Director: Stanley Donen
Writer: Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, Dorothy Kingsley; based on The Sobbin' Women by Stephen Vincent Benét
Cinematographer: George J. Folsey
Producer: Jack Cummings
by Jon Cvack
Recently I was watching the first third of Sixteen Candles (1984) in a hotel room before having to get packed for check out. The film nearly holds up except for Long Duck Dong’s character, which the grandfather suggests is being used as essentially an indentured servant; especially as we never know why they decided to have an exchange student stay with them other than the free labor. There’s a strange reaction when Samantha Baker’s friend thinks Andie says she wants to lose her virginity to a black guy. And Ted auctions off a girl’s underwear. To be clear, I am not someone who believes we should no longer consume these films, but I believe the points are valid, and even Molly Ringwald has expressed her criticism. Whether you want to call it racist-lite to accept these as fine, I’m in agreement that there’s a broad spectrum of offense, and aside from Long Duck Dong’s character, it’s more in the innocent teenager category than otherwise. Then again, there are films like Animal House (1978), License to Drive (1988), and Revenge of the Nerds (1984) which suggest actual rape, which are becoming less forgivable as time goes on.
In terms of films in the #MeToo era, Seven Brides for Seven Men has to be one of the most insulting I’ve ever seen. At first thinking this must have been an obscure film that Netflix mistakenly up-ranked, I then discovered it to be one of the most popular musicals from the era, with AFI in 2007 listing it as one of the greatest musicals of all time.
It opens with a big burly man Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel), singing the “Bless Your Beautiful Hide”, with lyrics including:
Bless your beautiful hide
You're just as good as lost
I don't know your name but I'm a-stakin' my claim
Lest your eyes is crossed
Or, in a different version…
Bless your beautiful hide, prepare to bend your knee
And take that vow 'cause I'm a-tellin' you now
You're the gal for me
He then visits a general store to buy supplies, listing off what he needs and asking if they have a woman under the counter he could buy, who “...isn’t afraid to work”, as he has seven grown brothers at home who can’t keep the house clean. Four young women then enter the store. Adam proceeds to walk right up to them, checking them out like pieces of cattle while he rants about his mission to get a wife; going to say to the four women that they’re all “...pretty, fresh, and young” but he ain’t “...deciding on nothing until he looks them all over.”
He leaves the store and finds a woman, Milly (Jane Powell), chopping wood and being feisty with her father. Adam proceeds to climb a tree and essentially demands she marry him which she agrees to after about two hours.
He then takes her back home to meet the seven brothers who’re all incapable of taking care of
themselves, leading Milly to whip them into shape, but her marriage to Adam makes them so jealous they ask that she help them attract some of the other women in town who are currently courting more reputable men.
They all attend a county fair where a massive brawl takes place and destroys their chances with the women, and yada yada yada, they get increasingly more bored, especially as the winter months wane on, until one day they decide that their best bet is to kidnap all of the women and take them back to the cabin. The film doesn’t give you time to process whether this could even be a joke before they surround the girl’s houses, sneak into their homes and wait for them outside where the women are smothered with blankets and loaded onto a wagon and taken back home. The men they’re courting, while being the villains in this story, have the honor to chase down the men, only stopped when an avalanche strikes and they’re all snowed in.
I’m not sure if this was ever funny, but the girl’s are now crying, wondering why they’ve been kidnapped, and fortunately Milly steps in, appalled, demanding the brothers sleep in the barn while the women get the cabin. The men grow increasingly frustrated and depressed (aka horny and aggressive), until when the snow begins to melt, the town arms up and races to rescue the women. When the women then see the men, they scream and shout for help, and the brothers tackle them to the ground to prevent their escape. The townsmen finally gain control, rescue the women, and are about to hang the men when all seven women suddenly have a change of heart and instead choose to marry the seven brothers.
I struggle to think of a film that has so poorly aged with the ratio of intention/reality. This movie came out the same year as On the Waterfront (1954), and I’m left wondering how even in 2007 AFI would consider it one of the best of the genre. Unlike most 80s comedies, this does not have sprinkles of offense. Its entire second act is about assaulting, kidnapping, forcing women into marriage. It’s a film where there are no redeeming qualities. It takes a frightening situation and makes a complete joke out of it. Aside from the title “Bless Your Beautiful Hide” melody being stuck in my head for the last 24 hours, even the craft of this film isn’t all that great. Perhaps it’s worth seeing for how shockingly light it takes the material, but it’s also fine to miss altogether.
BELOW: I guess the song and dance is okay, all other things aside
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