach the largest possible audience. Such an edict, however, put enormous pressure on Donen, who needed to compose two different shots for every camera setup to accommodate the vastly different aspect ratios (2.55:1 and 1.77:1). Ironically, by the time Seven Brides premiered in 1954, almost every theater in America could project Cinemascope films, and the alternate version was never commercially shown.

Until now. Both editions work well, but the original flaunts more energy and enthusiasm, and the film's western setting and vigorous musical numbers seem better suited to Cinemascope's expansive canvas. The smaller ratio lends the alternate version a more intimate feel, heightening the romance and adding impact to close-ups, yet crowding is a persistent problem. Let's face it, squeezing seven brides and seven brothers into a standard shot ain't easy, and at times the cast visibly struggles to fit into the frame. Still, film buffs will enjoy noting and evaluating the subtle differences between the two versions.

Of course, the story doesn't change. Deep in the Oregon Territory of 1850, frontiersman Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) comes to town in search of a wife to cook, clean house, and help him manage his mountain farm. He scopes the local ladies and settles upon Milly (Jane Powell), whose hearty beef stew, strength of character, and pleasing looks grab his attention. Milly immediately falls in love with the rugged Adam and accepts his businesslike proposal against the advice of the village preacher. The couple marries the very same day and Milly excitedly embarks on her new life. Yet upon arriving at the Pontipee farm, she discovers her cozy honeymoon cottage is little more than a dilapidated shack, and instead of caring for one man, she's saddled with Adam's six brothers as well! Feeling more like hired help than a newlywed, the resentful Milly rolls up her sleeves and makes the best of her predicament, taming her backwoods brothers while struggling to forge a relationship with her stubborn, chauvinistic husband. The brothers, however, soon want brides of their own, and when they choose Adam's barbaric style of courtship over Milly's genteel approach, the townsfolk raise a ruckus and the Pontipee marriage hits the skids.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers begs to be shot on location, with the natural beauty of mountain meadows and jagged peaks framing the actors and songs. If only MGM executives had believed in the project, it could have become The Sound of Music of the American West. Instead, this outdoorsy musical was filmed almost entirely indoors, with painfully obvious painted backdrops and amateurish rear projection work lending the film the worst kind of studio look. Yet the score, dancing, and performances overshadow the chintzy production values and imbue the movie with an exuberance few musicals can match.

A prime example is the virile barn-raising ballet, containing thrilling acrobatics and some of the most macho dance moves ever put on film. Rightfully showcased in That's Entertainment, this exhilarating interlude does more than dazzle the senses; it also advances the plot, fleshes out characters, and provides plenty of period atmosphere. Lonesome Polecat, Bless Yore Beautiful Hide, and June Bride serve similar purposes, and are eminently hummable to boot. Keel's robust baritone and Powell's lilting soprano also compliment such memorable Johnny Mercer/Gene de Paul tunes as When You're in Love, Wonderful, Wonderful Day, the spirited Goin' Courtin', and rousing Sobbin' Women.

The witty screenplay by Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, and Dorothy Kingsley rightly focuses on Adam and Milly's rocky romance, but succeeds in putting individual faces on every bride and brotheróno easy task, but a neat touch that adds texture and depth to the story. Powell and Keel enjoy solid chemistry, and though the brothers (Jeff Richards, Russ Tamblyn, Tommy Rall, Marc Platt, Matt Mattox, and Jacques d'Amboise) grab most of the screen time, two of the blushing brides merit mentionóCatwoman extraordinaire Julie Newmar (billed here as Julie Newmeyer) and, in her film debut, saucer-eyed Ruta Lee (billed as Ruta Kilmonis). Both would soon graduate to more substantial roles, but it's fun to see them sing and dance, as well as shriek, squeal, and dreamily coo over their rugged boyfriends.

Some musicals just get better with age, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is most certainly one of them. MGM may have dismissed Stanley Donen's bold, energetic film, but audiences have embraced it for the past 50 years, and this definitive, double-disc DVD ensures we'll be courtin' this classic for many a moon.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio2.55:1 - Widescreen1.77:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: Although fans welcomed the previous DVD release of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, image quality left a lot to be desired. The non-anamorphic transfer suffered from scores of print defects, a harsh glare, and heavy grain. Thankfully, Warner has rectified those issues with a lush new digital transfer enhanced for widescreen TVs. All the specks, lines, and blotches have been removed, and grain has been softened to a palatable degree. A slightly faded look afflicts the opening sequence, but once Powell and Keel venture into the wilderness, vivid, beautifully saturated colors flood the screen. Unfortunately, higher detail levels make the painted backdrops look faker than ever, but that's a small price to pay for such a lovely rendering of this ever-popular film. Fleshtones lean toward the rosy side and a bit of edge enhancement can be detected, yet these minor gripes never detract from the on-screen action. Across the board, Seven Brides has never looked better, and this new transfer far surpasses its predecessor.

The alternate edition looks great, too, although it's obvious not as much care has been lavished upon it. Grain is a bit more noticeable, and a few more imperfections dot the print, but the transfer possesses good color and more warmth than the wider version.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Once again, Warner improves on the old MGM DVD with a remastered DD 5.1 track filled with rich tones and wonderful fidelity. Though the previous release advertised a 5.1 track, the audio was merely the original three-channel mix spread across five speakers. Warner started from scratch, returning to the original music session masters, dialogue stems, and sound effects stems to create a new mix from the earliest generation elements. The results are outstanding; a more expansive sound field complements the wilderness setting and the music envelops like never before. Vocals sound crisp and vibrant, and even Powell's highest notes resist distortion. Rarely do subwoofers play a part in musicals, but the avalanche sequence offers plenty of rumbling bass, which adds welcome realism to this studio film.

The alternate version features the old mix (the packaging wrongly lists it as mono), and while the track isn't nearly as dynamic, it still does the job. Dialogue is clean and clear, yet the songs suffer by comparison, lacking the presence and depth of the newer track.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 31 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring On the Town, Royal Wedding, Singin' in the Rain, It's Always Fair Weather, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Stanley Donen
Packaging: generic plastic two-disc keepc
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Newsreel footage
  2. Vintage short, MGM Jubilee Overture
Extras Review: If a complete alternate edition of the film isn't enough, Warner has packed this two-disc Seven Brides release with several other interesting supplements. Director Stanley Donen kicks off the extras with a curmudgeonly but entertaining commentary track, relating the film's history and behind-the-scenes anecdotes in a blunt, tell-it-like-it-is style. He starts by admitting, "The worst fight I ever had was to get the picture made in the way it finally was." Donen addresses the rumor that Howard Keel sought to have him replaced before filming began, and throws some harsh words toward producer Jack Cummings, who envisioned Seven Brides as a B musical and wanted to use old songs like Turkey in the Straw instead of an original score. According to Donen, shooting two versions proved "an enormous undertaking," and the additional costs prevented the company from filming on location. Painted mountain backdrops were used instead, and, in addition to lending the movie a "phony look," so confused the birds on the set, they repeatedly crashed into the scenery! Despite lengthy gaps, it's fun to hear Donen fling barbs at various targets; unfortunately, he runs out of things to say about two-thirds of the way through, and resorts to chiming in with dialogue or singing along with various songs to fill out the track.

Also on Disc 1, the Stanley Donen Trailer Gallery offers eight marvelously preserved previews for such great musicals as On the Town, Singin' in the Rain, Royal Wedding, the underrated It's Always Fair Weather, The Pajama Game, and Damn Yankees.

Disc 2 houses the film's alternate widescreen version, as well as the breezy documentary, Sobbin' Women: The Making of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. A holdover from the previous DVD release, this 42-minute film chronicles the musical's production history and features interviews with many cast members. Host Howard Keel calls Seven Brides "one of my happiest film experiences at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer," while co-star Jane Powell discusses her spunky pioneer character, and notes that Seven Brides contains "a great deal of humanity, which is unusual for a musical." Tommy Rall remembers the practical jokes and camaraderie among the brothers, and "brides" Virginia Gibson, Julie Newmar, and Ruta Lee talk about, among other things, the tight corsets they squeezed into every day. Choreographer Michael Kidd examines the dancing, and how he demanded it spring naturally from the plot, so audiences could better accept the rough-and-ready backwoodsmen leaping and twirling. Segments on producer Jack Cummings, songwriters Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul, and the MGM music department enhance this thorough and engaging documentary.

A pair of two-minute newsreels follow, the first of which shows a parade of horse-drawn carriages trotting toward Radio City Music Hall for the film's 1954 premiere. Contemporary overdubbed comments from Keel, Donen, and Powell add some substance to the drab footage, which features no recognizable personalities, and has little to do with the film. The second newsreel gives viewers a peek at MGM's 30th anniversary celebration, with such stars as Jane Powell, Ann Miller, Cyd Charisse, Walter Pidgeon, Keenan Wynn, and Pier Angeli surrounding a decorative cake. Greer Garson and a brunette Lana Turner light the candles, while studio chief Dore Schary accepts a few congratulatory handshakes. Overdubbed reminiscences from Powell and Miller on their tenure at MGM enhance the brief clip.

A vintage short, MGM Jubilee Overture, completes the extras package, and allows conductor Johnny Green and his MGM Studio Orchestra to perform a medley of 11 famous songs from three decades of Metro films in brilliant Technicolor and Cinemascope. Such standards as Singin' in the Rain, I've Got You Under My Skin, Broadway Rhythm, Temptation, The Trolley Song, and Over the Rainbow are included.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Bless yore beautiful hide! Like a breath of fresh mountain air, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers continues to invigorate audiences 50 years after its initial release. One of MGM's most popular musicals gets a welcome makeover, and the special edition content makes upgrading a must. A spanking new transfer, remastered audio, an alternate version of the film, and extras galore add luster to this tuneful, all-American treasure. Highly recommended.

 


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