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.
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.
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.