Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
Brigadoon is the story of a little Scottish town that seems to have come unstuck in time—wait, time travel?
*pause for dramatic effect*
Marty! You’ve gotta come back with me!
That’s right, friends in time, two years ago I made it my quest to watch and analyze more time travel movies than any sane person ever should (over 150!) for a Cinema 52 side project I called “Time Out.” I compiled my collection by consulting various web articles on time travel films (with one hand over my eyes for spoilers), and yet, somehow, Brigadoon was strangely absent from even the most comprehensive lists. Well, after I wrapped the project, several people asked, “Hey, what about Brigadoon?” and I said, “Oops,” and moved on to watching The Fellowship of the Ring 52 times. (Wow, when you put it like that, my life sounds pleasantly stupid!) Fortunately, Brigadoon is also a musical, so what better way to file my final viewing report of the four-year Cinema 52 experiment than with a shot at redemption? Let’s merge these timelines!
And now, Brigadoon. As a musical and as a time travel film.
Two American grouse hunters named Tommy Albright (Gene Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Van Johnson) are looking for birds to murder in the wilderness of Scotland. They walk through some magical mist and happen upon a town called Brigadoon that doesn’t appear on their map. The residents seem friendly and high-spirited, but the longer Tommy and Jeff stick around, the more they suspect that there’s something unusual about this place.
Besides Golf Pimp’s outfit, that is.
Various clues point to all the Brigadoonites Brigadooning it up way back in 1754. How is this possible? I assure you, the answer is so delightfully fucking ridiculous that I refuse to spoil it in the text of this article, but click here if you hate seeking out and thoroughly enjoying silly movies. Of course, the “How?” of Brigadoon’s temporal troubles isn’t as important as this follow-up question: what happens if Tommy and Jeff stay?
They’ll have to make blood sacrifices to the oxen overlords, turns out.
Alright, so that’s the time travel part; where does the music come in? Well, Tommy falls in love with the beauty and lifestyle of Brigadoon, and also a bonnie lass named Fiona Campbell (Cyd Charisse). Those are nice subjects to sing about!
I feel a crescendo coming on!
Overall, it’s a wonderfully romantic fantasy story, sort of like the best Twilight Zone episodes: equal parts social commentary and fun otherworldly goofiness.
I love the dynamic between our two American protagonists, so much so that I feel weird talking about them separately. Gene Kelly’s Tommy Albright is so utterly enthralled with Brigadoon that you can’t take your eyes away from his wonderment. Of all the Kelly films I’ve watched this year, this is the first where he’s more the charmee instead of the charmer, and it’s a role that suits him well.
Aww, he found some flowers!
Tommy’s pal Jeff, on the other hand? Ha, Jeff straight doesn’t give a fuck, about time travel or anything else. It’s already a brilliant idea on paper, to have Tommy’s sidekick react to everything in Brigadoon with a resounding “meh,” but Van Johnson’s unenthused responses to everybody are so hilariously deadpan. I instantly want to seek out more of Van’s work.
“Eh, have fun with that.”
Cyd Charisse is awesome as Fiona Campbell, who refuses to marry any random loser in Brigadoon just because her family wants to see her become a bride and also because they’re trapped in a time vortex or whatever. But no, she’d rather be single than waste time with some jerk of a husband, even if her town is literally behind the times. Charisse plays Fiona as confident and sweet and also her Scottish accent is damn cute.
There are some other great performances, like Barry Jones as the kindly old Mr. Lundie or Dodie Heath as a lonely woman who won’t stopping bugging the shit out of Jeff, but in the interest of this article not being ten miles long, good work, all, let’s move on!
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
Brigadoon is almost entirely devoid of special effects, which is a good fit when your time travel yarn is a dreamlike fairy tale rather than a sci-fi adventure. However, when Brigadoon appears from the mists of Scotland, superimposing a little smoke played backwards is pretty effective.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
Lerner and Loewe are at it again! Many of the songs in Brigadoon aren’t terribly necessary to the plot, but they’re all a lot of fun. The movie opens on a trio of tunes introducing us to the Scottish Highlands (“Once in the Highlands”), Brigadoon (“Brigadoon”), and its town square (“Down on MacConnachy Square”). There’s an eerie quality to “Brigadoon” that sets up its mysterious nature, only to slam into the surprisingly cheerful “Down on MacConnachy Square” to let you know that these are just nice, normal folk (that are trapped in a weird spacetime thingy).
It’s no “The Power of Love,” but I like it!
If you’re familiar at all with Howard Ashman’s lecture on how to write a musical, you know you need a good “I Want”song, and Fiona gets a great one called “Waiting for My Dearie.” She goes into detail about how everybody expects her to get married, but it’s perfect partner or nothing for her, and you’ll shut up and like it! But, uh, you know, prettier than how I just worded it. Plus, you get the hopeful sense that she’s prooooobably going to meet Mr. Right very soon…
…that or get a follow-up song called “Looks Like I’m Dying Alone.”
Hey, time for a drinking song! Tommy and Jeff get into town and everybody raises a glass to the local groom-to-be, who breaks into “I’ll Go Home to Bonnie Jean.” It’s catchy and the chorus will never leave your head, and for a bonus, the Americans show up the Scots with a fancy tap dance.
*sigh* Typical tourists.
Fiona shows Tommy the majesty of Brigadoon and he sings “The Heather on the Hill” as they gather flowers and share a truly beautiful dance together. It’s lovely. That’s all I have to say about that.
Yep, nothing snarky here—oh, wow, that background is so faaaaake!
“Oh, I heard this in the movie Antz!” was the embarrassing outburst I had during “Almost Like Being in Love,” Tommy’s heartwarming ode to being in love with Fiona or maybe Brigadoon or both or wait a minute, how is this not just actually being in love? Whatever the case may be, Jeff makes his usual “yeesh, tone it down” face over the whole thing.
We all need a Jeff to keep us in check.
Let’s see, and there’s a wedding, so we need a wedding dance…
…to bagpipes, naturally…
…and we’ll also need a song about beating the shit out of a guy. No, honestly, I didn’t see this coming at all, but when one of the townsfolk gets dangerously close to screwing up the time rules in a big way, everybody goes after him. That part I understand, but then they break into “The Chase,” a tune in which they mostly sing the dude’s name out loud and then chant “Stop him!” as they actively try to tackle him, punch him, or stab him. Seriously.
If this is your kid’s favorite song in the movie, seek counseling.
Boy, we can’t end on that violent little number, can we? Just to be safe, how about one more for Tommy and Fiona? They share another tender dance, this time in the moonlight to an instrumental of “The Heather on the Hill.” It’s passionate and emotionally charged and once again, I have nothing to add to this graceful moment.
Except… nope, nothing. It’s breathtaking.
THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
Surprisingly, Tommy and Jeff take the wacky time travel explanation completely in stride. When Mr. Lundie lays down, again, the nuttiest time travel backstory I’ve ever heard, Tommy just double-checks his math and Jeff’s reaction is pretty much, “Yeah, whatever.” So, in lieu of a McFly-level freakout, here’s an earlier scene in which our twentieth century boys start to piece together the puzzle that is Brigadoon while looking at an inscription in a Bible that refers to a wedding they’re scheduled to attend later that night.
“‘Married: Jean Campbell to Charles Chisholm Dalrymple,
May 24th, 1754.’ Now what do you say?”
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
I’ll be honest, no lyric struck me as particularly lazy this time around, but here’s one from “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean” that made me cringe…
“Hello to married men I’ve known,
I’ll soon have a wife and leave yours alone…”
Compared with all the other time travel musicals I’ve seen (and for the record, that’s Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Roman Scandals, maybe We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story but it’s not really a musical, and maybe Ali Baba Goes to Town but it’s not really a time travel film), Brigadoon does the best job of blending those two seemingly incompatible genres. It doesn’t quite have enough of a fantastical yarn to fill a feature length movie and the songs aren’t entirely compelling enough without a kooky twist, but put together, this was an unexpected success. Fun tunes, great performances, and a time travel story that’s both laughably weird and occasionally poignant make Brigadoon worth checking out.
Nothing! That’s it! Goodnight, everybody! Thanks for reading!