4 Living Legends Part 6

Here is another entry in our ongoing series of Classic Hollywood Stars who are still with us. Please enjoy their many talents!

Peggy Dow (1928-)

Peggy Dow is most well-remembered for her enchanting turn as a nurse opposite Jimmy Stewart’s disarming Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey. In later life, she’s been a prominent philanthropist. She also appeared in a few lesser-known pictures including Woman in Hiding (1950), I Want You (1951), and Bright Victory (1951) worth it for classic film aficionados.

Nancy Olson (1928-)

If you’re like me, Nancy Olson stands out for two landmark films from two completely opposite ends of the spectrum. The first one is the incomparable Sunset Blvd (1950) where she played opposite William Holden. The other is that preeminent childhood classic, The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) with Fred MacMurray. I also really enjoyed her in Union Station (1950).

Ann Blyth (1928-)

Ann Blyth was in a wide variety of pictures running the gamut of musical and drama, but if she’s remembered for one film, it’s certainly her sweltering turn as the vindictive Veda in Mildred Pierce (1945). When Joan Crawford slaps her across the face, it’s the climactic moment in one of the most terrifying mother-daughter relationships ever. I’m sure she’s lovely in real life!

Jane Powell (1929-)

What a lovely performer Jane Powell is and she brightens up the frames of many a musical with her multi-talented effervescence. Some personal highlights in her career include Royal Wedding (1951) with Fred Astaire and, of course, the wonderful Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954).

Royal Wedding (1951)

royalwedding1The Wedding of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip was a once in a lifetime experience. They’re still together to this day and yet when they got married she was not even queen yet. It’s hard to believe. It’s only fitting that a momentous occasion like that would get a film, and Stanley Donen‘s musical is a bouncy little dance fest that uses the wedding as its backdrop, hence the title.

The story follows the brother-sister dance team extraordinaire of Tom (Fred Astaire) and Ellen Bowden (Jane Powell), who after a smashing opening weekend of their show Every Night on Sunday, get a call to perform in London in the wake of the big occasion. So they get aboard the first ocean liner available and head abroad. Tom is more interested in work than love, and Ellen leaves behind a string of beaus behind, but none of them meant much to her. She finds a budding romance with Lord Brindale (Peter Lawford), and it looks like it might actually amount to something. Quite by chance, Tom finds out a woman he meets on the street happens to be part of their production, the dancer Anne Ashmond (none other than Winston Churchill’s daughter Sarah). So of course, we have these two budding romances forming as the show gets into high gear and siblings must balance their obligations with love. It’s not always easy or without heartache, but it ends up just as glorious as the Royal Wedding.

Fred Astaire is an ageless wonder looking as spry as he ever did, and his individual numbers are probably the film’s best. His coat rack dance in the gym seemingly pays homage to his friend Gene Kelly and shows his brilliance at breathing life and vitality into inanimate objects. They become his partners in the dance. His inspiration for expression.

royalwedding2Furthermore, his dance on the ceiling looks as remarkable now and feels just as magical as it probably was back then. It’s a marvel because we look for any sign of a trick, but everything looks so fluid. Thus, it’s so easy to quickly forget the technical aspect and simply be blown away by the inventiveness of Astaire.

Jane Powell is a wonderfully bright young beauty and a lovely co-star for Astaire in both song and dance. It was refreshing not to have them playing romantic leads opposite one another and the brother-sister dynamic fittingly mirrored Astaire’s own longtime real-life partnership with his sister Adele. All in all, it’s a light and elegant bit of fun that’s an exuberant delight. It does what it sets out to do and that’s about all you can ask for.

3.5/5 Stars

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Seven_brides_seven_brothersThe title gives a clear indication of what this Stanley Donen musical will be about, but it does not tell us how we will arrive at that conclusion. It all begins when a woodsman named Adam (Howard Keel) comes to town intent on finding himself a cute and handy bride. That he does in Milly (Jane Powell) and soon enough, in a whirlwind, they are married and heading back to his home. There she is greatly surprised to meet his rambunctious and rough-edged younger brothers. Six to be exact, but you already guessed that.

Once she accepts her new life, it becomes Milly’s mission to straighten them out and find them girls to court. It isn’t easy but soon they learn table manners and proper etiquette before the big barn raising takes place. There the boys make quite the impression and the audience is given quite the show complete with bright colors and inventive-foot-tapping choreography. It’s an understatement to say that the Pontipee brothers are not popular with the locals, and not only is there a barn-raising but some hell-raising as well.

Adam is proud of their showing, but the rest of the lads are lovesick as the long cold winter begins, separating them indefinitely from their girls. With Adam’s encouragement, they decide to do as the Romans and kidnap their sweets, but they fail to think about the consequences. The town’s in an uproar, the girls are frightened, and a man-made avalanche means there is no contact with the outside world for at least 5 months!

Milly is appalled by their actions, especially Adam’s part, and the lads are made to sleep in the barn as she dotes over the scared group of girls. Not liking what he’s seeing, Adam heads off on his own for a while. Spring brings a fresh start as young love flourishes and the boys are forgiven. Milly gives birth to a baby girl, and Adam finally returns home with a new perspective. But what about the town folk you ask? They do come after the  Pontipees, and they don’t like what they see when they ride in. Needless to say, it is a happy ending with each boy getting his girl, thanks to a few shotguns.

With catchy songs, beautiful color cinematography, lively dance numbers, and an amusing premise, this is a very strong MGM musical, even if it is not the best of the lot. That is not saying much because the studio could hardly go wrong with such previous titles as On the Town, An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain and The Band Wagon. Seven Brides is a nice addition although I will say it vaguely reminded me of Oklahoma. However, it is different enough to be well worth it. The only question left to ask is, “Are Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, “Frank,” and Gideon natural red-heads? I’m not sure I know the answer but I could wager a guess.

4/5 Stars