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155. SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, 1954

An exuberant and touching dance-filled romance

Jane Powell, Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox , Marc Platt, Jacques d'Amboise, Tommy Rall, and Russ Tamblyn in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

One of the most beloved movie musicals ever made is MGM’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. Ravishing singing voices, a simple, fairytale-styled story, and astounding dance moves bring this dynamic tale of romance to life. Nominated for five Academy Awards (including Best Picture) and winning one (Best Musical Score), this critically acclaimed film was the surprise box-office hit of 1954 and continued to play in theaters around the world for the next twenty years. The American Film Institute named it the 21st Greatest Movie Musical of All-Time, and IndieWire named it the 23rd, among many other rankings. Innovative, fresh, and completely irresistible, this film is so satisfying it will assuredly leave you happy and humming. If you need a joyful, carefree pick-me-up, this is the one to watch.


Jeff Richards, Julie Newmar, Matt Mattox, Ruta Lee, Marc Platt, Norma Doggett, Jacques d'Amboise, Virginia Gibson, Tommy Rall, Betty Carr, Russ Tamblyn, and Nancy Kilgas in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Only a studio the likes of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in its glory days could take a story loosely based on the legendary Roman tale of the Rape of the Sabine Women (rape meant kidnapping in that account) and turn it into a toe-tapping, delightfully fun, family-friendly musical. Skeptical? Don’t be, for MGM’s expertise at producing lightheartedly touching and wholesome entertainment turns an appallingly chauvinistic story into a tale of how to respect and properly treat women. That said, the film does take place in 1850, was made in the 1950s, and is based on that Roman legend, so its politics about men and women are quite different from ours. Still, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is gleefully escapist, abundantly humorous, and boldly energetic entertainment. They don’t make joyful movies like this anymore.


Russell Simpson, Marjorie Wood and Howard Keel in the general store in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Set in the Oregon Territory in 1850, the film opens as “Adam Pontipee” travels from his remote farm into town to trade beaver skins at the general store for a new plough, some lard, molasses, and other items, but what he really wants is a wife. With a chuckle, the store owner asks, “Any special brand?”, to which “Adam” earnestly replies “I like best a widow woman that ain’t afraid to work. There’s seven of us men, me and my six brothers. Place is like a pigsty and the food tastes worse. So I made up my mind the next time I come to town to trade, I’ll bring me back a wife”. Outraged, the owner’s wife exclaims, “Thinking you could come here and trade for a wife like she was a bag of meal! Let me tell you, none of our girls is going to go off to bear country with you to cook and wash and slave for seven slummocky backwoodsmen!”… That’s what she thinks.


Howard Keel and Jane Powell in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

While perusing the women in town and describing his perfect wife in the oh-so-catchy song “Bless Your Beautiful Hide”, "Adam" stumbles upon “Mille” chopping wood, milking a cow, and slinging hash at the Inn where she works, and it’s mutual love at first sight. Since he won’t be back in town for five months and is not well versed in proper etiquette, he asks “Millie” outright to marry him. Having dreamed of marriage and taking care of just one man, she accepts, and within the first eleven minutes of the film, “Adam” and “Millie” are husband and wife.


Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox , Marc Platt, Jacques d'Amboise, Tommy Rall, and Russ Tamblyn in their long john underwear in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

The married “Millie” quickly finds out “Adam” neglected to mention he lives with his six untidy and rowdy younger brothers and she’ll be cleaning, laundering, and cooking for them all. But the tough, sassy, no-nonsense “Millie” is determined to turn these ornery, unmannered, and unkempt brothers into gentlemen. They know nothing about women – least of all how to treat one – and “Millie” sets out to teach them how to talk to, dance with, and court them. She has one month to do so, for there’s an upcoming barn raising and picnic which will be filled with eligible females. I’ll suffice by saying the six brothers meet and fall in love with six women who fall in love with them as well, followed by fighting, humor, kidnapping, budding love, and even an avalanche.


Jane Powell checks the fingernails of Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox , Marc Platt, Jacques d'Amboise, Tommy Rall, and Russ Tamblyn in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

I’ve written about MGM and its glorious musicals in my previous posts on “Singin’ in the Rain”, “An American in Paris”, “Meet Me in St. Louis”, "The Band Wagon", and “Cabin in the Sky” (click on the film titles to open those posts and read more), all of which were produced by MGM's most famous producer, Arthur Freed. But Jack Cummings and Joe Pasternack also brought many classic MGM musicals to the screen, including "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", produced by Cummings. Like Freed, Cummings had his own roster of extraordinary and specialized MGM talents he’d use time and again, such as dancer Eleanor Powell, musical funnyman Red Skelton, musical swimming star Esther Williams, and the star of this film, singer Howard Keel.


Jeff Richards, Julie Newmar, Matt Mattox, Ruta Lee, Marc Platt, Norma Doggett, Jacques d'Amboise, Virginia Gibson, Tommy Rall, Betty Carr, Russ Tamblyn, and Nancy Kilgas at the barn raising dance scene in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

MGM Hollywood film producer movie director photo of young Jack Cummings
Jack Cummings

Jack Cummings was the nephew of MGM’s chief Louis B. Mayer, something he tried to live down most of his career. Starting at the studio as an office boy in the 1920s, he worked his way up the ranks, directed over a dozen short films (several with The Three Stooges and with Pete Smith), and became an MGM staff producer of features. He produced over forty films in his lifetime, including non musicals like "The Teahouse of the August Moon”, "Go West”, "The Last Time I Saw Paris", and "The Stratton Story”, but is best known for his slew of feel-good, entertaining musicals, such as "Broadway Melody of 1940", "Bathing Beauty", "Neptune's Daughter", "Three Little Words", "Kiss Me Kate", "Can-Can", and "Viva Las Vegas”. Earning his only Oscar nomination for producing “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (for Best Picture), it is considered his crowning achievement. That year he was also awarded an honorary Golden Globe for his thirty years of producing movies at MGM. He was married and divorced twice. Jack Cummings died in 1989 at the age of 84.


Julie Newmar, Ruta Lee, Norma Doggett, Virginia Gibson, Betty Carr, and Nancy Kilgas sing June Bride in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" was based on the short story "The Sobbin' Women" by Stephen Vincent Benét, which in turn was based on the ancient Roman legend of the Rape of the Sabine Women as told in Plutarch's biography of Rome's first king, "The Life of Romulus". Making a movie musical version of "The Sobbin' Women" became a pet project for Cummings, who had to wait five years to obtain the film rights. He chose Stanley Donen to direct. One of the top directors of movie musicals, Donen had to fight to make the fillm the way he wanted and his expert choices and magnificent direction shaped it into extraordinary entertainment.


Jeff Richards, Julie Newmar, Matt Mattox, Ruta Lee, Marc Platt, Norma Doggett, Jacques d'Amboise, Virginia Gibson, Tommy Rall, Betty Carr, Russ Tamblyn, and Nancy Kilgas in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

With seven brides and seven brothers often together in one frame, Donen demanded to shoot in widescreen Cinemascope, even though it was relatively new and not all theaters were yet equipped for it (MGM forced him to shoot two versions, one in Cinemascope and one not, and in the end only the Cinemascope version was used). He also had to fight to use new songs (Cummings wanted to use existing folk songs), and hired Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul to write lyrics and music, respectively. As a result, the music is melodiously rich and foot-stompingly spunky, with very clever lyrics.


Julie Newmar, Ruta Lee, Norma Doggett, Virginia Gibson, Betty Carr, and Nancy Kilgas at the barn raising dance scene with the townsfolk men in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Donen also insisted that, other than the two stars, dancers be cast as the brothers, brides, and key townsfolk, but MGM wanted him to use anyone under contract – dancer or not. In the end, he got what he wanted, for all of them, except for two brothers, were dancers. He also made the brothers all red-heads so they could easily stand out from the townspeople.


Howard Keel and Jane Powell in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

One fight Donen didn’t win was to shoot on location. Because it would take a year to film the changing seasons (which are vital to the story), MGM cut the budget and Donen had no choice but to shoot on the studio backlot (though there are quick location far shots at the Tioga Pass in the High Sierras). You may notice obviously painted backdrops in a couple scenes, which actually help mold the film into a fable. MGM was pouring its money into two other musicals at the time, “Rose Marie”, and their intended prestige musical that year, “Brigadoon”, and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” was considered a B movie with little expectation it would make money. Not only did it make more than the two bigger budgeted musicals, it turned out to be a smash hit and one of the highest grossing films of the year. It's also considered one of the last great movie musicals from the Golden Age.


Howard Keel with Jane Powell as she sings Wonderful, Wonderful Day in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Donen knew how to bring a musical to life, and this spirited film bursts with energy as his camera work adds its own lyrical quality and delightful vitality all throughout. Take the exuberant song “Wonderful, Wonderful Day”, which he captures in just two shots, letting the camera glide around “Millie” in far shots to reveal the fairytale landscape, sweeping in for closeups to show her deepest joys. The way the camera pulls back at the end of the song crowns it with extra bliss and beauty.


Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox , Marc Platt, Jacques d'Amboise, Tommy Rall, and Russ Tamblyn sing Lonesome Polecat in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Another fabulous song is the gorgeously understated and harmony-infused "Lonesome Polecat” sung by the six younger “Pontipee” brothers. As they chop wood in the snow for the winter, they express their longing for the girls they love, gloriously incorporating the sounds of sawing and chopping into the music. Donen impressively captures the entire song and all its singing, chopping, and dancing in a single continuous shot, giving it a hypnotic feel alongside the steady hum of the music. It is heavenly. Donen's direction uplifts the film (musical numbers or not) with vitality and a sweet country flavor. It's outstanding work that earned him a Best Director Directors Guild of America nomination, and demonstrates why he was one of Hollywood’s foremost directors, particularly of innovative and outstanding musicals.


Howard Keel sings Sobbin' Women to Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox , Marc Platt, Jacques d'Amboise, Tommy Rall, and Russ Tamblyn in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Portrait photo of Hollywood movie musical director of classic films Stanley Donen
Stanley Donen

Throughout his childhood, South Carolina-born Stanley Donen was often bullied by classmates for being Jewish. Finding solace in movie theaters, he was swept away by the happiness and escapism he experienced from the 1933 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical “Flying Down to Rio”. It changed his life. Inspired by Astaire, he began taking dance lessons at the age of nine. After one semester at the University of South Carolina, he moved to New York City and got his first professional job as a dancer in the original Broadway production of the musical "Pal Joey" starring Gene Kelly, directed by George Abbott. Abbott's next show was the 1941 musical "Best Foot Forward", and he cast Donen in the chorus and as assistant stage manager. Kelly was the show's choreographer and asked Donen to assist him. When Freed made the film version in 1943, Donen moved to Hollywood to work on it as a dancer and assistant choreographer.


Jeff Richards, Julie Newmar, Matt Mattox, Ruta Lee, Marc Platt, Norma Doggett, Jacques d'Amboise, Virginia Gibson, Tommy Rall, Betty Carr, Russ Tamblyn, and Nancy Kilgas with townsfolk at the barn raising dance scene in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Gene Kelly was quickly becoming a Hollywood movie star, and while working on the 1944 film "Cover Girl", he asked Donen to help him with the choreography. Kelly and Donen co-directed the film's innovative "Alter Ego" dance sequence, which Donen came up with. That film made Kelly a certified movie star, and he and Donen worked together again on the 1944 musical "Anchors Aweigh", in which Kelly danced with hand-drawn animated characters (the first feature film to blend live action with animation), which again was Donen's idea.


Howard Keel Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox , Marc Platt, Jacques d'Amboise, Tommy Rall, and Russ Tamblyn fight building a barn in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

While working as a film choreographer and sometimes directing musical numbers, Donen cowrote the 1949 musical "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" with Kelly. That film was such a success, Freed let Donen and Kelly direct the 1949 musical "On the Town", which became the first musical to employ location shooting (Kelly was mostly responsible for the dance moves and Donen for the camera work). It earned Donen a contract with MGM as a director. The first film Donen solely directed was the 1951 musical "Royal Wedding", starring Astaire and Jane Powell. He then directed the 1952 Elizabeth Taylor romance, "Love Is Better Than Ever", before co-directing with Kelly what is arguably the greatest musical of all-time, "Singin' in the Rain". Three films later came "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", which became Donan's most successful film and established him on his own as a major film director.


Howard Keel, Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox , Marc Platt, Jacques d'Amboise, Tommy Rall, and Russ Tamblyn raise a barn in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Donen collaborated one last time with Kelly on 1955's "It's Always Fair Weather", during which their relationship ended. It was also the end of Donen’s contract with MGM. All in all he directed nearly thirty films, including other musicals like "Funny Face", "The Pajama Game", and "Damn Yankees", and non-musicals such as "Two for the Road", "Bedazzled", "Charade", “Arabesque", "Indiscrete", and his final, 1984's "Blame It on Rio". He also directed the 1986 Lionel Richie music video "Dancing on the Ceiling", a 1986 episode of the TV series "Moonlighting", and his final work, the 1999 TV movie "Love Letters". He was nominated for five Best Director Directors Guild of America Awards, and in 1998, was awarded an Honorary Oscar for a body of work marked by grace, elegance, wit and visual innovation. He was married five times, including marriages to actresses Marion Marshall and Yvette Mimieux. Stanley Donen died in 2019 at the age of 94.


Jane Powell, Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox , Marc Platt, Jacques d'Amboise, Tommy Rall, and Russ Tamblyn sing Goin' Courting in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Another thing Donen did right with "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", was to have his mind set on hiring Michael Kidd as the film’s choreographer. Kidd initially refused the job because he felt audiences wouldn’t believe that a group of burly, unschooled slobs living in the remote wilderness would suddenly get up and dance. But Donen begged him and Kidd finally accepted, saying there would be no dancing per se, and all musical numbers and movements would naturally evolve out of the scenes.


Jeff Richards, Julie Newmar, Matt Mattox, Ruta Lee, Marc Platt, Norma Doggett, Jacques d'Amboise, Virginia Gibson, Tommy Rall, Betty Carr, Russ Tamblyn, and Nancy Kilgas with townsfolk at the barn raising dance scene in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

As a result, Kidd gave the film its trademark mix of square dance, acrobatics, and hints of ballet, and made sure each brother and bride had their own unique personality and were identifiable as individuals. And in the film's famous barn raising scene (one of the most iconic in movie musicals), Kidd did something unique and used dance as competition. The scene involves the townsfolk coming together for a picnic, dance, and to build a barn for one of their neighbors. It's also when the six brothers meet and fall in love with their intended brides. But the brides are already being courted, and what evolves is a fight through dance between the courting men and the six brothers.


Jeff Richards, Julie Newmar, Matt Mattox, Ruta Lee, Marc Platt, Norma Doggett, Jacques d'Amboise, Virginia Gibson, Tommy Rall, Betty Carr, Russ Tamblyn, and Nancy Kilgas with townsfolk at the barn raising dance scene does a split over the wooden planks in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

The “Pontipee” brothers and the townsmen try to outdo one another through flips, leaps, handstands, balancing on logs, arm wrestling and more to win the women. A scene of courtship and competition, it's an explosion of energy, dynamic dancing, and daredevil acrobatics, all of which forward the plot. One of the most exciting and dazzling dance numbers in movies, it made Kidd famous and became his signature work. His choreography was so astounding, it even earned him a Special Citation form the National Board of Review.


Jeff Richards, Julie Newmar, Matt Mattox, Ruta Lee, Marc Platt, Norma Doggett, Jacques d'Amboise, Virginia Gibson, Tommy Rall, Betty Carr, Russ Tamblyn, and Nancy Kilgas with townsfolk at the barn raising dance scene in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Portrait photo of Broadway and Hollywood film movie musical choreographer and dancer Michael Kidd
Michael Kidd

New York City-born Michael Kidd was one of the most influential and innovate choreographers in musical theater and film. He began studying and performing modern dance and ballet, eventually finding his way to Broadway and then Hollywood. His illustrious Broadway career was spent as a choreographer and director, and garnered him eleven Tony Award nominations (eight for choreography and three as director), winning five for choreographing "Finian's Rainbow", "Guys and Dolls", "Can-Can", "Li'l Abner", and "Destry Rides Again". In Hollywood, Kidd first choreographed the 1952 musical "Where's Charley?", followed by "The Band Wagon". He choreographed over a dozen films and TV shows, others of which include "Guys and Dolls", "Knock on Wood", "Hello Dolly!", and “Star!", and in 1996, was awarded an Honorary Academy Award in recognition of his services to the art of the dance in the art of the screen. He also appeared in a few films and TV shows, notably as a dancer in the 1955 musical "It's Always Fair Weather", and as one of the leads in the 1975 comedy "Smile". He was married twice. Michael Kidd died in 2007 at the age of 92.


Jane Powell stars in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Starring in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is Jane Powell as “Milly”, a woman of uncompromising strength and a pioneering spirit. “Milly” is a sturdy frontier woman who works hard, take risks, and has to be tough to survive such a hard life, and Powell is all of that with an added softness and sensitivity. And her sublime soprano voice can relay all types of emotion, such as girlish excitement in “Wonderful, Wonderful Day”, the romance of "When You're in Love”, and a sense of fun teaching the brothers to dance in the lively “Goin' Courtin’”.


Jane Powell, Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox , Marc Platt, Jacques d'Amboise, Tommy Rall, and Russ Tamblyn sing Goin' Courting in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Powell's acting is also spot-on, with emotional moments such as quickly contemplating marriage while milking a cow, or her unabashed anger when the women appear at her doorstep. Though the men are big and tough, the petite “Millie” is even tougher. She’s the strength behind the film, and also gives it its heart. Powell’s is marvelous in what I feel is her very best performance.


Jane Powell milks a cow in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Color portrait photo of Hollywood film actress movie star soprano singer dancer Jane Powell young
Jane Powell

Born in Oregon at the start of the Great Depression, Jane Powell began dancing when she was two and singing on amateur radio by the time she was five, for her parents intended she become the next Shirley Temple. While vacationing in Hollywood with her parents, Powell entered and won a radio talent show hosted by Janet Gaynor, which led to a contract at MGM. Powell wanted to remain in school but her parents forced the fourteen year old to sign with the studio. She was loaned to United Artists for her film debut in the 1944 musical “Song of the Open Road” where she played a character named “Jane Powell”, and took that name as her professional name (her birth name was Suzanne Lorraine Burce). A starring role came next in the 1946 musical "Delightfully Dangerous”, before Pasternack put her in a slew of his musicals beginning with 1946's "Holiday in Mexico", and including "Three Daring Daughters", "A Date with Judy", and "Two Weeks with Love”. Her magnificent voice, sweet demeanor, small size (she was just over five feet tall), and easygoing beauty typecast her in musicals as the quintessential teenage “girl next door”, which she would play well into her twenties. In 1951, after June Allyson and Judy Garland dropped out, Powell was cast opposite Fred Astaire in Donen's musical "Royal Wedding" – her first adult role and one of her best films. A few musicals later came "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", which is considered her very best film and put her at the height of her fame.


Jane Powell sings Wonderful, Wonderful Day starring in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Color portrait photo of Hollywood film actress movie star soprano singer dancer Jane Powell young
Jane Powell

A few more musicals followed until her innocent girl next door persona was becoming dated, so she made the melodrama "The Female Animal" and the adventure film "Enchanted Island" (both in 1958) before leaving films for musical theater and television, making just a handful more movies. Powell appeared in twenty-two films (others include "Small Town Girl", "Hit the Deck", "Deep in My Heart", "Rich, Young and Pretty", "Athena", and "Nancy Goes To Rio") and 25 TV shows (her final performance was on a 2002 episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”). Her vast musical theater credits include a 1977 record-breaking national theater tour of "South Pacific” opposite Howard Keel. She was married five times, including her final marriage to actor Dickie Moore. Jane Powell died in 2021 at the age of 92. I met her years ago at an event and remember her as bursting with energy.


Howard Keel and Jane Powell star in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Starring opposite Powell is Howard Keel as “Adam Pontipee”, the oldest of the seven brothers and head of the household. “Adam” is the first character we meet as he comes to town shopping for a bride, and Keel’s charismatic presence and underlying warmth make us realize that this barrel chested mountain of a man is well-meaning, but has lived in the woods too long and doesn't know the ways of the world. It’s “Adam’s” journey to learn how to love that's at the crux of the film, and Keel’s charm and likability are key as to why this film is so enjoyable.


Russ Tamblyn and Howard Keel sing Sobbin' Women in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Keel is perfect trying to keep up appearances as a manly man while giving us clear signs of what’s underneath his facade, such as his excitement when finding “Millie”, or self-reflection when hearing her sing “When You’re in Love”. An indication of his fine acting talent is his reaction when “Millie” tells him “how wonderful it will be to cook and care for one man. Just one man”. The way Keel listens, changes his demeanor, uncomfortably clears his throat, and attempts to tell her of his brothers but is cut off by her singing is done with a beautifully underplayed authenticity.


Howard Keel stars and sings Bless Your Beautiful HIde in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Let's not forget Keel’s booming and lusciously rich bass-baritone singing voice which channels his feelings, whether it’s his forceful and sensitive disposition during the high-spirited “Bless Your Beautiful Hide”, the longing of “When You’re in Love”, or his fun and humor during “Sobbin’ Women”. In all these songs Keel proves why he was one of the top singing stars of the Golden Age of movie musicals, and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers“ (which he said to be his favorite of his own movies) is arguably his greatest film and performance.


Howard Keel stars and sings Bless Your Beautiful HIde in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Color portrait photo of Hollywood film actor movie musical star bass-baritone voice singer young Howard Keel
Howard Keel

Howard Keel was born in Illinois to a former naval captain, coal miner and alcoholic father, and a religious mother who disapproved of entertainment. When he was eleven, his father died and the family moved to California. A rebellious, hot-tempered youth, when he was twenty, Keel heard baritone Lawrence Tibbett sing and his life changed. He took singing lessons, entered singing competitions, worked as a singing busboy, and at the Douglas Aircraft Company, sometimes singing there to boost company morale. He found his way to Broadway in 1945 as a replacement for John Raitt in the original production of "Carousel", soon took over the lead in the original Broadway production of “Oklahoma!”, and continued to alternately appear in both. He was also in the London production of "Oklahoma!". While in London, Keel made his film debut in the 1948 British thriller "The Hideout”. Upon his return to Los Angeles, he signed a contract with MGM and was made male lead in his second film (and first musical), Freed's 1950 movie version of "Annie Get Your Gun" opposite Betty Hutton, one of the top-grossing films of that year. It made Keel a star.


Howard Keel, Jeff Richards, and Julie Newmar in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Color portrait photo of Hollywood film actor movie musical star bass-baritone voice singer young Howard Keel
Howard Keel

Keel continued starring primarily in musicals (alongside Westerns and other films) through the 1950s, and was famously paired with Kathryn Grayson in the musicals "Show Boat", "Lovely to Look At", and "Kiss Me Kate", and Esther Williams in "Pagan Love Song”, "Texas Carnival”, and "Jupiter's Darling”. A high point in his career, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” was perfectly suited to his larger-than-life, masculine image. After a couple of subsequent major box-office disappointments, Keel was released from his MGM contract in 1955, and returned to the stage, performed in nightclubs, summer stock theater, recorded record albums, made nonmusical films (primarily Westerns), and like many stars of his era at the decline of the Hollywood studios, turned to television come the 1960s. Keel appeared in just over thirty films, others of which include "Calamity Jane", "Kismet", "Rose Marie", "The War Wagon", "The Day of the Triffids", "Deep In My Heart", and as himself in the 1994 documentary about MGM musicals "That's Entertainment! III". His extensive work on television most famously includes playing series regular "Clayton Farlow” on the hit TV series “Dallas”. He was married three times. Howard Keel died in 2004 at the age of 85.


Jeff Richards, Julie Newmar, Matt Mattox, Ruta Lee, Marc Platt, Norma Doggett, Jacques d'Amboise, Virginia Gibson, Tommy Rall, Betty Carr, Russ Tamblyn, and Nancy Kilgas with townsfolk at the barn raising dance scene in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Four of the "Pontipee" brothers in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" were played by virtuoso dancers: “Frank” (red shirt in the barn raising scene) was played by Tommy Rall, a professional dancer on Broadway and in movie musicals, including featured roles in “Kiss Me Kate”, and as the "Swan Lake" ballet prince in “Funny Girl”; “Caleb” (yellow shirt) was played by Matt Mattox, a professional dancer on Broadway and in Hollywood musicals; “Ephraim” (dark green shirt) was played by Jacques d'Amboise, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet; and “Daniel” (mauve shirt) was played by Marc Platt, a professional dancer who appeared in both the Broadway and film versions of “Oklahoma!”, among his many jobs.


Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox , Marc Platt, Jacques d'Amboise, Tommy Rall, and Russ Tamblyn are brothers in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

The two brothers played by non professional dancers were “Benjamin” (orange shirt), played by former professional baseball player Jeff Richards, and “Gideon” (blue shirt), played by MGM contract player Russ Tamblyn.


Russ Tamblyn  in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Tamblyn has the meatiest acting role of any of the younger brothers, and does a great job letting his youthful charm shine, whether telling “Mille” and “Adam” he’s in love with “Alice”, humorously imitating a cat, or when punching “Adam”. It’s a sensitive portrayal that embodies the film's joy and innocence.


Russ Tamblyn, Jane Powell, and Howard Keel during the song If You're In Love, in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Tamblyn had appeared in about a dozen films since his screen debut in 1948's "The Boy with Green Hair” (including "The Kid From Cleveland", "Samson and Delilah", "Gun Crazy", "Father of the Bride”), and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” became his breakout role, funny enough, primarily because of his dancing. He does flips, tumbles, dances with an axe, leaps on wooden planks, falls out of windows, and more, all with such breathtaking ease and agility that it jumpstarted his career as a dancer.


Jeff Richards, Julie Newmar, Matt Mattox, Ruta Lee, Marc Platt, Norma Doggett, Jacques d'Amboise, Virginia Gibson, Tommy Rall, Betty Carr, Russ Tamblyn jumping over axe, and Nancy Kilgas in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Color portrait photo of Hollywood dancer tumbler acrobat movie musical film actor movie star gymnast young Russ Tamblyn
Russ Tamblyn

Though Russ Tamblyn was not a trained dancer, at an early age he developed a love and talent for gymnastics and acrobatics. He recounted his experience on “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” at the 2023 Turner Classic Film Festival: “I happened to go on the set when [the dancers] were rehearsing. I went with Jeff Richards, and we went over to meet them all and see them all, and Michael Kidd said, 'I understand you're an acrobat, you can do flips?’. I said yeah, and right on the spot did a backflip for him, and he said 'Oh my God, we're gonna put that in a number'. And I said 'No, I don't want to dance with Jacques d'Amboise from the New York City Ballet’. I finally did it, and told people I was not a dancer, I never had lessons. But I did have good on the job training with all these great choreographers”. “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” established Tamblyn as a first-rate acrobatic dancer, and he went on to appear in over 80 more films and TV shows, many that show off his incredible acrobatic and dance skills (earning him the nickname "Tumbling Tamblyn”), such as "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm", "Hit the Deck", "Tom Thumb", and his other iconic role in 1961's "West Side Story" as "Riff", and you can read more about the life and career of Russ Tamblyn in my post on that classic. As of the writing of this post, Russ Tamblyn is 89 years old.


Jane Powell, Julie Newmar, Ruta Lee, Norma Doggett, Virginia Gibson, Betty Carr, and Nancy Kilgas at the barn rain gins scene in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Like Powell, the six other brides were professional dancers: Tony Award nominated Virginia Gibson plays "Liza" (she's in the pink checkered dress in the barn raising scene); Broadway musical veteran Norma Doggett is "Martha"(green dress) in her only film role; Broadway veteran Betty Carr is "Sarah" (yellow dress), also in her only film; Ruta Lee (credited as Ruta Kilmonis) is "Ruth" (blue dress), appeared on stage and in over 150 films and TV shows (including "Funny Face" and "Witness for the Prosecution”) and is 89 years old at the time of this writing; Nancy Kilgas is "Alice" (solid pink dress), appeared in such movie musicals as "Oklahoma!" and "Shake, Rattle & Roll"; and Julie Newmar (credited as Julie Newmeyer plays "Dorcas" (purple dress), who went on to become a pop culture icon.


Julie Newmar, Ruta Lee, Norma Doggett, Virginia Gibson, Betty Carr, and Nancy Kilgas in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Alongside dancing, Newmar already projects what would become her trademark seductiveness, as with how "Dorca" looks at "Benjamin" when he comes to the house to get liniment for his leg, asking the other girls while laying in bed "Which of the boys slept in this bed, do you suppose?", or telling them, "I've always wanted to be a June bride and have a baby right off”. Newmar certainly makes the most of her brief screen time.


Julie Newman in underwear in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Sexy color portrait photo of Hollywood film and TV actress dancer movie star young Julie Newmar catwoman in bra
Julie Newmar

Los Angeles-born Julie Newmar danced as a child and became a prima ballerina with the Los Angeles Opera at the age of 15. She began in film and TV in bit parts, starting as a chorus girl in 1952's "She's Working Her Way Through College”, followed by films that include "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, and "The Band Wagon”. She also worked as a choreographer and dancer for Universal Studios. "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" was her first major role. The movie musical "Deep in My Heart" followed before Newmar headed to Broadway for her debut in the 1955 original production of "Silk Stockings". The Broadway musical "Li'l Abner" followed, and then the play "The Marriage-Go-Round", which earned her a Tony Award. In 1957, she made her TV debut on "The Phil Silvers Show", and continued working primarily on TV with some movies. Her other films include "Li'l Abner", "For Love or Money", and "Mackenna's Gold",


Julie Newmar and Jeff Richards in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Newmar found fame when she portrayed the very first (and arguably best) "Catwoman" on the first two seasons of the cult 1960's TV series "Batman". Newmar's form-fitting costume, distinct voice, sexy, and witty performance became the gold standard with which every subsequent "Catwoman" in history is compared and is the template for every evil seductress that followed. Newmar’s one of the few actors to have a film inspired by her, the 1995 comedy “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar", in which she appears in a cameo, and in 2012, Bluewater Comics released a four-issue comic miniseries titled "The Secret Lives of Julie Newmar". She was married once. As of this writing, Julie Newmar is 90 years old.


Howard Keel, Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox , Marc Platt, Jacques d'Amboise, Tommy Rall, and Russ Tamblyn cheer in wagon in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

In addition to its Best Picture Academy Award nomination, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" earned Oscar nominations for Best Screenplay (Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, Dorothy Kingsley), Best Cinematography (George J. Folsey), and Best Film Editing (Ralph E. Winters), and won an Oscar for Best Musical Score (Adolph Deutsch and Saul Chaplin). It also earned a Best Film BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) nomination.


Jane Powell, Howard Keel, Jeff Richards, Julie Newmar, Matt Mattox, Ruta Lee, Marc Platt, Norma Doggett, Jacques d'Amboise, Virginia Gibson, Tommy Rall, Betty Carr, Russ Tamblyn, and Nancy Kilgas in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" was such an international hit it was adapted into a stage musical in 1978, two TV series ("Here Come the Brides” in 1968 and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" in 1982), a 1966 Turkish film "Beş Fındıkçı Gelin", a 1982 Bollywood film "Satte Pe Satta", and a 1988 Brazilian film "O Casamento dos Trapalhões".


Howard Keel and Jane Powell star in the classic MGM film song and dance movie musical Western "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Escape into a heavenly fable that overflows with sweet songs, robust dances, glorious singing, and heaps of heart. Enjoy “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”!



This blog is a weekly series (currently biweekly) on all types of classic films from the silent era through the 1970s. It is designed to entertain and inform through watching a recommended classic film a week. The intent is that a love and deepened knowledge of cinema will evolve, along with a familiarity of important stars, directors, writers, the studio system, and more. I highly recommend visiting (or revisiting) the HOME page, which explains it all and provides a place where you can subscribe and get email notifications of every new post. Visit THE MOVIES page to see a list of all films currently on this site. Please leave comments, share this blog with family, friends, and on social media, and subscribe so you don’t miss a post. Thanks so much for reading!



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2 Comments


Maggie Snuggs
Maggie Snuggs
Jun 25

Wonderful movie, the dance sequence building the barn is my favourite they performed it beautifully. Howard Keel (so handsome) had an awesome voice. It is a fun movie, anytime I see it on I watch it, never get tired of it. I best remember Tamblyn in West Side Story, another favourite of mine and the music.

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Jay Jacobson
Jay Jacobson
Jun 25
Replying to

I agree wholeheartedly - it's a great and fun movie, the barn raising is fabulous, and Howard Keel - what a voice! I also love West Side Story - be sure to check out my post on that if you haven't already.

Thanks Maggie!

Jay

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