Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
This is a favorite of my mother’s (she was starting to wear the color out on the tape before we got the DVD) and has become one of my favorite musicals as well. My mother took me to Pittsburgh to see it on stage as a treat in high school. A few interesting facts: was produced by the same studio as Brigadoon and outperformed it. And there was a brief 80’s show based on the story and starred Richard Dean Anderson (original MacGyver). The film stars Howard Keel (a staple of musicals in the 1950s) and Jane Powell. Russ Tamblyn (Riff from West Side Story) is the youngest Pontipee brother, Gideon. The story is set in 1850 in the Oregon Territory.
Adam Ponitpee is the eldest of seven brothers and comes to town to trade and find himself a wife. As he looks over the ladies of the town, his deep voice belts out Bless Your Beautiful Hide and finally settles on Millie when he spies her chopping wood and serving food to half a dozen men. She agrees to the hasty wedding, happy to get away from the inn. On their way through Echo Pass to the back country, she sweetly sings Wonderful, Wonderful Day. Then she gets an unwelcome shock at the house in the form of her new husband’s six brothers. They’re all filthy and the house is a mess. The Pontipees’ parents named their children in alphabetical order with Bible names: Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank (short for Frankincense, since there really wasn’t an “F” name in the Old Testament), and Gideon. Adam leaves Millie to get to work. At dinner she finds out they have deporable manners and shoves the table over: “if you’re going to act like hogs, then you can eat like hogs!” She refuses to let Adam sleep with her on their wedding night, angry that he let her carry on about her dreaming of caring for only one man and not correcting her. He decides to sleep in the tree and she takes pity on him; When You’re in Love, but Adam crashes into the bed. (Don’t worry, this isn’t the typical ‘love at first sight’ story).
The next morning, Millie starts her chores; she’s already washed the brothers’ outer clothes and demands their underwear they sleep in before they can have breakfast. They must also wash and shave. A pleasant surprise; she’s married into a handsome family of red-heads. And being without clothes means the brothers have to behave nicely in order to get food. They’re so taken with their new sister they all accompany her to town and are determined to get girls for themselves. But being backwoodsmen, they don’t know who to talk to girls, so they get into a fight with local townsmen. Millie takes them home and teaches them Goin’ Courtin’. The girls in town all have several men chasing after them, so the Pontipee brothers need to have proper manners.
A few months have passed and the family heads back to town for a barn raising. Millie makes the brothers promise not to fight and they start pairing off with the local girls. I love the Barn Dance, with its swirling skirts, bright shirts, and acrobatic tricks [this is how real men dance]. It becomes a competition between the Pontipees and the townsmen for the girls. Frank is a superb dancer. The girls choose the Ponitpees at the end. Then it’s another competition between all the men to raise the barn. The townsmen get back at the brothers by hitting them with hammers and wood, resulting in a big fight, once Adam scolds his brothers for being too weak. However, at the end, the women tend to their townsmen.
Gideon asks his eldest brother for advice and Adam reprises When You’re in Love, but ruins the moment by telling his brother that one woman is just like all the rest. Winter descends on the farm and the brothers are pining for their girls; they’re like a Lonesome Polecat. (The scene was shot all in one shot and features Ephraim [Jacques d’Amoise, on loan from the New York City Ballet]). Adam comes to their aid with the tale of Plutarch’s Sabine Women, or Sobbin’ Women. They decide they’ll be “just like them there Merry Men,” and steal their brides, because the Sabine women were ultimately happy and if it worked for the Romans, it’ll work for the Pontipees. And that’s what they do, capture the girls from their homes and ride back to the farm. The townsmen pursue, but the girls’ screams cause an avalanche in Echo Pass and they won’t be able to get through until spring.
Millie is furious when they arrive back home. The girls are crying, missing their families. Millie orders that the girls will stay in the house and the men will stay in the barn. Even Adam. Adam won’t stay in the barn when he has a rightful wife; he’ll pass the winter at the hunting cabin. Gideon tries to get Millie to stop him, but she tells her brother-in-law, Adam has to lean that he can’t treat people like he’s done. At first, the ladies are angry with the men and play tricks on them. But they start softening as winter carries on and eye the men when they come into the house for supplies. Yet, being stuck in the house together for so long, they eventually get in a cat fight. Millie breaks it up, announcing she’s pregnant. Then the girls begin to fantasize about their own weddings and babies and you know, “oh they say when you marry in June, you’re a bride all your life.” There’s a little dance, acting out the ceremony.
All at once, it’s Spring, Spring, Spring and the women pair with the men, marveling at the baby animals that have come out. And Millie’s baby comes, a little girl. Gideon goes to Adam again, to persuade him home. Doesn’t he want to see his own daughter? He even hits his older brother. Adam sends Gideon back; he’ll be home once the pass is open. When he does come home to name his daughter Hannah, picking up where his mother left off, it means the townsmen are on their way. Adam persuades his brothers to take their girls back; they won’t marry the brothers if it comes to a fight and one of their kinfolk are hurt. But the girls don’t want to go back and hide from the brothers. That’s how they’re all found and the townsfolk are ready to hang the brothers, until they hear a baby’s cry. All of the girls claim the child is theirs, so their new sweethearts won’t be killed. The film ends happily; Adam and Millie have reconciled and the parson performs a six-way shotgun wedding. The fathers are actually standing there with their shotguns.
Millie sure is a spitfire, whipping all the Pontipee brothers into shape. She corrects Adam’s and his brothers’ misleading thoughts on women. She does the work, but she also wants to be treated properly. June Bride gave me the idea originally that I’d like to marry in June (I have since changed my daydream). The dancing is phenomenal; I especially like Frank during the Barn Dance. Overall, it’s a happy show.
Next: Another favorite in our house; White Christmas (Yes, I know it’s out of season and I usually hate that, but it fits now)