Saturday, June 8, 2013

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954)

WHO: Directed by Stanley Donen

WHAT: This Ansco Color musical is not my favorite or my least favorite film in the ouvre of the director of Singin' in the Rain and Arabesque, (hint hint), but it's certainly unforgettable and made for the big screen. It was MGM's biggest commercial success of 1954, and its advertising campaign included an endorsement by none other than sitting President Dwight D. Eisenhower: "If you haven't seen it, you should see it." Not exactly "like writing history with lightning" but even a bland quote is a reminder that the 1950s were very different cinematically and politically than today. I can't imagine a major studio promoting any film with an Obama quote. Especially not this week.

WHERE/WHEN: Today and tomorrow at 3:40 and 7:30 at the Stanford Theatre

WHY: The Stanford's Spring calendar is winding down, with only one more weekend of screenings (Anatomy of a Murder June 13-14 and The Ten Commandments June 15-16) after this one. Last night I had a tremendous experience watching Vincente Minnelli's Some Came Running there; this is a film I've been wanting to see for well over a decade, but always resisted the idea of seeing it on home video before experiencing it the way it was intended to be seen: in its Cinemascope, Technicolor glory on a big screen. It lived up to its reputation as a masterpiece. Unlike Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, which feels like a (mostly delightful) time capsule of the 1950s, Some Came Running is both of its time and a critique of its false fronts and hypocrisies, and ultimately (I feel) far more universal. I'm still processing all of its complexities, and I suspect I will continue to do so for years to come; I hope I don't have to wait another decade to see it on the big screen, but at least now that I've done so once I'm more willing to revisit it on a home format.

Though it's not on their website yet, the Stanford made copies of its summer calendar available to attendees last night. Three months of movies start June 19-25 with a pair of fifties favorites frequently screened at the venue: Roman Holiday and Sabrina. After focusing so heavily on that decade during the spring, the summer will turn most of its attention to the 1930s and 40s, with an assortment of pre-codes starring Bette Davis and others, Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers pairings, Val Lewton horror movies, and more. The summer brings encore screenings from some of the Stanford's more unique series of late, including four titles (Bank Holiday, The Wicked Lady, The Brothers and Madonna of the Seven Moons) from its 2008 Rare Treasures of British Cinema seriesm and six late August and early September selections from last winter's Deanna Durbin Festival (unfortunately not including two of my favorites His Butler's Sister or the Amazing Mrs. Holliday, but fortunately including my third favorite Christmas Holiday as well as some I haven't seen yet.)

The best thing about this summer calendar is that the Stanford will remain open for as many days of the week as there are brides or brothers in Donen's film. It's welcome for those of us who've been disappointed that the theatre has been shut Mondays through Wednesdays since January, though those are also the days with fewer special cinemagoing options here in San Francisco or across the Bridges to my East or North.

The worst thing about the series is that its reach doesn't go back to the 1910s and 20s. No silent screenings have made use of the Stanford's Wurlitzer Organ since Dennis James appeared three times last Fall, and 2013 will join 2009 and 2010 as the only summers without silent screenings in at least the last fifteen years at the Stanford.

One final note: another Stanley Donen musical screens at a Frisco Bay venue this week: his 1949 co-directorial debut (with Gene Kelly) On the Town, at the Cerrito Theatre in El Cerrito. Unfortunately, as Lincoln Spector reports, this will be a projected-DVD screening. Something that would never happen at the Stanford.

HOW: Seven Brides For Seven Brothers screens on a double-bill with another musical starring Howard Keel, Calamity JaneAll Stanford Theatre screenings use 35mm prints.


  1. It seems a little disingenuous that you highlighted Cry-Baby on this blog but instead chose to see Some Came Running Friday night.

    I can't blame you for your choice since I also chose Some Came Running over Cry-Baby; both of which I wanted to see and neither of which I had seen before.

    There is a memorable scene in Godard's Contempt where Bardot and Piccoli are arguing about whether Bardot should work on Jack Palance's movie. It's set in their flat and revolves around the bath tub. They talk as both take a bath and the momentum of the argument swings back and forth. Their marriage essentially ends during the scene or at least, it begins to end. Piccoli wears a hat while taking a bath and mentions to Bardot that when he wears the hat, he looks like Dean Martin in Some Came Running.

    The trio of characters personified by Sinatra, Martin & MacLaine bears similarities to several French New Wave films. Even in Contempt, if you stretch the logic enough, you could make an argument that Sinatra = Piccoli, Martin = Palance and MacLaine = Bardot.

    Have you noticed many of Shirley MacLaine's most memorable film roles are as prostitutes or women of "loose morals?"

  2. Thanks for the very thoughtful comment, Dan!

    I think MacLaine represented an emerging "new woman" in the late fifties, and though some of her roles (such as her amazing turn in Artists and Models) were able to to capture her spirit without any kind of moralizing of the kind you mention, the kinds of films being made in Hollywood at the time frequently forced her to play characters ripe for audience judgment. In a masterpiece like Some Came Running she is able to transcend such snap-judgments completely with her sympathetic performance and the guidance of a master director.

    I haven't seen Contempt in a long time. I'm sure a post-Some Came Running viewing will be richer than any previous.

    As for being disingenuous: two things are at play here.

    First, I never intend the daily posts in my "2013 project" to be in lock-step with my own viewing patterns. Part of my decision about what to feature each day is based on whether I've seen the film before; I'm more likely to watch something completely new to me (if it's something I'm drawn to) than something I've seen before, but more likely to blog about the latter.

    Also, there was a thought in my mind that I might make it back from the Stanford in time to attend Cry-Baby (if not its Castro bill-mates), but it ended up not happening that way.