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Sunday, January 17, 2016

BRIGADOON (1953)

Achingly romantic & emotional on stage (logic obliterating, too); flatfooted & dunderheaded on screen. Lerner & Loewe’s musical fable about a Scottish village that rises but one day every hundred years, the two American hunters who stumble upon it, and the complications of love probably plays better inside a listener’s head than in front of his eyes.* That said, the film’s oft derided sound stage exteriors are much improved by a color-corrected 2005 DVD release boasting huge dioramas the Museum of Natural History would kill for; curated realism which ought to work neatly in an ‘integrated’ musical. (Think OLIVER!/’68 rather than SOUND OF MUSIC/’65.) But everything feels false rather than heightened. Gene Kelly, in a role meant for a singer, loses his two big ballads ( FROM THIS DAY ON, THERE BUT FOR YOU GO I, you can hear the unhappy results in the disc’s EXTRAs) and has to camouflage the numbers that remain with a soft shoe routine & a generic pas de deux. As the local lass he falls for, Cyd Charisse is at least a fine replacement for unavailable RED SHOES’ star Moira Shearer. And, in a happy surprise, Van Johnson is just right as Kelly’s alcoholic BFF. (In the play, Johnson’s character neither sings nor dances, so you know he’d never fit in. The film can’t resist giving him a buck & wing routine with Kelly & the townsmen. Fun, but all wrong dramatically.) And what of director Vincente Minnelli’s first encounter with CinemaScope? Longer takes and fewer close-ups (CinemaScope gave some actors ‘the mumps’), but he gets it together with three strong set pieces toward the end: the arrival of the Clans for a wedding; a big chase to stop a Brigadoon runaway, and a gorgeous human tidal wave of nighttime NYC restaurant schmoozing. (Forget the Scottish tartans, dig those 21 CLUB tablecloths!)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *Probably the best way to experience BRIGADOON is in John McGlinn’s superb studio recording of the complete score. Real theatrical air and an unbeatable cast of B’way singing actors, plus a fabulous ‘Irish’ tenor in Brit John Mark Ainsley.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Think about BRIGADOON for more than a minute and you start to wonder what happens if someone has to pee in the middle of a hundred year night.

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