View Full Version : Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

10-21-2004, 12:39 AM
Originally planned as “The Sobbin Women,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” was MGM’s first Cinemascope release. More than 90% shot on a backlot, Stanley Donen was handed a shoestring budget and few resources to make what he refers to as a ‘B’ picture. What he and Producer Jack Cummings created has been one of the most beloved and most frequently requested of all the MGM musicals from the 1950's. The choreography by Michael Kidd alone is worth watching. What is amazing is that Kidd almost turned the project down. When he was finally convinced, he told Donen he would only stage the musical numbers. “There are to be no dance numbers in the movie,” Kidd told Donen adamantly.

Much to Kidd’s surprise, on the first day of production meetings, he was introduced as the man who would stage all the dance numbers. He felt betrayed. He hated the idea of a ‘bunch of back woodsmen’ dancing around like a bunch of fairies. On an empty sound stage, Kidd had the propsmen bring a truckload of lumber to the set. After a few hours of work, he had choreographed all the numbers to the now famous “barn raising” scene that is repeated on television and in retrospectives time and again. After three weeks of rehearsal, the sequence was shot piecemeal in three days. To the horror of the director and studio executives, the cast did their own stunts, jumping in the air over boards that were held up with little more than wooden saw horses. Between takes, cast members dared each other to do even more outlandish stunts until Stanley Donen begged them to stop fearing a shut down if one of them was hurt.

All of this and more is revealed on the new double disc DVD released from Warner Home Video. The documentary about the film is the best part of the package. Unfortunately, the Cinemascope version on disc one is just simply awful to look at. The colors are faded and the entire film looks like it was photographed through a silk stocking (what they used to call “gauzing” effects to create a soft picture). Every shot looks faded and fuzzy. Even the documentary footage in Cinemascope looks better than the so-called final print on disc one.

Disc two is a great surprise. The film was shot in two aspect ratios out of fear that not enough theaters were equipped to show the scope version. So a second version, done in straight 35mm (approx. 1.85 to 1) was dragged out, dusted off, and reproduced for this release only. While the films are nearly identical, there are distinct differences between the films that make it very interesting to watch, especially how Donen had to be creative in his camera shots and staging. The colors here are much more saturated and the image clearer.

Both Donan and the actors express disappointment regarding the overall look and quality of the film, siting budget cuts and use of existing sets. One scene looks so bad with an obvious painted backdrop, that even Jane Powell was complaining how poor it looked. Donen pointed out some of the goofs not previously mentioned by film buffs. For example, he wanted to release birds during one of Powell’s song. The birds got confused and actually flew into the backdrop (it shows it highlighted). Another amusing story is the one about how the censor didn't care for the song about men and sheep ("there are too many jokes about men and sheep in the film")

What bothers me about this release is that if Warner Brothers is going to take the time to make a special edition two-disc release of something, they should at least make the print viewable. I would only recommend this set if you were a musical film buff and absolutely loved this film. Otherwise, don’t bother.