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Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

When you’re a lonesome polecat, there’s no telling what you’ll do to find love. If you’re one of the seven redheaded Pontipee brothers living in the backwoods of the Oregon Territory, you might even resort to kidnapping. That’s the premise of this high-spirited musical, inspired by a Stephen Vincent Benét story.

It would be easy to get lost in a film featuring 14 major roles, particularly with Howard Keel and Jane Powell, two of MGM’s best musical performers, as the leads. But one highlight is Russ Tamblyn—who turned 20 during production—as the youngest brother, Gideon. MGM cast its contract players alongside professional dancers like Tommy Rall and Jacques d’Amboise, who might have been expected to carry the bulk of Michael Kidd’s athletic choreography. But Tamblyn’s experience as both a dancer and a gymnast led to his being given a standout moment in the film’s big “Barn Dance” number, while his acting skills delivered some of the film’s most memorable scenes.

MGM’s executives considered Seven Brides for Seven Brothers one of their lesser productions, focusing all their energies and money on that year’s screen version of Brigadoon. Most of the film’s exteriors had to be shot on the lot with painted backdrops rather than on location. At least they let them shoot in CinemaScope, which made it easier to get all 14 characters in a shot at once. Then the executives saw it, and there was no denying the fine work Kidd, director Stanley Donen, and the cast had done. Suddenly, Brigadoon was pulled from its scheduled premiere at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, with Seven Brides given that prestigious spot instead. It went on to become a major hit and Best Picture nominee that boosted Tamblyn’s standing at the studio as a multitalented star.

d. Stanley Donen, 102 minutes, DCP

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Classics