Jan 23, 2014

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: Homoerotic Heterosexism

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) is one of the few 1950s musical films that wasn't based on a Broadway play.  It's based on a short story, "The Sobbin' Women," by poet Stephen Vincent Benet.

It is one of the more homoerotic spectacles in the history of musical theater:

On the surface, it seems heterosexist: Adam (Howard Keel), who is married to Milly (Jane Powell), has six rowdy, unkempt, uncivilized brothers.  He thinks that getting married would civilize them, so they abduct six women from the village and cause an avalanche so they can't be rescued.  Unfortunately, they forgot to abduct a preacher, so they can't get married.  They'll have to wait out the winter with surly, angry women trying to get revenge.

In the end they get civilized after all, and the women fall in love with them and want to get married.

But not until a movie-worth of pranks, hijinks, and guys who see women as an intrusion into their masculine preserve.

The six abducted women are off stage most of the time, while the brothers -- all muscular, acrobatic dancers -- frolic amongst themselves.

Several of them -- Matt Mattox, Tommy Rail, Russ Tamblyn -- were gay or at least the subject of gay rumors.

There was a brief tv version in 1982, with the six brothers all kids, and no brides.  It is notable for starring River Phoenix as Guthrie.

Seven Brides  became a musical in 1982, and has been revived several times, most recently in Britain in 2013-2014.

The choreography is big, bold, innovative, and tough, but a number of high schools and colleges have tried, giving young drama majors a chance to strut their stuff shirtless.

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