Judge Bryan Pope once went rolling in the heather on the hill. Actually, it was poison ivy, and he ended up with a very bad rash.
Brigadoon, Brigadoon blooming under sable skies.
Brigadoon was one of the less successful efforts churned out by Arthur Freed during MGM's musical heyday. This is curious, since it had a fairy tale story that was well-suited to a musical treatment, a cast that included box office heavyweights Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, and a crackerjack director in Vincente Minnelli. With a new DVD presentation from Warner Bros., the film stands before the court to plead its case.
Facts of the Case
Nestled in a misty glen in the Scottish highlands, Brigadoon isn't marked on any map. The town is under a magic spell that enables it to be seen and visited by outsiders only one day every 100 years. The continued existence of the town hinges on one crucial condition: Visitors may choose to stay in Brigadoon forever, but if one of its permanent inhabitants ever passes beyond the town's borders, Brigadoon and its people will vanish forever.
As fate would have it, New Yorkers Tommy Albright (Kelly) and Jeff Douglass (Van Johnson) stumble upon Brigadoon when they get lost on a hunting expedition. They learn that the town is preparing for the marriage of Jean Campbell (Virginia Bosler) to Charlie Dalrymple. Tommy immediately falls in love with Jean's sister, Fiona (Charisse), but realizes she can never leave Brigadoon. Will Tommy give up his life, career and fiancé and become part of the mythical town?
One could argue that a Broadway musical's accessibility has a direct correlation to how many times it has been performed by high school drama departments. Certainly this would explain why so few high schools attempt, say, Pacific Overtures or even Rent, and why Brigadoon has become as much a part of the high school experience for many teenagers as acne, bad prom pictures and Billboard hits mangled by marching bands.
If that sounds like I'm slamming Brigadoon right off the starting block, I don't mean to. The show is not without merits. With its straightforward narrative, show tune chestnuts and quaint, old-world coziness, the show is a guaranteed crowd pleaser for the Sunday matinee crowd. It's safe. It's reliable. It's also predictable, hokey and, by today's standards, unexceptional, and that's precisely why you'll likely find yourself thinking about your grocery list or your Aunt Fran's hip surgery as the film version rolls into its last 15 minutes. The movie never escapes the feeling of being a relic.
Brigadoon began life as a popular 1947 stage musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. The Broadway duo clearly didn't bring their "A" game to Brigadoon. The story does not possess the wry wit of their My Fair Lady (though much of the credit for that goes to George Bernard Shaw), nor does it pack the emotional wallop of Camelot. Still, thanks largely to director Minnelli's energetic staging, roving camera and eye for color, the film version contains enough good stuff to make for a pleasant Saturday afternoon. And the songs, chestnuts though they are, are easy on the ears. "Heather on the Hill, "Waitin' for My Deare" and "Almost Like Being in Love" are lovely tunes, and the rousing "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean" sounds suitably Scottish.
The large cast is attractive and enthusiastic. They sport kilts and colorful plaids just like we silly Americans imagine Scottish people do, and their brogues are even less convincing than the brooks that flow through the soundstage sets. It's like being stuck in the Scotland section of Disney's "It's a Small World" boat ride for two hours. Somehow, though, it works in the way that only an old, studio musical can. You not only accept the artificialness, but you embrace it, because any semblance of realism would rob the film of its charm.
Despite the large cast, Brigadoon belongs to Kelly and Charisse, and they are fine enough as Tommy and Fiona. Charisse's is no more convincing a Scot than her fellow Brigadoonians, and her character has few discernable traits beyond being a right pretty lass, but she has enough natural charisma to make us care about her, or at least until the movie reaches its inevitable conclusion. As for Kelly? He doesn't do anything here that he hasn't done in every one of his other musical films. What that means depends on your opinion of Kelly. But he and Charisse are very athletic dancers, and watching them leap and spin together is a treat. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon than with these two in the hamlet of Brigadoon.
From what I understand, this edition of Brigadoon is far superior to the previous release. To begin with, it is given an anamorphic transfer and restored to its original CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.55:1 (the ratio was reduced to 2.35:1 on the previous edition). Unfortunately, the transfer is less than perfect. For a movie so splashed with bright colors, the images occasionally look muddied, and some scenes are marred by a light mist that occasionally moves across the picture. I first noticed this during the "Heather on the Hill" number, and for a moment I thought the effect was intentional (so much green and flora can only mean Brigadoon is in the middle of its rainy season, right?), but it's not. Still, these instances are few, and they didn't detract from my enjoyment. Otherwise, the film looked handsome. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound was a nice surprise, sounding much stronger and more exciting than I expected. English, Spanish and French subtitles are included.
Warner Bros. throws a few extras onto the disc, including three numbers cut from the film. "Come to Me, Bend to Me," "From This Day On," and "Sword Dance" are shown in their entirety, but the footage looks rough with faded colors and quite a few nicks and scratches. Also included is the audio track for "There But for You Go I" and the film's original theatrical trailer.
Far better musicals came out of the Arthur Freed unit at MGM during the '50s, but Brigadoon still has the ability to entertain. The transfer isn't as strong as those on other titles being released by Warner Bros., but at less than $20, it's still worth purchasing.
Aye, Brigadoon, you're not without guilt, but you're free to go. We'll be seeing you in another 100 years.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Three outtake musical numbers: "Come to Me Bend to Me," "From This Day On," "Sword Dance"
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