Starring Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, Cyd Charisse, Elaine Stewart, Barry Jones, Hugh Laing, Albert Sharpe, Virginia Bosler, Jimmy Thompson
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Expectations: I’ve seen this movie countless times as a child and always enjoyed it. Does it hold up?
I decided to watch Brigadoon again for the first time in about 12 years. Well, that’s not exactly true. I checked out the DVD from the library because I saw that it had some outtake musical numbers that I had never seen before. When I put the disc in to watch these outtakes, I decided first to watch a bit of the actual film to get myself into the mood. About two hours and one Brigadoon later, I got around to watching the outtakes. I couldn’t stop myself from watching the entire film.
Brigadoon tells the story of two hunters (played by Gene Kelly and Van Johnson) who find themselves lost in a Scottish forest. Out of the mist, the town of Brigadoon reveals itself and before Gene Kelly knows it, he’s met the girl of his dreams (Cyd Charisse). I watched this movie at least 20 times while I was growing up. It was one of the staple movies in our family. At first, I hated it. “Oh, not Brigadoon again,” I said to myself. The more times I watched it though, I found myself looking forward to parts throughout the movie. First it was the chase sequence towards the end. Then I became fond of the song I’ll Go Home With Bonnie Jean. Pretty soon, I was enjoying the whole thing.
So going into this viewing, I expected it bore me instead of slowly enchant me the way it had in the past. Almost immediately though, I knew I would still enjoy it. First, the music is still fantastic. The orchestration and lyrics are excellent if you enjoy 1950s movie musicals. This was also the first time I was able to view the film in its natural CinemaScope aspect ratio, and this made quite a difference. Instead of the tight framing I remembered, the images were very well composed and balanced, with the scenes set in Scotland full of open space. This perfectly fits the country life vs. city life theme that runs throughout the film. Towards the end, Gene Kelly returns to New York for a bit and every shot is cramped with multiple people having multiple overlapping conversations. In these moments, all Kelly and the viewer can think of are the charming people of Brigadoon and the wide open spaces. Another thing of note is that there are no close ups in the entire film. The closest we ever get is a medium close up and even those are used sparingly and only for effect. The majority of the film is composed of long shots of everyone’s entire body, which works great as most of the time they are dancing around and it is great to be able to watch the craft of it all without needless intercuts of tapping feet and the like. This does lend a very “filmed theater” quality to the film, so don’t watch it expecting a cinematic masterpiece. To be fair, the movie is based on a very successful Broadway play, so the idea that it looks like filmed theater is essentially what it is. None of this detracts from the experience though. It is this way because it works and the small amount of film touches augment the story and make it a great film.
The sets are standard 1950s Hollywood fare, meaning they are obviously sets with matte paintings. Personally, I don’t mind this but I know its a negative for a lot of modern viewers. For the time, I’d say these sets were actually pretty nice and the matte paintings are amazing. There are times when it all looks a bit like Disneyland (the Grand Canyon part of the Railroad to be exact), but this is a minor flaw. I would be interested in knowing how audiences in 1954 responded to it, as John Ford’s Best Picture winning The Quiet Man was released two years earlier and was quite memorably shot on location in Ireland.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed re-watching Brigadoon today and I wholeheartedly recommend it to any fan of 1950s Hollywood musicals that hasn’t already slipped through the mist and into Brigadoon.