Gene and Cyd miraculously meet in... Brigadoon (1954)

If you asked me to name my top twenty list of the most romantic films I've seen, I could say a few of them right off the bat: Notorious, An Affair to Remember, The Thin Man (seriously!), Love Letters, Casablanca... and Brigadoon. I have a feeling most of you would disagree with me on that last one. Poor Brigadoon is used to it -- the film has been battered around ever since it was first released in 1954. Actually, Brigadoon's troubles began from the very start of production.


It began as a Broadway musical that debuted in 1947, but the film rights weren't snatched up until 1951 by MGM. Gene Kelly was almost immediately cast, as was Kathryn Grayson. Shooting couldn't commence until Kelly completed other commitments, so over the next few years, more actors were considered for parts, such as David Wayne, Alec Guinness, and Donald O'Connor. When Kathryn Grayson was taken out of the cast, there was talk of Moira Shearer replacing her, which would have been fabulous. Shearer could've played the part of Fiona in her sleep, with her gorgeous balletic moves, her flaming red hair, and her lovely Scottish accent. (She even had a daughter named Fiona!) The world deserved some Shearer-Gene Kelly duets! Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be and Cyd Charisse was ultimately given the role. I adore Cyd, I really do, but the fact that Brigadoon almost had Moira Shearer saddens me to no end.

Anyway, with the cast finalized in 1953 and Kelly's schedule clear, the battles began. First of all, by this time, musicals were slowly falling out of favor. To make matters worse, MGM was in a bit of turmoil when long-time studio head L.B. Mayer got pushed out and was replaced by Dore Schary, a man who favored cutting costs over artistic vision. Director Vincente Minnelli and Kelly were all for shooting the film in Scotland, but Schary was completely against it. As a compromise, Minnelli and Kelly settled for some highlands in Big Sur in California, but the studio nixed that idea as well. Everything had to be filmed on the lot, which a lot of people count as one of the movie's hindrances.

To me, though, Brigadoon is a shining example of the craftmanship of old Hollywood. Good golly, just look at the backdrops that were painted, not to mention the softly blowing wind, the meticulously decorated landscapes, and the construction of the village of Brigadoon. Can you tell that it's all on a soundstage? I have to say yes. However, Minnelli honestly tried his hardest to create this fairy tale of a location and we have to give him credit for that. I would even go so far as to say that the fact that you can tell Brigadoon isn't real adds to the fantasy of it. You literally can't go there. You can't wander the streets like you could in San Francisco after seeing Vertigo; you can't sit at the fountain in the center of town like I did at Place de la Concorde because of An American in Paris.

While I can see the bright side of the situation, Gene Kelly couldn't. Reportedly he was annoyed and frustrated all through production. Having become a director himself (I think there had been some movie about rain...?), and knowing how much control Kelly liked to exert on his sets, I'm sure the loss over the location shooting didn't make the actor very happy -- after all, he was one of the people who pushed for shooting scenes in New York for On the Town. I've heard some say that you can tell on the screen how disillusioned with the film Gene became, but I just don't see it. Actually, his acting is part of the reason why I would claim this as a supremely romantic film. The way he looks at and embraces Cyd Charisse is seriously sensual stuff. You know what? Let's finally dig into the movie so you can see what I mean!

We're taken across Scottish highlands until we settle upon a cobblestone bridge over a flowing stream. A choir begins to sing of the magical town of Brigadoon as sunshine slowly banishes the mist. The villagers begin to wake up and soon the whole place is filled with people busily going to work and joyously
singing. Meanwhile, lost in the highlands are Americans Tommy Albright and (Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Van Johnson), two men who got away from New York to hunt in Scotland. This scene tells us everything we need to know about these guys -- Tommy is engaged, but he's not sure he can
bring himself to follow through with the wedding. Jeff, on the other hand, is single, cynical, and refuses to believe in anything that he can't see, touch, hear, etc. He's also a little too quick to try and shoot anything, and he may be a wee bit of an alcoholic. Both men are somewhat restless with their lives, but they don't have time to discuss all that when they see a village down below. Weirdly, it's not on their map... You can see the first three minutes here.

At a cottage, Jeannie Campbell is eagerly looking out of the window to catch a glimpse of Charlie, the man she is going to marry that night. Her sister Fiona (Charisse) pulls her away from the window and along with their other sisters, they prepare for the wedding. The girls ask Fiona when she will get
married, leading her into "Waitin' for My Dearie." Charisse never did use her own singing voice (supposedly her choice), so she is dubbed by Carol Richards here. Nobody could substitute for her dancing, though! This number reminds me of "June Bride" from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,
except they aren't doing ballet in bloomers and corsets. Instead, one of the sisters dresses up as a man and "flirts" with Fiona. It's either creepy or playful, I'll let you decide. Regardless, the song establishes Fiona as Tommy's partner before they have even met. They are waiting for that one great love and neither is sure they are going to find it.

In the town square, Fiona is buying her father's waistcoat for the wedding and talks with Archie Beaton. Jeannie had chosen Charlie over his son Harry and the poor lad still hasn't gotten over it. Fiona's father arrives and has everyone gather as he puts up a map of the town boundaries, reminding the townspeople that no one can leave Brigadoon or "night shall fall upon us forever." That's not odd at all. Looking at the map forlornly, Harry sighs to Fiona that Charlie has everything -- university schooling, Jeannie -- while he has nothing. Now he is stuck in Brigadoon forever. Harry is basically this film's wet blanket, but you do feel sorry for him.

Tommy and Jeff make their way into the town, but they have a hard time finding out any information because everyone they talk to runs away, until Fiona comes along. She happily tells them they're in Brigadoon and directs them to the square for food. She and Tommy are instantly struck by one another, but Jeff
drags his friend away. As they enter the hub of the town, they once again meet stony silence and wide-eyed stares. When Tommy tries to buy some milk, the shilling he offers confuses the vendor and he is refused service. Luckily, Charlie comes by and offers to buy the strangers breakfast since it's his
wedding day and he's feeling generous, so generous that he buys all of the men mugs of heather ale. In his toast, Charlie thanks a Mr. Forsythe for "the miracle" before launching into "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean." This song is a total earworm for me. The Scotsmen do a little traditional Scottish jig, but when
Jeff and Tommy break into some good ol' American tap dancing, the group is dumbfounded and eagerly watch. I love the pairing of Gene Kelly and Van Johnson so much, and their dance here is simple but fun. Kelly and Johnson had known each for years, actually. When Kelly had his breakout role in 1940
as the titular Pal Joey on Broadway, Johnson was in the chorus (along with Stanley Donen). I think people often forget that Johnson could dance. He wasn't asked to do it very often in the movies; I didn't even know he could until I saw his fabulous episode of I Love Lucy. You can see a clip here.

Back to the film! At the Campbell cottage, Jeannie asks Fiona if she has heard about the strangers. With a dreamy look on her face, Fiona is able to describe Tommy but struggles to remember what Jeff looks like (as a lover of everything Van Johnson, I'm offended). Wanting to get her own glimpse of the men, Jeannie says she'll pick up the bread they need, but Fiona orders her to stay home, claiming that Charlie can't see his bride just yet. We all know the truth here, Fi.

During Jeff's favorite pastime of sitting and drinking, he is interrupted by a young woman who immediately starts clinging to him. "Oh, you're a winning lad! A right winning lad!" she gushes. "You've noticed that, have you?" Jeff replies. She quickly follows that up with "Are you married?" Jeff shuts her down:
"Never touch the stuff." When she suddenly kisses him and starts talking about how the town is lacking in single men, Jeff's pretty freaked out. This woman is supposed to be Meg Brockie, a character from the stage musical who performed two songs. Here, though, I don't think we're even given her name. It's unfortunate that she isn't made into a more 3-D character, because without that, she just seems like a scary, marriage-crazed stereotype. She might be my least favorite part of the film.

Elsewhere in the village, Tommy and Fiona meet again and he walks with her to the breadmaker. He remarks that it's "refreshing" to see her family and Charlie so excited about the marriage, something that he admits he has never really felt concerning his own love life. After visiting the breadmaker, Tommy
accompanies Fiona in gathering heather for wedding decorations and mentions that he was glad when he realized that it was her sister getting married and not her, seguing into "The Heather on the Hill." The dancing is just sublime, with the film's choreography done by Gene Kelly. There are leg extensions, twirls,
and sweeping movements that carry the viewer into the romance of the moment. Kelly often holds Charisse's body to his, creating a tension between the characters as they frequently get close enough to kiss and then break away from one another. By the end, instead of sharing an embrace, Fiona offers Tommy a piece of heather and they hold hands as they look out over the highlands. Love it.




As a counterpoint to this, Meg has dragged Jeff to her cottage and shows him a spot where he can take a nap. As she blabbers on about how her parents met, Jeff becomes annoyed and tells her to go away, leading her to declare that she assumed he was going to propose to her. You see what I mean by "marriage-
crazed"? The audience can’t help but side with Jeff as he looks at her in amazement. As soon as he sneaks away from her, that’s the last we see of Meg.

Back on the hill, Fiona and Tommy are happily running around and collecting heather. However, when Tommy says he
sees more heather beyond the bridge, Fiona becomes frightened. Tommy finally starts to ask her questions about Brigadoon, such as what Charlie meant when he mentioned "the miracle," but Fiona refuses to answer and runs away. Tommy goes after her, but he winds up tumbling down the hill and bumping into Jeff. Unsurprisingly, Jeff is all ready to leave Brigadoon while Tommy too dazzled by Fiona. "Almost Like Being in Love" is Gene Kelly’s only solo in the film, and while it doesn’t rank as one of his best, it’s still freaking Gene Kelly.

The guys walk to the Campbell cottage as Tommy tries to convince Jeff that they should stick around a while. He then finds the family bible open on the table outside where Charlie had left it after signing it earlier as part of the family’s tradition before a marriage. Reading the dates and names, Tommy
notices that Charlie dated his marriage to Jeannie as occurring in 1754. Confused, Tommy knocks on the door and wants Fiona to finally explain what’s going on. She takes him to the schoolmaster, Mr. Lundie, for the story behind Brigadoon.

After introductions, Mr. Lundie has them sit down and says that 200 years ago, the highlands were overcome by witches, “horrible, destructive women. I don’t suppose you have such women in your country?” “Oh, we have them,” Jeff replies. “We just pronounce it differently.” Ha! Anyway, Lundie goes on to explain that the village priest, Mr. Forsythe, knew that the witches would soon be coming to Brigadoon so to save his town, he asked God for a miracle that would make Brigadoon vanish into the mist. However, the town would return as it was for one day every 100 years; when the people go to sleep, they wake up the next day to find it is 100 years later. (It’s a nutty story, but just go with it.) If one of the villagers left Brigadoon, the spell would be broken for everyone and the place would disappear forever. If a stranger wanted to stay, though, they would have to love one of the villagers so much that they would be willing to give up everything to be with that person. Foreshadowing!

Later, after dusk, the wedding ceremony finally commences. I’m not totally sure how accurate the whole ceremony is to real Scottish customs, but it’s certainly interesting. Once Charlie and Jeannie are pronounced man and wife, the celebrations begin with plenty of dancing. Disrupting the mood is Harry,
who grabs Jeannie and has to be pulled off by Charlie. Every time I watch this film, I find myself sympathizing with Harry more and more. Heartbroken, he looks at Jeannie and says “All I’ve done is want you too much.” Unwilling to be stuck in Brigadoon for eternity, he makes a run for the town boundaries,
causing a great chase sequence as the men search for the elusive and wild Harry. The lighting in this scene is wonderful and the music helps to build the suspense over how successful Harry will be. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes when Jeff appears. Tipsy and attempting to hunt grouse, Jeff stumbles into the chase. Taking aim at a bird that suddenly flies into the air, Jeff shoots and accidentally kills Harry instead. The men find his body and think that he died from hitting his head on a rock. Poor Harry.

As the men go back home, Fiona and Tommy search for one another and both wind up at the now-empty grounds where the wedding had taken place. Fiona admits she thought he left, but he says he couldn't have done that without telling her goodbye. Unable to stand it anymore, they rush into each other's arms and do a reprise of "Heather on the Hill." It's definitely a continuation of their previous dance, but this time it's become more sensuous as the couple swirls around the ruins of a building in the darkness of nightfall. Rather than end the moment with chaste hand-holding, Tommy and Fiona share a passionate kiss. Realizing that he can't leave her, Tommy goes to find Mr. Lundie.

At the square, Jeff is sitting and drinking all by himself. Tommy comes across him and breaks the news that he is staying: "I feel more a part of her and all this than I ever felt about Jane [his fiancée] or anybody or anything back home. ... I belong here, I know it!" Jeff has had enough of this town and reveals
in a fit of anger that he killed Harry. Tommy tries to comfort him, but Jeff would rather tell his friend that he belongs in New York, not in this weird fairy tale. It's enough to make Tommy start doubting if he can really give up everything for Brigadoon. When he admits this to Fiona and Mr. Lundie, she
is crushed, but she understands. As the mist starts creeping in, the couple kiss one last time and Tommy slowly turns his back on the town and walks away with a look of anguish on his face, all while Fiona's cries of "I love you" echo behind him.

Jumping ahead four months, we're taken to a cramped New York bar where Jeff is waiting for Tommy. What happened with Harry is clearly still haunting Jeff as his dialogue with the bartender reveals that he's been perpetually drunk ever since he returned. He also seems more
disillusioned than ever, if that's even possible for the cynic. When Tommy arrives, we see that he's not much better off. He admits that he has been dodging Jane for the past month because he is still in love with Fiona and because he can't have Fiona, he doesn't want to have anyone. On top of that, Tommy can
barely focus on anything. One word is enough to remind him of something from Brigadoon, causing him to tune out conversations and forget things. We see this in action when Jane comes. Sitting at their table, Jane babbles on about all sorts of things, but Tommy starts daydreaming as words like "hill" and "waiting" make him hear "Heather on the Hill" and "Waitin' for My Dearie" in his head. Frustrated, Tommy breaks things off with Jane and asks Jeff if he wants to accompany him back to Scotland.

Staring at the empty space where Brigadoon used to be, Tommy says "It's unbelievable. To think that down there, somewhere between the mist and stars is someone I want so terribly. I know she's not dead, she's only asleep, and yet I'll never see her again." Jeff confesses that it was so much like a dream to him
that he has to convince himself it actually happened. When they start to leave, they see Brigadoon appearing from the fog. The guys run down and meet Mr. Lundie on the bridge. "You shouldn't be too surprised," he says. "I told you if you loved someone deeply enough, anything is possible. Even
miracles." Meanwhile, the door to the Campbell cottage opens and Fiona comes out. Grasping what this interruption of her sleep means, she gets to the square at the same time as Tommy. Once their eyes meet, they slowly walk towards one another as the film fades to black.

As if the inability to shoot on location wasn't enough, Minnelli was forced to work with CinemaScope, the wide-screen process that was created to combat the popularity of TV. Oddly enough, Minnelli got CinemaScope but not Technicolor. Instead, he was given AnscoColor, which didn't give off the brightness that Technicolor did. The finished product, however, isn't exactly hopeless. Minnelli was a master of color, as you can tell from all of his color films. (Supposedly red and yellow were his favorites.) Although AnscoColor is a little muddy, Minnelli and his crew did a wondrous job in trying to bring color and lightness to the film. Cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg, costume designer Irene, and art director Preston Ames deserve shout-outs in particular. I especially love Irene's costumes for Cyd. The unique collars and full skirts are simply magnificent.

It wouldn't be right to finish this review without mentioning the music penned by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe. (Lerner also did the screenplay.) You may know the duo from My Fair Lady, Camelot, or another one of Minnelli's great musicals, Gigi. Many songs were cut from the original musical, mainly because of time limits. Part of the reason why Meg Brockie's role was downsized so much was because her two songs were deemed too risqué by the Breen office. Gene Kelly had two additional songs, "There But for You Go I" (say that five times fast) and "From This Day On," but supposedly the filmmakers thought Kelly's voice didn't sound the best so they tabled them. I agree that Brigadoon's songs stretch the limits of Kelly's singing, but that's kind of why I like them so much -- it shows you a different facet of what he could do. You can listen to Kelly's audio recordings of the cut material here and here. Another great number that got the ax was "Come to Me, Bend to Me," a song that Charlie sings to Jeannie to try and see her before their wedding. (Jimmy Thompson, the actor who played Charlie, was dubbed by John Gustafson.) My DVD version includes the filmed number as part of its bonus features, but you can hear the audio version of it here. For an added treat, you can also listen to Adam Lambert's rendition here.

Brigadoon is a lovely and sweetly romantic film that I wish received more appreciation. It was created by people at the height of their talent, adorning the movie with gorgeous dancing, sincere acting, beautiful sets and costumes, superb music, and strong direction.




































With love,
Michaela

__________________

This post is part of my first blogathon, a celebration of the extremely talented Vincente Minnelli. You can read the full roster here.

Comments

  1. I love Brigadoon. The Lerner and Loewe score is one of my favourites. Van Johnson is tops. And when Fiona says "Tommy, it's the end of our day" my heart breaks. If a movie can make your heart break like that, then they have definitely done something right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well-said! You basically summed up my whole, long-winded review! :)

      Delete
  2. What a lovely tribute to this great musical. And your illustrations are stunning. I love the Lerner and Lowe score . The emphasis changed from song to dance with the casting of Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse and as much as I love their dancing , the wonderful songs ( and the excluded ones you mention) need really good singers.
    I'm Scottish. A shame they didn't come to to the Highlands!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Good point about the switch from singers to dancers. That's probably why Kathryn Grayson was cast first.

      I didn't realize you were Scottish! How cool! (And now I'm realizing I should have capitalized "highlands". Oops.)

      Delete
  3. Such a great review! It wasn't until I watched Brigadoon that I realized it's not universally acclaimed. I just assumed it was because of Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. It's absolutely gorgeous even though Minnelli was restricted with what he could do. I swoon over Van, Gene & Cyd's dancing, the scenery. It definitely deserves more appreciation, and your post helps. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I assumed it was beloved too, but I quickly found out that wasn't the case. I should've written more about Van -- he almost walks off with the whole film!

      Delete
  4. This is a great, well-written appreciation of an underrated musical (and I love all the screenshots you included!). I just watched Brigadoon for the first time a few months ago and really enjoyed it. I actually thought I might not like it as much because of the mixed reception its garnered over the years, but I agree with you in finding it to be a really romantic film. And I'm also with you on how it being filmed on a soundstage adds to the film's mystical quality, since you really can't visit Brigadoon. Minnelli and co. did a good job with their limitations in creating a lovely film, even if it's not as celebrated as his other wonderful films.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much! It really is wonderful. I'm glad you agree. I find myself appreciating it more every viewing.

      Delete
  5. I also consider Brigadoon one of the best musicals and most romantic movies of all time! I wacthed it during a diffictul time in my life and it made me believe in magic again.
    Oh, I'll Go Home With Bonni Jean started to play in my mind the second I read the title, it is a huge earworm! And I'm also sad that Moira Shearer couldn't make this film... I can only imagine what this would have been.
    Thanks for hosting this fun event!
    Kisses!
    Le

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for commenting! I'm glad that this film could be there for you. Sometimes I feel like Tommy, when he hears a word and he instantly hears one of those songs. Lerner and Lowe wrote a great score, didn't they?

      Delete

Post a Comment

You might've missed these popular posts...

Loving and Fighting Furiously: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk (1959) and Lover Come Back (1961)

The One Lovely Blog Award.

Announcing the Doris Day Blogathon!

The Loss of Gene Wilder.

Announcing the Vincente Minnelli Blogathon!

Top Ten: Fred Astaire's Partners

10 days until the Vincente Minnelli blogathon!

John Wayne and Lucy Ricardo.

The Czech Méliès: Karel Zeman