Gene Kelly Turns 100: Brigadoon (Minnelli, 1954)

This post is a contribution to the CMBA’s Gene Kelly Centennial Blogathon celebrating the actor/director/coreographer’s 100 birthday.

Getting this blogathon post in just under the wire…

For our CMBA Gene Kelly Centennial celebration, I wanted to take a look at a favorite in our house that honestly I haven’t seen all the way through in forever. Watching Brigadoon last night was almost like a first viewing for me, although I do remember little snippets of plot and songs. It’s also fun to revisit movies you watched as a kid as an older classic movie fan. Instead of Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse just being famous people from an earlier era that I only knew by name and a few movies when I was younger, I consider myself a fan of these stars and understand and appreciate so much more of the classical Hollywood system.

Brigadoon is a 1954 MGM musical based on the stage production of the same name. The musical was written by the partnership of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, who also  claim My Fair Lady in their list of musical creations. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, the film stars Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse and Van Johnson.

The plot follows two Americans, Tommy Albright (Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Johnson) on vacation in Scotland on a hunting trip. Lost in the highlands, they happen upon a village that doesn’t appear on their map, and seems to be curiously preserved in old tradition and garb. The locals also seem both apprehensive and interested in the strangers. As Tommy explores the town, he learns it is the wedding day of Charlie Dalrymple (Jimmy Thompson) and Jean Campbell (Virginia Bosler). He also notices Jean’s older sister, Fiona (Charisse), and they are almost immediately attracted to each other.

Kelly and Johnson, two guys doing a little hoofing

After several events which lead Jeff and Tommy to question what is going on with the town and its inhabitants, Fiona takes them to see Mr. Lundie (Barry Jones), who tells them of the miracle of Brigadoon. To protect them from outside dangers, the town preacher prayed for a miracle to save the village, which manifested itself in a magic spell that makes the town appear only one day every hundred years. While outsiders that truly love someone in the village can chose to give up their previous ties to the outside world and live in Brigadoon, none of the villagers can leave or they will break the spell.

As Tommy falls more and more for Fiona, Jeff becomes more cynical and bitter about the town and its magical existence. As the wedding nears, Harry Beaton (Hugh Laing), jealous and disgruntled over not having Jean for his own, decides to escape Brigadoon and doom everyone in the village. During the ensuing chase, Harry climbs a tree to hide. Jeff, drunk and chasing birds as part of his attempts to salvage his hunting vacation, shoots Harry on accident when he reacts to a bird in flight.

After confessing their love to each other, Tommy decides to stay with Fiona in Brigadoon. After finding Jeff to tell him the news, Jeff tells Tommy of the events of the evening, and talks him out of staying. With regret on his face, Tommy walks out of Brigadoon as Fiona and the town fade back into the mist.

Kelly and Charisse, a dancing match made in heaven

Back in New York City, Tommy can’t forget Fiona. He leaves his fiance for good, grabbing Jeff and catching a plane back to Scotland. When they return to the village site, however, it isn’t there. Resigned to the fact that he has lost the love of his life, Tommy watches as the town magically reappears. Mr. Lundie appears on the bridge leading into town, saying Tommy must really love Fiona to have woken the town up early. Leaving Jeff, Tommy returns to Brigadoon and embraces Fiona.

Brigadoon has that signature MGM musical look, from the technicolor palate to the lush score and precise dance numbers. In watching it again, I wouldn’t say it’s as memorable as many of the studio’s more famous musicals. While it’s polished, and Kelly and Charisse are a treat to watch dance together, the rest of the story is kind of flat, none of the musical numbers are very memorable and you can tell that “Scotland” is all filmed on a Hollywood soundstage.

This being a Gene Kelly celebration, the best parts of Brigadoon for me were easily watching Kelly dance. I’ve always been in awe of his grace and power. While it’s usually unfair, people always compare Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. To me, you can’t ever compare one’s talent being greater than the other, but both had distinctly different styles. Kelly always gives me the impression of strength and being a very grounded dancer. But within that very masculine style is elegance and nuance as well. He is always a pleasure to watch.

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23 Responses to Gene Kelly Turns 100: Brigadoon (Minnelli, 1954)

  1. KimWilson says:

    Brigadoon was a favorite production of mine back in high school. I grew up two doors down from a Scottish family that embraced me as one of their own and they loved this movie. Our high school liked to put it on just about every other year, so by the time adulthood came around I was a big fan already. Enjoyed reading your post.

    • Thanks for reading Kim, and sorry my post was so late in the day! My mom’s family is Scottish back a few generations, and this has always been a favorite of hers.

  2. h. says:

    Brigadoon has always been one of MGM’s underrated musicals for me–I’m a sucker for musicals with unique settings, which Brigadoon obviously has cornered the market on. The fact that it gets so much criticism for having been filmed on a sound stage has always baffled me–filming on location with Scotland’s weather, are you kidding me? Plus the sets they did come up with are so beautiful, I almost prefer them to reality, which would probably have ended up looking washed out on camera. The sets really emphasize the dreamy, too-perfect nature of Brigadoon. I don’t think the film really suffers for not being filmed on a sound stage, not any more than say, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers from the same year. I think Seven Brides is a lot worse off for not having any location shooting, and yet it doesn’t get half the criticism Brigadoon does!

    I can understand why a lot of people don’t like it as much as I do, though–it’s definitely a little uneven compared to other MGM musicals, and it can get overly saccharine at times.

    • You’re totally right, filming in Scotland would’ve been a nightmare! I guess I was just surprised that they didn’t substitute some of California for Scotland, but you make a good point as to the set shooting adding to the mystical environment. Thanks for your comment!

  3. A charming musical. I never felt that filming it on a soundstage was detrimental to the movie. The village is, after all, mystical, fantasy, and not meant to be realistic. Van Johnson cracks me up in this movie.

  4. When you start with Lerner & Loewe, all the rest is gravy. If the film had to be set-bound, MGM provided the best. The NYC scene at the end is perfection. I think it was a mistake to cut Meg’s role and song as that character brings a lot of humour to the show. Still I find the film of “Brigadoon” to be top flight entertainment.

    • I agree. I like many of the musical numbers, and even though I don’t find it as tight as other MGM musicals, it’s still pretty entertaining. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. R. D. Finch says:

    I’m in agreement with your statement that this isn’t one of MGM’s most memorable musicals, but it’s still a good film and certainly worth watching, and for fans of musicals rewatching. When you say that the film “has that signature MGM musical look” I know just what you mean, and for me that alone makes it worth watching. I too like the lovely sound stage sets. It’s a fantasy musical and these seem more in sync with that than natural settings would. One thing that I’m always reminded of when I watch it is how good an actor Gene Kelly was. This comes through especially in those scenes late in the film when he returns to New York and his old life. This part also shows off nicely Vincente Minnelli’s talent with satirical exaggeration. I’ve heard Cyd Charisse say in interviews that “The Heather on the Hill” number is her favorite musical number she ever filmed, and considering her work in “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Band Wagon” that’s saying a lot!

    • That is saying a lot! They are a great pair together, so much talent. I know it was one of the first musicals my parents showed to us, so it definitely has it’s die hard fans. Thanks for your comment!

  6. FlickChick says:

    While I agree that it is not in the league with Gene’s best, I wonder why not. It has the cast, the score, the production….maybe just a bit of magic missing. But, compared to most other musicals, it’s still top flight. Thanks for a very interesting post!

    • Thanks for stopping by! Yes, I can’t really put my finger on it either. Maybe just the combination of the fantasy world plus the little bit of over-the-top dramatics at time just unbalance it a little, but it’s still fun.

  7. Rachel says:

    I still haven’t caught up with this one, even though it has some pretty eloquent fans. Which is a shame since how can you pass up Kelly and Charisse dancing? I agree with h, though. if I were a filmmaker, I wouldn’t be eager to film on-location in Scotland either. Thanks for the review!

  8. I enjoy this film but it is not a favorite. It’s interesting that the fact that it was so clearly filmed on a soundstage is a bit divisive. In an era that was going more and more outdoors, I wish this one had too. Still, Kelly and Charisse — how can you go wrong with that combo?

    • Yep, I had no idea that statement would be such a conversation starter, lol. I think the same thing, I’m just surprised that even if they weren’t going to Scotland to shoot, that some outdoor location in California wasn’t used. Thanks for commenting!

  9. Page says:

    Hi Lindsay! Sorry it took so long to get over here.

    I haven’t watched Brigadoon and I don’t know if I will so thanks for covering it for the Blogathon. It’s nice that you saw the film as a kid then rewatched it. It’s always interesting to see what fans of a certain film remember from early on and if their views change as adults.

    To be fair to Gene and the studio that put out Brigadoon. as you pointed out seeing him dance is a treat regardless of the script. or lack thereof. We were very fortunate to have him and Astaire. His professionalism and dedication to his craft are ethics we seldom see today.

    • Hi Page,
      Thanks for reading and commenting! I definitely didn’t remember much except the basic plot, so it was almost like a totally new film to me. What did come across was the appreciation I’ve gained for Kelly and Charisse now that I know who they are in a broader sense than when I was younger. Seeing them onscreen is getting to see perfection in artistry.

  10. The Lady Eve says:

    Lindsay, I’ve always loved “Brigadoon,” Hollywood movie set and all. It may have something to do with my own Scottish ancestry. One of my grandfather’s was born in Scotland, though the family left when he was 5. When he was in the mood, he would break into a brogue which I could barely understand.

    • How neat! I’m adopted, but my mother’s side of the family is Scottish, and she is very interested in her heritage, which is one reason I think she loves this film. Thanks for reading!

  11. There is a lot to love about this movie…although I do admit to using the Fast Forward button at times. I really enjoyed your review.

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