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Carousel Movie Review

billy film screen julie

1956 – Henry King –

The musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein proved ideal for widescreen treatment, and in the mid-1950s the new emphasis on spectacle in Hollywood (an effort to win audiences away from television) led to a succession of screen versions of their stage hits. One advantage of this is that in the movie theater, the extra-wide dimensions of the screen capture beautifully the plains of Oklahoma, or Bali Hai in the South Pacific, or the Austrian alps over which the Von Trapps climb.

You don't have to be a video purist, however, to recognize that those long, rectangular CinemaScope 55 images look sloppily composed on the squarish television screen. Those who complain about letterboxing because it blacks out the top and bottom of the TV picture should try to appreciate (or even to recognize) the visual design of Carousel by looking through the keyhole of this panned-and-scanned version. Hardly five minutes pass without a scene in which you're aware of important action and characters taking place off the sides of the TV image. Shirley Jones sings “If I Loved You” staring into empty space since Gordon MacRae is chopped off on the video tape. Even worse, dance numbers lose their sense of depth and perspective. In the song “June Is Bustin' Out All Over” and in Agnes De Mille's celebrated ballet, only two or three dancing couples and an assortment of arms and legs coming in and out of the television frame replace balanced lines of dancers in careful symmetry in the original wide shots. Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music have already been issued in widescreen versions, and Carousel will look like a new film when it is, too.

Other weaknesses owe to the material and the filmmakers. Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae) is one of two heel-heroes in the long career of Richard Rodgers (along with Pal Joey), but Billy lacks Joey's rich personality. The clambake and ballet scenes in Carousel are done on soundstages, and they fit awkwardly with the location footage shot in Maine. The scenes that take place in heaven have not had their theatricality reimagined in screen terms. In the opening, Billy, a former carnival barker, sits on a ladder among cardboard-spangled stars hanging from a ceiling when he asks about his loved ones back on earth. He hears from a character named Starkeeper (Gene Lockhart) about his wife Julie (Shirley Jones) and their daughter, who is about to graduate from high school. The film presents in flashback Billy and Julie's courtship, marriage, and Billy's early death. Billy wins the chance to go back for one day and speak anonymously to his daughter. The score features some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most memorable songs (“You'll Never Walk Alone,” “Soliloquy”), but the presentation on video necessarily plays a big part in the film's reception.

Songs: “If I Loved You,” “Soliloquy,” “You'll Never Walk Alone,” “What's the Use of Wond'rin?” “When I Marry Mr. Snow,” “When the Children Are Asleep,” “A Real Nice Clambake,” “Carousel Ballet,” “Carousel Waltz,” “Blow High, Blow Low,” “June Is Bustin' Out All Over,” “Stonecutters Cut It on Stone,” “There's Nothin' So Bad for a Woman,” and “You're a Queer One, Julie Jordan.”

Cast: Gordon MacRae (Billy Bigelow), Shirley Jones (Julie Jordan), Cameron Mitchell (Jigger Craigin), Barbara Ruick (Carrie Pipperidge), Claramae Turner (Cousin Nettie), Robert Rounseville (Mr. Enoch Snow), Gene Lockhart (Starkeeper/Dr. Selden), Audrey Christie (Mrs. Mullin), Susan Luckey (Louise Bigelow), William LeMassena (heavenly friend), John Dehner (Mr. Bascombe), Jacques D'Amboise (Louise's dancing partner), Richard Deacon (policeman), Tor Johnson (strong man), Sylvia Stanton (contortionist) Screenwriter: Phoebe Ephron, Henry Ephron, Benjamin Glazer Cinematographer: Charles G. Clarke Composer: Richard Rodgers Producer: Henry Ephron for Twentieth Century Fox Running Time: 128 minutes Format: VHS, LV Box Office: The film lost $2M on its initial release.

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