Monday, February 19, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Brigadoon (1954) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Last night I pulled out an old favorite, BRIGADOON (1954), from the review stack. I'm thrilled to say the movie has never looked better than it does on the Warner Archive Blu-ray, released last fall.

Though I'm just now reviewing the BRIGADOON Blu-ray, it's not for lack of interest. BRIGADOON has been a favorite of mine since I first fell in love with MGM musicals as a pre-teenager. Though some critics find fault with it, particularly the set design, it's always been special to me, and it continues to be so to this day.

The movie is a filming of the 1947-48 Lerner and Loewe Broadway production; the film was produced by Arthur Freed and directed by Vincente Minnelli.

Two Americans, Tommy (Gene Kelly) and Jeff (Van Johnson), become lost during a hunting trip in Scotland and stumble across an odd little village, Brigadoon, which isn't on their map. Tommy quickly falls in love with beautiful Fiona (Cyd Charisse), while the more cynical Jeff takes in the strange goings-on in the town with a jaundiced eye.

Brigadoon seems strangely lost in an older time, and when Tommy sees some confusing dates in Fiona's family Bible, she takes him to the village schoolmaster, Mr. Lundie (Barry Jones) for an explanation. It's a long story which boils down to a miracle: The people of Brigadoon are essentially still living in the 1700s, with the village appearing for just one day every century. An outsider can remain in the village if he loves someone enough...and so Tommy has a big decision to make.

The criticism one hears most often of this movie is that it wasn't filmed on location in Scotland or elsewhere. I love great location filming -- after all, THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) is one of my favorite movies -- but Brigadoon's look has honestly never bothered me. The extensive sets filmed in widescreen make it come across just a bit like a filmed stage play, especially as groups are often emphasized over close-ups; that said, the storybook look creates an otherworldly environment which works for me in the context of this film. (Incidentally, the film was Oscar nominated for Best Art Direction and Set Decoration.)

I simply love getting lost in the story, the gorgeous music, and the film's look. The Blu-ray is truly beautiful, bringing out the best in the film's fairly plain Ansco Color; Cyd Charisse's orange underskirt and yellow shawl, and later her red dress and green shawl -- matching Kelly's green shirt -- are the best they've ever looked.

The one aspect which might not have completely held up for me over the years is Kelly's performance; he's supposed to be a cynical American, though not as far gone as Johnson's character, but the character I saw as wildly romantic when I was a teenager now seems just a little too slick. This aspect of his performance does soften as the film goes on and Fiona and Brigadoon win Tommy's heart; and in great moments like "The Heather on the Hill" dance with Charisse, any uncertainty about him is forgiven. I also really like Kelly's performance of "Almost Like Being in Love."

I'm a big fan of Cyd Charisse and she's simply lovely in this; in addition to her spot-on performance and gorgeous dancing, she's perfectly dubbed by Carol Richards, who would provide Charisse's singing voice in three additional MGM musicals.

Jimmy Thompson and Virginia Bosler are nicely cast as Fiona's sister and her fiance, who are front and center during the film's extended wedding sequence late in the movie. BRIGADOON comes most strongly alive during this section of the film, from the "Gathering of the Clans" through the "Wedding Dance." The choreography, Conrad Salinger's orchestrations, Irene Sharaff's Oscar-nominated costuming, and Joseph Ruttenberg's best camera work in the movie, fully utilizing the CinemaScope screen, combine for a thrilling experience. The high-stepping Scottish dancers in their colorful tartans never fail to give me goosebumps.

Outstanding extras carried over from the original DVD release include three deleted musical numbers, one audio outtake, and the trailer. During this viewing I took the time to pause the movie and watch the deleted songs where they would have fit in the movie, which really added to my experience. The finished film isn't particularly long at 108 minutes, and I regret that all of these numbers were cut, especially the lilting "Come to Me, Bend to Me," sung by John Gustafson, dubbing Jimmy Thompson. The scene where Thompson sings the song to his bride-to-be, Bosler, is touching.

Rather than chapter selections, the disc features a song selection option, a feature I appreciate very much.

The supporting cast includes Albert Sharpe, Hugh Laing, Tudor Owen, Dee Turnell, Dodie Heath, Eddie Quillan, Madge Blake, and in one scene near the end of the film, gorgeous Elaine Stewart.

The Warner Archive BRIGADOON Blu-ray is a must for fans of musicals in general and BRIGADOON in particular.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger barrylane said...

I thought Van gave the most compelling and dominant performance, delivering a message on behalf of the rational man, whisky soaked or not. I have made this observation on other sites, but Brigadoon is about embracing death. It is not just falling in love with the past, but a past that does not now, nor has it ever existed. About the location filming. I knew Cyd pretty well and she is on record having hoped to shoot in Scotland, but an outdoor musical shot in treacherous weather, and as much as I personally love the place, especially the area surround Edinburg, it would not have been a sound decision. And in any case, the fantasy could be, should be, heightened, by the studios' expert artificiality. As for Gene, I don't like his work in this, or anything else much, but give a nod to American In Paris and Singing In The rain.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Van Johnson is tops in this movie, and Cyd is, of course, lovely. I really don't think shooting in Scotland would have enhanced this movie. It's a fairy tale, it's not supposed to be realistic. It's not WEST SIDE STORY or FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, or even THE SOUND OF MUSIC where the location is a character in the play. Brigadoon is not be found on any map, that's the point.

4:35 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I like Van Johnson in this a lot, Barrylane and Jacqueline, although I guess he gets short shrift from me because what I focus on most is the music and dancing! Fun to see him have a chance to do a bit of dancing in "Bonnie Jean."

I love Scotland as well -- and can imagine it could be a difficult place to film depending on the weather. I agree with both of you that this is a fantasy/fairy tale -- and so MGM's creative sets fit it just fine.

Thank you each for taking the time to share your thoughts on the movie!

Best wishes,

10:05 AM  
Blogger SimpleGifts said...

Oh, my!! This movie always disappointed me because it did not include the song "Come to Me, Bend to Me." What a surprise to learn it was filmed but deleted in the final cut. Can't wait to see it in this new DVD release. Our close friend sang a breathtaking rendition of this song in his beautiful tenor voice at our wedding. Thank you, Laura! -- Jane

10:13 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jane, how fabulous that was sung at your wedding! The spot where the song belongs in the movie is really obvious -- and I highly recommend you do what I did on this viewing and take a little break, head straight for the extras and watch the outtake at the point in the movie where it belongs. The scene is absolutely lovely! Then resume the movie where you left off. It's much better this way!

Best wishes,

10:19 AM  

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