Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (MGM) is a lighthearted musical version of The Rape of the Sabine Women. It is also the liltingest bit of tunesome lollygagging to hit the screen since the same studio brought forth An American in Paris (1951).
The movie Rape, fairly mild compared to Plutarch's version, is based on a short story by Stephen Vincent Benet. Accordingly, the deed is done in Oregon's backwoods rather than in Rome's front yardand in truth it is not even done.
The seven brothers of the title are the seven redheaded Pontipee boysAdam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank and Gideonwho live all alone in their potato patch and wish they didn't. When Adam (Howard Keel), the eldest, gets himself a wife (Jane Powell) by singing one of those rare ballads (When You're in Love) with love in the music as well as in the words, the other brothers celebrate their single cussedness by yowling a funeral Lament (for a lonesome polecat) that should fracture even the toughest audience.
It just breaks big brother's heart, anyway, to hear them carry on so. But what's to do? He grubs in Plutarch's Livesone of the two books in the house, in which his wife has been teaching him to readfor a helpful hint, and finds the story of the Sabine women.
In the dead of a bright white winter's night, the hot young sparks fly off to town to steal some girls of tinder age. Six screams later, their sleigh is racing back to the farm with a baggage of "Sobbin' Women" aboard and a tumult of raging fathers behind. The brothers shout down an avalanche of snow behind them, blocking pursuit until spring, and barrel away home to a long winter's courtship.
The whole picture is a happy surprise. The songs (words by Johnny Mercer, music by Gene de Paul) are fresh; the dances (staged by Michael Kidd) are wonderfully prancy; the screenplay (by Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich and Dorothy Kingsley) is fairly funny without taking itself too seriously. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) does a fine kind of under-direction that leaves the picture looking as though it just happened. Even the Ansco color often tastefully fits the mood of the wide-screen scene.
With all this to live up to, the players live it up with a will. Howard Keel has never sung better, and Jane Powell is a properly pretty operetta type. But the chorus line is the real star of the show: the six brothers and their six brides-to-be.
Having twelve handsome young people all athletically in love at once is a little like staging a mixed tandem-wrestle, and the audience works up almost as ruddy a glow as the participants.
The Unconquered (Albert Margolies).