Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Movie Review
Director: Stanley Donen
Starring: Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Jeff Richards, Julie Newmeyer, Matt Mattox, Ruta Kilmonis, Marc Platt, Norma Doggett, Jacques d'Amboise, Virginia Gibson, Tommy Rall, Betty Carr, Russ Tamblyn, Nancy Kilgas, Ian Wolfe, Howard Petrie, Marjorie Wood, Russell Simpson
Oscar Wins: Best Music (Musical)
Other Nominations: Best Cinematography (Color), Best Film Editing, Best Screenplay, Best Picture
The first time I ever saw Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was at my grandma’s house. Whenever I’d come over for a sleepover, she’d gather up my favorite Frank Sinatra musicals, namely Anchor’s Aweigh and Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and we’d settle in with pop and cannoli’s (I really lived the high life there). I don’t remember when it was exactly that she introduced me to SBfSB, but as soon as I saw Howard Keel’s breadth and heard the sweet, sultry sounds of his deep baritone voice, I was IN. FREAKING. LOVE.
Now, let’s get one thing straight right off the bat…I freaking love this film – and not just because it stars a big, hairy redhead with a body to boot. Yes, this movie is sexist. Yes, it is basically "Stockholm Syndrome: The Musical!", yes, it deals with abduction, violent behavior and gender bias. But I’m checking all that at the door because SBfSB is also a satire. If you were to really look deep at this storyline, you’d see it’s the women who actually run the show here, which is quite bold considering it came out in the 1950s. You want to hate on a musical for being evil to women and promoting violence? Go watch Carousel and then get back to me.
OK, onward to the bearded men!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a farm must be in want of a wife. As Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) roams the streets of a frontier town in Oregon, he bellows a mating call titled “Bless Your Beautiful Hide”, which will instantly get stuck in your head the first time you hear it. As he literally shops the streets of town for a wife, he spots a “sassy” lady named Milly (Jane Powell), chopping wood and cooking food for the local townsfolk. Game. Set. Match.
Adam sets his sights on wooing Milly, though he needn’t bother – she knows a freaking stud muffin when she sees one.
The two marry and it’s off to the farmstead. However, Milly is shocked to realize there’s more waiting for her there than she thought. Not only does she have a husband to care for, but he also lives with his 6 hot-headed, bad-tempered brothers. Seven redheads in one house…that’s a lot for a little country girl.
But never fear…for Milly is of the thoroughly modern type and soon shows them who’s boss. In a series of enjoyable scenes, Milly begins civilizing the Pontipee brothers, teaching them everything from basic grooming skills to how to woo a woman.
The culmination of Milly’s work comes midway through the movie at a barn raising, which is easily one of the most rousing and insane dance numbers ever filmed. After watching this scene, it should come as no surprise that all the actors portraying the Pontipee brothers were professional dancers and gymnasts, because what happens can only be described as one hell of an acrobatic hoedown.
After wooing the local ladies at the dance, the brothers head home, but are obviously lovesick about losing their womenfolk. Yearning to be with their lady loves, the brothers ask Adam for advice. Alas, Adam has been reading a book about the abduction of the Sabine Women (or, as he says, ‘sobbin’ women’) and tells them they should do as the Romans did and kidnap their girls. Well, you don’t have to tell a group of guys that twice…
Needless to say, the women are kidnapped and brought back to the farm. An avalanche prevents the townsfolk from rescuing them until spring, but the ladies don’t seem to mind. Vowing to remain on their best behavior, the boys make no untoward advances towards their ladies, remaining in the barn on even the coldest of winter nights. The girls remain protected in the house under Milly’s care, that is until spring arrives and love begins to bloom again.
This hand-clapping, foot-stomping country-style musical ends with a series of shotgun weddings, as brothers Adam, Benjamin (Jeff Richards), Caleb (Matt Mattox), Daniel (Marc), Ephraim (Jacques d’Ambroise), Frank (Tommy Rall) and Gideon (Russ Tamblyn) embrace their new brides.
Nominated for Best Picture, Best Writing, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Music (which it won), SBfSB was an instant favorite with audiences the world over. It still appears on lists of the best musicals of all time and has a strong following despite the fact that some of the humor doesn’t quite translate to 2020.
Though originally considered a “B-film” in comparison to Brigadoon, which MGM was producing at the same time, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers actually holds up better than its cousin…and really contains everything I love about these classic Hollywood musicals – catchy showtunes, big, burly men who aren’t afraid to dance and sing, and cheesy happy endings that, maybe ironically, bring a tear to my eye.
Can I mention Howard Keel’s beautiful hide again?