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teaser Brigadoon (1954)

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's musical, Brigadoon, was the surprise hit of the 1946-47 Broadway season. It's a fantasy about a pair of Americans, Tommy and Jeff, who get lost while hunting in the Scottish highlands, and come upon the enchanted village of Brigadoon, which appears only once in a hundred years. Tommy falls in love with Fiona, one of Brigadoon's inhabitants, and must decide whether to return to his sophisticated life in New York, or stay with Fiona in Brigadoon.

MGM Producer Arthur Freed bought the rights to Brigadoon for his legendary musical production unit, with Gene Kelly in mind for the lead. The film was delayed by Kelly's other commitments, but production finally began in 1953. Hollywood however, was a different place in 1953 than it had been just a few years earlier, when Freed, Kelly, and director Vincente Minnelli had made their Oscar-winning musical extravaganza, An American in Paris (1951). MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer had been forced out, replaced by Dore Schary, who preferred realistic dramas to fluffy musicals. Television was stealing away movie audiences, studios were economizing, and musicals were no longer popular.

Freed and Minnelli had hoped to shoot Brigadoon (1954) on location. Uncertain weather made Scotland impossible; instead, they found some suitable highlands in Northern California's Big Sur. But even that idea was rejected - the studio insisted that Brigadoon be made on studio soundstages. That was the first strike against it. The second was the studio's decision to use the less-vibrant AnscoColor, instead of Technicolor. And the third, in Minnelli's view, was being forced to use CinemaScope.

On the plus side, he had the services of his American in Paris creative team, including costume designer Irene Sharaff, and art director Preston Ames, along with veteran MGM cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg. Together, they turned those minuses into pluses. If they had to build Brigadoon on soundstages, Ames devised a way to build the whole village, as well as the surrounding hillsides, on a single, huge stage, so that the camera could wander through it, and shoot a full 360 degrees. Using the muddy AnscoColor to advantage, Ruttenberg lit interiors so that they resembled Flemish paintings. The wide CinemaScope screen is not the best setting for dance, but the large ensemble numbers like "Go Home with Bonnie Jean," filled it well. CinemaScope - as well as Ames's set --were also used to advantage in the "Heather on the Hill" number, as Kelly and Cyd Charisse danced up and down the moors.

Ruttenberg and Minnelli came up with an ingenious solution for the first sight of Brigadoon, which was supposed to emerge from the mist. They shot the scene in reverse, beginning with the village clearly visible, then pumping in chemical fog. Then it was projected backwards, so that the fog clears, revealing the village.

Brigadoon was made for a relatively modest $2.3 million, and was moderately successful at the box office. But critics complained about its stagy quality. Even today, it's obvious that Brigadoon would have benefited from location shooting. Yet its very artificiality heightens the fantasy; and Joseph Ruttenberg's compositions make it a visually striking film. Freed and Minnelli happily worked with Ruttenberg again on Gigi (1958). That film won Ruttenberg his fourth Academy Award - at the age of 69.

Director: Vincente Minnelli
Producer: Arthur Freed
Screenplay: Alan J. Lerner, based on the musical play by Lerner & Frederick Loewe
Editor: Albert Akst
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons and Preston Ames
Music: Alan J. Lerner & Frederick Loewe
Principal Cast: Gene Kelly (Tommy Albright), Van Johnson (Jeff Douglas), Cyd Charisse (Fiona Campbell), Elaine Stewart (Jane Ashton), Barry Jones (Mr. Lundie), Hugh Laing (Harry Beaton).
C-109m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri

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