Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Stanley Donen / U.S., 1954):

The Taming of the Shrew, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Stockholm Syndrome... Stanley Donen prepares the injection of Roman mythology into 1850s Oregon subtly, Howard Keel is bearded like a buckskin Neptune as he strolls into town looking for a wife ("Bless Your Beautiful Hide"). There’s no time for the amenities of courtship, the bridegroom has sheep to tend to and trees to cut down, "You gonna keep me waiting five months just for your pride?" The chosen gal (Jane Powell) accepts his proposal as an escape from small-town drudgery, and warbles gaily about it to painted backdrops ("Wonderful, Wonderful Day"); the honeymoon proceeds from her realization that she’s become maid to a clan of brawling, scratching, uncouth mountain hayseeds with Biblical names, and builds to the smashed-bed gag from The Quiet Man. (Peckinpah tells a different version in Ride the High Country.) Ignorant of romance, the brothers are paralyzed with lovesickness after their first brush with the town belles; Keel gins them up with the tale of the "Sobbin’ Women" ("Rough ‘em up like them there Romans do, or else they’ll think you’re tetched") and leads them on a bride-snatching raid. The barn-raising fight is a marvel, though Donen’s manipulation of spinning torsos and piston-pumping knees across Cinemascope sprawls is inventive everywhere. "Goin’ Courtin’" accommodates Russ Tamblyn’s acrobatics as part of a horizontal whirlwind, "Lonesome Polecat" illustrates in a beautiful single take what Godard called Michael Kidd’s "mathematical" choreography. "June Bride" has the captured starlets in their underwear wondering about the beds they’re sleeping in, and offers the grinning sight of Julie Newmar towering over the other ingénues. The final punchline is Faulkner’s "shotgun wedding with the muse," surely. Cinematography by George Folsey. With Jeff Richards, Tommy Rall, Marc Platt, Matt Mattox, Jacques d’Ambroise, Ruta Lee, Virginia Gibson, Nancy Kilgas, Betty Carr, Norma Doggett, and Ian Wolfe.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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