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Two completely different versions OF SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS?

While working on promos for a package of musicals, Savant noticed that one of the copies of the always-popular 1954 hit Seven Brides for Seven Brothers looked different. Videotape releases of Seven Brides have all been pan 'n scanned from the original CinemaScope compositions. But this particular videotape was different.

The titles didn't look squeezed. When seven brothers stood side by side, you saw all seven instead of having three cropped away. Wider shots seemed to have a lot more headroom ... in short, it looked as if I were watching the little-known alternate version of Seven Brides, shot not in CinemaScope, but flat.

As already discussed with Brigadoon, when MGM began making CinemaScope films, it hedged its bet on the new format by simultaneously making a non-Cinemascope version, shot on the same sets with the same actors, but normally, so that if CinemaScope should bite the dust, Brides wouldn't go down with it.

Really, this is a variation on what happened with Oklahoma! in 1955. Oklahoma! was shot in the first incarnation of Todd A-O, a radical format that ran at 30 frames per second instead of of the sound standard of 24. Knowing that only a few theaters could be expected to alter their projection to show real Todd A-O, the makers of that film simultaneously shot it in CinemaScope, for screenings in the other 99% of theaters. Apparently the fancy 30 frame version was shot largely in the morning, and the 24 frame version in the afternoon. Only a few months after its premiere, the real Todd A-O version of Oklahoma! was retired, and the 'normal' one has been the version that has been seen ever since. Now the lost version has resurfaced on laserdisc and the AMC cable station - various viewers have reported that the 'new' version of Oklahoma! is peppier, with better dancing and fresher performances. Perhaps the actors had given the show their best in the morning shoot, with the afternoon repeat filming being done at a different energy level.

Was this the case with Seven Brides? I wrote George Feltenstein, the acknowledged industry expert in all matters concerning MGM Musicals (and most everything else about Hollywood history), and received even more information:

"The flat version of Seven Brides was shot 1.85 (hard matte) and there are new 1.85 and pan 'n scan transfers from the 1.85 negative which is in EXCELLENT condition as it was hardly used. (FYI, two other MGM movies were filmed twice this way: Brigadoon and The Student Prince)"

"The original CinemaScope negative was badly damaged in the 1960's when it was blown up to 70mm for UK reissue. The Yellow, Cyan and Magenta safety separations for this element were made in the late '50's, and made incorrectly. These various elements and an old interpositive were used to restore the 'Scope neg to the best of our ability in 1996. So even the 'Scope version and its pan 'n scan derivation are different than they used to be."

"As you are aware, both versions are made up of different takes, with different staging. The 1.85 version was never released to theatres in Stereophonic sound, but a new Stereo track was made for this video version in '96 as well."

So that's the present lowdown on Seven Brides. It must have been one of the flat transfers that I was working with, when I cut promos for the film's new video release, which is the improved, Stereophonic pan 'n scan of the 'Scope version delineated above.

Text © Copyright 1998 Glenn Erickson

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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