Love Is Like The Measles: Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954)

When I set about to make an entire month devoted to musicals I knew to expect a variety of performances almost all of which would find themselves entrenched within the idealism and wholesome world of Classic Hollywood.  Indeed, while there are a considerable amount of pre-code Hollywood musicals that have a decided dose of the subversive, most come from a time when promoting the perfect image was not only preferred but necessary to success.  Long detached from the grit of the post-World War II noir film is something like the genre hybrid Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, wherein the styles and cinematic grandiosity of the western are borrowed, for the most part successfully, to consider the nature of love and burgeoning romance in the wild world of the establishing West.  Sure Seven Brides for Seven Brother will never prove to be the musical of the ages, relying far more on one solid dance number and intermittently interesting singing to keep itself afloat, but what it does possess is enough heart and a surprisingly intriguing post-modern context enough to stay relevant in filmic and musical discourse.  Indeed, in all its impossibility, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers manages to be a curious work that begs questioning and revisitation in a way far detached from say Singin' in the Rain or The Wizard of Oz, wherein the classic status remains unquestioned, unfortunately, also leading to the seeming belief that any new critical discourse on the film is unwarranted.  Fortunately, the odd burgeoning academic will come along and see a work through a new and necessary lens affording an astute reading or reconsideration upon a seemingly beaten down text, the late Alexander Doty certainly did so with The Wizard of Oz.  A film like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, while nowhere near as prolific as Singin' in the Rain does warrant a reconsideration as it exists in an unusual contrast to its other colorful music counterparts, so much so that to consider it as a narrative wherein sexuality and gender become ambiguous is not only quite plausible but seemingly the intention by some bizarre temporal extension.  Seven women and seven men may situate the narrative, but their relations are far from glaringly normative by the film's end.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers initially focuses on the endeavors of the mountaineering Pontipee men, led by the rustic and forthright Adam (Howard Keel).  Adam travels into his local town in the hopes that like tobacco, sugar and lumber he can bargain to attain a wife.  Adam, the demise of the town is seen as a woeful, but necessary source to the town's economy and certainly not ideal for the marrying type, yet when he finds himself adoring a local girl named Milly (Jane Powell) he springs into action and proposes to her in an immediate and direct way, suggesting that were he in the East he would have been quite elaborate with the entire ordeal, but considering the wily ways of the frontier, time does not afford such patience.  Both liking Adam and accepting the brash forwardness of his offer, Milly accepts his proposal and the two get married in a rather unceremonious way, Milly immediately traveling to the outskirts of town to join Adam and his six brothers in their mountain lifestyle.  The six brothers, all named contingent on their relation to birth and a letter in the alphabet, the most unfortunate of which being Frank (Tommy Rall) whose full name is Francincense as his mother adored the fragrance from its biblical reference and could not think of a proper F name upon his release.  While Milly is, at first, frustrated and dismissive of the ways of the people in the Pontipee house, she warms to their endearing charm and realizes them in need of nothing more than a considerable amount of social etiquette training and mannerisms.  While it is a hard won battle, Milly is eventually able to instill considerable manners into the men of the Pontipee family all culminating in their acrobatic and poised dancing during a housebuilding party, doubled by their patience when jealous men of the town attack them in the process.  While they must eventually resort to self defense against the bombardments of physical attacks the brothers do learn manners and begin seeking brides.  Although their kidnapping ways are highly problematic they do attain the adoration of a group of women and eventually marry finding happiness and companionship in the film's closing moments.

I mention that this film is a bit subversive, even if accidentally so, in the way it handles gendered relationships.  Assumedly the Pontipee family is a group of men, led by Adam, who are attempting to look over land that their late parents left them.  However, it is not entirely clear who these parents were, nor that they ever existed in the first place.  What is indeed clear though is the close knit relationship that emerges between Adam and his supposed brothers, one that takes on a clear, albeit non-sexual, homosocial bond.  The Pontipee boys with their scruff and constant bickering, paired with physical attacks upon one another is textbook replication of male celebrations that also evoke notions of male desire to celebrate in each others' male privilege.  This privilege obviously tied to their power through a non-lack is celebrated and constantly in opposition to Milly who they initially see as a curiosity in that she is a figure attached to Adam and one that is purportedly for his conquest. The initial night involving Milly's staying and refusing to sleep with Adam, while the brothers wait incessantly is certainly a degree of such an idea. This curiosity again is not one where they all desire to bed Milly, but perhaps one where they all possess desires that cannot be enforced in a public context, the brothers are highly jovial to one another and again, with no clear lineage connecting the seven men the desire even if only passively in a homosocial context, nonetheless, becomes worth noting.  While all the men wish to find a way to talk with women and eventually become married, this hesitation and they inability to communicate with the opposite sex take on a layer of sexual confusion and detachment from a heteronormative expectation, one that is physically attacked by the men of the town who see their presence as threatening.  The fact that the narrative pushes towards an idea of marriage in the closing moments is tenuous at best, as each brother involved must become married only at the encroachment of the patriarchal figure, just as the women must continually accept such advances even if the men are only doing so in the most performative of contexts.

Key Scene:  The ballet/tap dancing on the strips of lumber sequence!

This film is as feel good and simple as they come, but also very much a rental and nothing more.

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