Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
MGM underwent some severe cutbacks in 1953; most of its contract players were dropped including
the majority of its proud roster of stars. The studio would have to survive in a new kind of
Hollywood, going from picture to picture just like the smallest company in town. Just as budgets were
being slashed, Arthur Freed's unit proposed filming Brigadoon on location in Scotland
as its subject demanded. Not only did that not happen, the entire film ended up being shot on
interior sound stages and filmed not in Technicolor but in glorious Ansco color: More economics
Warners' DVD of Brigadoon is a relatively extras-light single disc edition. I had
thought it one of MGM's more popular big-time musicals, but perhaps the general public sees it
the same way I do - rather stage-bound and airless.
Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas (Gene Kelly and Van Johnson) are New York
businessmen who get lost on a hunting trip in Scotland. A village called Brigadoon suddenly
appears where no village should be and they discover a perplexing bunch of villagers who behave
as highlanders did two hundred years before. Tommy falls in love with a local lass named Fiona Campbell
(Cyd Charisse) and finally gets the true story from Mr. Lundie (Barry Jones), one of the elders:
Thanks to a bargain with God to keep the town untouched by the outside world, Brigadoon sleeps
hidden for a hundred years between days, when its inhabitants awaken as if no time at all has
passed. Its residents have experienced only two full days since 1754.
Tommy needs to choose whether he wants to leave or stay with Fiona. But once a person becomes a
citizen of Brigadoon they must forever remain within its narrow boundaries - anyone who leaves
will break the spell, and the village and its people will disappear forever.
Brigadoon has several pretty songs and a couple of fun dance numbers but little to compete
with the best of MGM musicals - economics really put the stopper on this one. The real stars of
the show are the matte painters and the artists who mounted the immense scenic backdrops that
form the backgrounds for the CinemaScope movie. The film doesn't seem to be taking place on a
stage, nor does it look anything like reality. What it looks like is a movie set, with breeze-less
trees, color-coordinated briars and heather stuck around the ground like Easter decorations. It's
not artificial-fake, it's artificial claustrophobic, even when every scene takes place in front of
a huge cyclorama. 1
The concept of Brigadoon, a magical destination for those tired of the chaos of modern life, is pure
soft-boiled hooey. A Scot in 1754 is supposed to have made a deal with God to initiate the miracle, yet
the completely homogenous population of Brigadoon doesn't seem to have any Christian influence
whatsover. The wish to ignore the rest of the world and make one's "perfect" neighborhood last
forever is a purely isolationist-reactionary fantasy. It fits the complacent 1950s just as
Lost Horizon's escapist fantasy was a predictable response to the fears of 1933. Brigadoon
has existed for only two days in this isolated state and already it has a dissident, an unhappy
jilted suitor named Harry Beaton (played by ballet dancer Hugh Laing) who agonizes about being stuck
in an enclosed world that holds no future for him. The rest of Brigadoon, even his own kin, appear to be
in denial. Everybody's happy, so Harry must be the problem.
When Harry Beaton tries to escape, Brigadoon becomes a kind of Invasion of the Body
Snatchers tale in reverse. Every member of society must think the same way and live the
same way. Anyone who cannot conform is dangerous and must be restrained. A convenient 'accident'
solves the problem. What's left of Harry is simply ignored so the rest of the evening's entertainment
can proceed. The same confusion is at the heart of what's wrong with last year's The Village, which
has no music or romance to cover up its contrived story.
Most of the songs go for generic romantic sentiments. Only Almost Like Being In Love and The
Heather on the Hill are melodic standouts. Gene Kelly is called on to mostly sing, his weakest
talent, while the dances are tasteful but not particularly memorable. Only the Go
Home With Bonnie Jean dance develops a communal sense of fun.
Brigadoon has lots of comedy relief but not much of a sense of humor. As Kelly's sidekick,
Van Johnson's jabs fall mostly flat. He seems to be around to do little else but shake Gene's romantic
mood. Just as in Lost Horizon, the hero finds paradise, loses it and returns to find it again. As is
typical of Modern Fantasies of the Convenient Kind, unalterable fantasy rules are always willing to bend for
true love, especially when above-the-title talent is concerned. Kelly should have to wait 99 years
and eleven months, but the magical town leaps back to life just for him. It's kind of like God telling
Adam and Eve, "Come back to the garden, I was just kidding."
Allowing Kelly into the time-capsule community would also seem to be the defeat of the purpose for which
Brigadoon was created in the first place. When he sees that Brigadoon's customs, superstitions, and
scientific and medical state are one step away from the Dark Ages, is modern-man Kelly really going
to keep silent for the sake of avoiding changes to a 'perfect' community?
Typical of the loose ends that are left dangling, Van Johnson is abandoned at the edge of Brigadoon
without comment. Knowing that the doubting cynic has witnessed a real miracle (ordained by a real
God, by the way), wouldn't it be interesting to find out what he would do? I guess not. 2
This is an early CinemaScope picture and Minnelli uses his crane quite well, especially during the
lovers' emotional sprint up that hill with the heather on top. There's also a lot of rapid camera movement
through the countryside during the midnight search for poor Harry Beaton. Minnelli does his best
but many scenes are static anyway, such as the meeting of the clans amid some old ruins.
Unbilled in the cast are Madge Blake (from TV's Batman) as a town baker. George Chakiris
is said to be one of the dancers, while Stuart Whitman is in the New York bar somewhere.
Warners' DVD of Brigadoon is a fine enhanced rendering of the movie that far outclasses
the rather badly encoded existing disc, which was one of the very first DVDs released. The Ansco
colors look reasonably good but not great. A couple of scenes have a fluctuating density
problem, but that lasts for only a couple of seconds. The audio is terrific.
The extras are some musical outtakes, the songs Come to Me Bend to Me, From This Day On
and Sword Dance, and an audio outtake for a fourth song. Sword Dance gives us an
opportunity to see Hugh Laing's dancing talent. He looks a little like a more rugged Timothy Dalton.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,
Brigadoon was filmed in CinemaScope and in flat 1:75, both for theaters that couldn't
convert and also to hedge bets in case the new anamorphic system did a bellyflop. In the docu When the
Lion Roared Van Johnson tells of making the argument that because he had to film everything
twice for two different versions, he should be paid twice. That idea didn't go over very well.
The revived 1:75 flat version of Seven Brides was quite a revelation on that two-disc set, so I
have a feeling that Brigadoon's flat version could not be restored. Either that, or Warners
is saving a deluxe release of the movie for a later date.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Sound: Excellent ( in 5.1)
Supplements: 3 Outtake musical numbers, one outtake audio track; trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 13, 2005
1. Whenever Cyd and Gene
walk to the top of the hill, it makes me think of the phony sand hill in Alfred Hitchcock's
The Birds when Hitch goes from a real location to a static, lifeless set. Brigadoon is
supposed to be a place people never want to leave. The only outside reality director Minnelli dare
show us is a crowded New York bar, because we'd prefer living almost anywhere to a place that looks
like an ant farm for people.
2. They really missed their bet here, plot-wise. The obvious romantic solution
would be for Harry Beaton and Tommy Albright to switch places, so each gets what they want. Tommy
would get his 18th century farm girl and a life without plumbing or modern medicine. Harry could become
a time traveler 200 years into the future, and take Tommy's place in the dance cards of all those
spoiled Manhattan babes. Perfect.
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson