Blog Directory CineVerse: Rediscovering Brigadoon

Rediscovering Brigadoon

Thursday, April 14, 2011

by Erik J. Martin

Judged against the time-tested conventions of classic cinema, Brigadoon (1954) is a film that should not work.

For starters, instead of being shot on the lush, atmospheric moors of the Scottish Highlands, as its primarily outdoor setting begs for, MGM decided to film on an immense soundstage to save money and ensure more controlled conditions (Scotland’s rainy climate was feared too unpredictable). To fully grasp the magnitude of this Hollywood hubris, imagine for a moment if The Sound of Music were not shot on location in picturesque Salzburg and Bavaria as it was, but filmed within the confines of a stage with painted backdrops, fiberglass trees and synthetic floors meant to resemble cobblestone streets.

Secondly, Brigadoon suffers in two technical areas: aspect ratio and color processing. MGM unwisely chose to employ anamorphic widescreen (via 20th Century Fox’s overhyped CinemaScope, which created a 2.55:1 frame), which would otherwise be ideal for an al fresco epic romantic musical. And instead of filming in the complex but chromatically vivid three-strip Technicolor process (which yielded so many timeless MGM masterpieces, from Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz to Singin’ in the Rain), the studio opted for Ansco, a more economical one-strip color film alternative.

Lastly, among MGM’s own prior musical filmography, we’ve seen funnier sidekicks before (witness Donald O’Connor in Singin’ in the Rain), more inspired and innovative dancing (An American in Paris) and better screenplays with a more believable love story (Meet Me in St. Louis).

Yet, despite all these shortcomings, Brigadoon holds together as a memorable bit of movie confection on the sheer strength of two undeniable ingredients: the too-talented-to-fail Gene Kelly and the undeniably hummable ditties of lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe, who penned this musical originally for Broadway.

As in virtually ever movie he’s graced, Kelly makes the viewer believe in a notion as hokey as love at first sight. It’s more than the sinuous dance moves and lovestruck acrobatics he displays—there’s something indescribably potent about the head-over-heels glimmer in his eyes when he’s smitten by a lass as luscious as Fiona, portrayed here by the pretty-as-a-picture but obviously overdubbed Cyd Charisse.

Couple Kelly’s infectious charm with Brigadoon’s relatively solid song cycle—including “Almost Like Being in Love,” “I’ll Go Home With Bonnie Jean,” and “Waitin’ for My Dearie”—and it’s more than enough to transcend the plot holes and artificial sets. You could also do worse than have a skipper in the wheelhouse as polished as Vincente Minnelli (known for directing Gigi, The Band Wagon, An American in Paris and Meet Me in St. Louis).

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