Adapted from the stage musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, this MGM classic opens with two American hunters lost in the misty, Scottish highlands. Tommy (Gene Kelly) and Jeff (Van Johnson) stumble upon a place not listed on any map, the strange, but beguiling village of Brigadoon. Here, Tommy falls for local lass, Fiona Campbell (Cyd Charisse), while abrasive Jeff remains resistant to the villagers’ charms, especially when he learns Brigadoon is an enchanted place. As wise Mr. Lundie (Barry Jones) explains, because of a powerful prayer, Brigadoon awakens only for one day out of every hundred years. This miracle doesn’t sit well with lovelorn, dejected Harry Beaton (Hugh Laing) whose escape attempt ends tragically, with Tommy and Jeff leaving Brigadoon. Adrift in heartless New York city, Tommy pines for his lost love and sets out on a hopeless quest…
Vincente Minnelli made some of the greatest MGM musicals, yet in those early days critics often accused him of confusing beauty with art. It took the French New Wave to proclaim him a major auteur whose lifelong theme was beauty itself. Brigadoon certainly shows off Minnelli’s painterly eye, especially the evocative opening sequence. Flowers blossom, the sun sweeps the mists away, rouses villagers from their sleep and the village comes alive to magical effect. Long-legged, crazy-accented, Cyd Charisse is among a plethora of limber lovelies in fetching frocks, while the ebullient, athletic dance sequences retain their charm. Plus no one expresses the sheer exuberance of being in love quite like Gene Kelly - even though he was a last minute replacement for Howard Keel.
Kelly’s number, “It’s Almost Like Being in Love”, is the best known song here and it’s great fun to watch him serenade pigs and cows and annoy the hell out Jeff. Well played by a blustery Van Johnson, Jeff is an interestingly troubled character. A borderline alcoholic, too cynical to believe in romance or miracles, who (unfathomably) rejects romance with a bouncy, appealing shepherdess (“Dunna yae see, I’m highly attracted to yae?”). Which is part of the film’s problem. Maybe we live in cynical times, but away from the carefree romance, one’s heart really goes out to Jeff and poor, unlucky Harry Beaton (who can’t go to college or marry the girl he loves. Ouch.), for whom the miracle of Brigadoon does no favours.
The balletic courtship between Kelly and Charisse remains well staged, although Fiona remains a trifle distance. Yet amidst a slender plot, the endless pageant of whirling tartans gets a little wearying. When Harry makes a break for it we finally injects a little excitement. After the men return home, Minnelli nicely contrasts the hectic, hustle and bustle of New York with the tranquillity of Brigadoon. Amidst endless cynical chatter, key words set Tommy off on a dreamy reverie. Okay, modern life is rubbish, but Tommy’s final willingness to trade the real world for heavenly fantasy is both romantic, and slightly disturbing. And one can’t help wondering what happens to Jeff.
The musical was remade twice in the 1960s for TV, but also proved the unlikely inspiration for the anime adventure: Brigadoon (2000). Here, amidst a nostalgic, alternate-reality 1970s Japan, a teenage girl and a 200 year old, blue, super-robot journey to a flying city and battle the evil Monomachians. The time is ripe for a musical remake. Any takers?