Wednesday, August 25, 2021

THE FIFTH ANNUAL VAN JOHNSON BLOGATHON: Brigadoon, 1954



Click HERE to access the tributes to the popular actor. The contribution from this corner of the internet is a look at Van in the 1954 film version of Brigadoon.



Once a song and dance man, always a song and dance man. After making his Broadway debut in New Faces of 1936, Van Johnson was a featured dancer in Rodgers and Hart's Too Many Girls in 1940. The play starred the new sensation Desi Arnaz and Johnson was one of the Broadway imports to the RKO film where Desi met leading lady Lucille Ball.

Van Johnson, June Havoc in Pal Joey

Back on Broadway, Van appeared in another Rodgers and Hart sensation Pal Joey starring Gene Kelly. Signed by MGM, Van became a matinee idol and, surprisingly, not that his musicality was ignored, but the studio known for its musicals didn't take full advantage of Van's talents in that area. After all, they did have Gene Kelly for that sort of thing.

Lerner and Loewe's Brigadoon opened on Broadway in 1947 and ran for 581 performances. The popularity of the musical fantasy has never wanned. MGM's movie of the property was not produced until 1954. The studio balked at director Vincente Minnelli's planned Scottish location shoot for Brigadoon, as well as Stanley Donen's plan to shoot Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in Oregon. Subsequently, budgets for both films were cut, and, apparently, Minnelli's enthusiasm for the project dropped considerably. 

Van Johnson, Gene Kelly, Elaine Stewart

Tommy Albright (Gene Kelly) and his pal Jeff Douglas (Van Johnson) are ad men from NYC taking a hunting trip in Scotland. They stumble across a mystery in a quaint village that seems quite out of time with their contemporary world. It is in the village of Brigadoon that Tommy, who has been searching for meaning in his life beyond his fine career and his fine fiancee, discovers love with Fiona Campbell (Cyd Charisse). 

Jeff, who discovered the bottle years ago instead of bothering with any deep search for meaning in life cannot come to grips with the story of a little town that only comes to life for one day every hundred years as a means of protecting it from evil outside influence. Jeff will find only more things to bury deep in his subconscious in the place Tommy finds magical.

Van Johnson, Dody Heath

Songs from the play were cut from the film as the Breen office found the lyrics offensive to two of lusty Meg Brockie's songs My Mother's Wedding Day and The Love of My Life performed by Pamela Britton (My Favorite Martian) on Broadway. Unfortunately, this cut much of the comic byplay between Van Johnson's Jeff and Meg, played by Dody Heath in the movie.

Brigadoon does retain the lovely melodies, the moving romance, some impressive sets to replace the location shooting, and sincere performances. I find Cyd Charisse quite moving. Van Johnson delightfully steals the show with his sardonic personality as well as proving he hadn't lost a step considering his last big musical number on-screen was I Won't Dance in Till the Clouds Roll By in 1946.

Van only participates in one number in Brigadoon, and I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean has always been a highlight of the movie for me. The song itself is memorable fun, but it is Van's involvement that makes it stand out. 

Of note:

Van Johnson, Patricia Lambert

Van Johnson starred opposite Patricia Lambert in the 1961 London production of The Music Man. Yet, when Hollywood twiddled its thumbs about letting Robert Preston repeat his Tony Award winning role on screen and contemplated many other performers, I have not read that Van Johnson was among their number. What's a guy gotta do? Note: the original London cast album is a treasure. Listen to Van perform 76 Trombones. Once a song and dance man, always a song and dance man.












30 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you pointed out how MGM didn't take full advantage of Van's musical talents. Isn't it strange? He was so delightful in musical numbers like "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean" and "I Won't Dance," it's sad for me to think about all of the opportunities MGM missed.

    Thanks for bringing this lovely review to my blogathon!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words and for, once again, hosting the tributes to Van Johnson. It is delightful to write and read about him.

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  2. Van Johnson is a favorite, and despite his role being cut down in BRIDGADOON, I think what brief scenes he has are priceless. I love the contrast of his acerbic sarcasm against the fey fairy tale situation he finds himself plunked down in, the voice of the feet-dragging disbeliever. A lovely post.

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    1. Thank you.

      Van/Jeff is the leaven needed to make Brigadoon work. A character that shakes us up, and makes us laugh.

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  3. I saw VAN JOHNSON in MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN with LORETTA YOUNG. BETTY LYNN played the daughter to Loretta. Betty is best known for her role as THELMA LOU on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. She worked well with DON KNOTTS as DEPUTY BARNEY FIFE. Betty was in one of our favorite movies CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN. Betty Lynn will be 95 on Aug. 29 (Sunday). She lives in NORTH CAROLINA.

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    1. I will think of Betty Lynn on her birthday.

      I don't know if I was tired when I tried to watch Mother is a Freshman or if I just wasn't in the mood. I'll have to give it another try one of these days.

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  4. I like the songs in Brigadoon, but somehow the movie never quite works for me. Of course, I once felt the same way about Finian’s Rainbow. I watched the latter again a few years ago and, while still not a favorite, it had improved with age. So, perhaps it’s time to give Brigadoon and Van another chance based on your review.

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    1. When Cyd Charisse passed away in 2008, TCM had already scheduled Brigadoon. I had it on, only half paying attention as one does when you are overly familiar with something. Near the end when Fiona says "Tommy, it's near the end of our day" I burst into tears. Movies create such an emotional impact.

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  5. BARBARA EDEN's birthday was Monday(August 23). She is 90! She is best known for I DREAM OF JEANNIE(1965-70). Her later sitcom is HARPER VALLEY, PTA as STELLA JOHNSON. She was really popular in TV-Movies. My favorites are THE SECRET LIFE OF KATHY MCCORMICK(with JOSH TAYLOR) and three dramatic ones. They are RETURN OF THE REBELS(with DON MURRAY), HELL HATH NO FURY(with LORETTA SWIT) and VISIONS OF TERROR(with JAMES BROLIN). Barbara has been married to her third husband JON since 1991.

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    1. Even at 90 years of age, Barbara Eden retains a youthfulness in her looks and attitude that makes her a very sweet woman.

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  6. BARBARA EDEN guest starred on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW(as a manicurist) and on I LOVE LUCY. Her ex-husband MICHAEL ANSARA was on an ep of MURDER, SHE WROTE. It was the first one that DALE ROBERTSON was on. That was the one where JESSICA'S late husband FRANK was accused of murder! P.S. VAN JOHNSON also did an ep of I LOVE LUCY.

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    1. Van's episode of I Love Lucy, performing with his friend, is a favourite.

      My daughter always associates Michael Ansara as the voice of Mr. Freeze on Batman: The Animated Series. He is quote chilling!

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  7. Brigadoon is probably my favorite Van Johnson movie and his presence makes every scene he's in worthwhile. Too bad they cut his scenes with Meg, or the movie would have been even better in my opinion.
    Greetings,
    Le

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    1. I agree. More Jeff and Meg would have made the film as memorable as the play.

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  8. It's odd that Van Johnson was never utilized for his song-&-dance talents by MGM, though sometimes it might be the actor's choice (Dana Andrews's daughter said that her father had a beautiful, trained baritone singing voice but never let anyone know about it, because he didn't want to be typecast in musicals). Johnson also appeared on Broadway in the 1980s in the musical La Cage Aux Folles, so he was able again to use his musical talents; you can see brief clips of his performance here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR_cWhzYh-E

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    1. Thank you for that clip. Well, at least the theatre appreciated Van's talent and background in musical theatre, even if it did take 3 auditions.

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  9. One of these days, I have to let my love of Van Johnson overpower my general disdain of musicals and finally watch this film....

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    1. Bite the bullet time, eh? The Lerner and Loewe tunes are quite lovely. If you don't know them very well, maybe just start by listening to them and their familiarity once you see the movie (for the one and only time) may be the spoon full of sugar needed.

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  10. This film is so beautiful and Van is great here. Like you've said, he really did make the film work. I didn't know Van played Prof. Hill in London. What a treat to hear him sing those iconic songs! Thanks for that lovely tidbit.

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    1. Yes, indeed. If we didn't have Van Brigadoon could get a bit sticky. I would have loved to have seen him in The Music Man.

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  11. Van Johnson is the best part of Brigadoon, in my opinion, apart from the costumes and sets. He keeps it from sliding into a sugary mess. If only he had more screen time...

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    1. If it weren't for the Code we'd have gotten a healthy dose of Jeff and Meg. The show's creators knew how to balance the fantasy with the funny, and they knew it was something they had to do.

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  12. This does sound good fun, and never one to not look at the Scotland Holluwood style so adding it to my check out list now...

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  13. "Go Home with Bonnie Jean" was always a big favorite for me in this movie too! I was a little obsessed with Brigadoon as a teen, and I still have most of the songs memorized ;-)

    BTW, I nominated you for the Sunshine Award here today :-) Play if you want to!

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    1. The beautiful music, touching story, and comedy --- it is easy to become obsessed with Brigadoon.

      Thank you for the Sunshine Award. I haven't done that sort of thing in quite a while. These days I enjoy reading all the responses.

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  14. I like Brigadoon. I always get upset when critics pan it. It's really charming and it has a strange way of growing on you the more times you see it. The only disappointing aspect was that it was stage-bound. Location filming in Scotland would have been grand. Anyway, I love your write-up about Van Johnson and his performance in Brigadoon. I can't imagine any other actor ( except perhaps Oscar Lavent ) playing this boozing cynical man as well as he.

    And how interesting that Pamela Britton played Meg on stage! I'm sure Uncle Martin and Tim would have been amazed to see her perform a musical number.

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    1. I feel the same way about Brigadoon. It has its own charm that makes it lovely to revisit.

      Mrs. Brown had the life! Her own home, interesting tenants, and Bill Brennan to squire her about town.

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  15. The minute I started reading this, "Bonnie Jean" got stuck in my head. It's a shame Van didn't get to sing more in this movie.

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