“A happy ending is ultimately had by all in this delightful if politically incorrect concoction”

Way back when I was a kid, the local television station would occasional broadcast a matinee showing of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I never watched it. I probably caught a few minutes of it here and there, but it was a musical singing about getting girlfriends at a time when one of the other four channels was probably showing a Gamera movie or something.

But other people paid attention, like Devorah Blachor at McSweeney’s. You mean to say the seven brothers were going to kidnap the seven women and rape them? The movie is based on the rape of the Sabine Women? You mean people in the 1950s just overlooked that it was all about mass rape and even nominated it for a Best Picture Oscar award?

I mean, this was pretty blatant.

I am forced to conclude that the America I grew up in was even more fucked up than I thought, and all that saved me from this kind of indoctrination was a fondness for cheesy sci-fi/horror movies. Did you know that the first Godzilla movie came out in the same year as this dreck, but did it get a best picture nomination? Noooo.


  1. PaulBC says

    I think the “brothers” thing always creeped me out, though it’s not about incest (I assume), it feels icky anyway. The title really just puts me off and I never inquired further.

  2. PaulBC says

    From wikipedia:

    On the journey home, Milly talks about how she is excited to be cooking and taking care of only one man while Adam begins to look uncomfortable. When they arrive at his cabin in the mountains, Milly is surprised to learn that Adam is the eldest of seven brothers living under the same roof. The brothers have been given Bible names alphabetically: Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank (short for frankincense—supposedly due to no Bible names beginning with F—and their mother thought he smelled sweet), and Gideon.

    It sounds like they threw in elements of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, unless that too is based on the Rape of the Sabine Women. It would make an interesting mash-up.

  3. Bruce says

    I’m intrigued by Blachor’s suggestion of having a movie essentially of “Seven Grooms for Seven Gay Brothers”. Let’s kidnap seven men and then “marry” them, even if they’re sobbing about it. Wait: why are people saying it would be off color to make that show?
    A new context helps us to see the actual premise.
    Consent suddenly becomes a thing treasured when you imagine being one of the seven guys kidnapped for sex and doing chores for the random guys who star in that story. Now kidnapping seems not so jolly.

  4. says

    But it’s all about the happy ending, PZ! A particularly kitschy example is housed in Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum, where I have seen it in person. Charles Christian Nahl created a series of large paintings on the theme of the rape of the Sabine women, and the happily simpering victim in the final scene is literally incredible.

  5. garnetstar says

    It’s almost incredibly for abduction and rape, and the victims love it and are grateful for it later. The premise is dreadful beyond belief.

    But, having been brought up on the movie, it’s got some of the best songs ever, and one of the best dance sequences. Jacque D’Amboise, then a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet, dances in it.

    I still sing the songs out loud, remember the lyrics though I haven’t seen the movie in decades. A few years ago, as a TSA agent was looking though my bags, he was whistling one of the songs, and I startled him by singing along.

    I recommend, if you want some catchy songs, just getting the audio track and never learning the plot or what the lyrics are about. Or, just look at a clip of the famous dance sequence (during which no one is abducted or raped.)

  6. PaulBC says

    At least in ¡Átame! it’s clear from the outset that Banderas’ character is mentally disturbed. I am still uncomfortable with the idea of Stockholm Syndrome as a happy ending.

  7. vucodlak says

    Did you know that the first Godzilla movie came out in the same year as this dreck, but did it get a best picture nomination?

    The first Gojira movie is a solemn, serious movie about the evils of war, referrencing not just the atomic bomb, but the firebombing of Tokyo. The scene with the mother covering her children and telling them they’ll all be with daddy soon while the fires close in around them is a real gut punch when you realize that these are things that the Japanese people lived through just a decade earlier. That scene, the hospital, and “Prayer for Peace,” really clashes with the narrative of the vast majority US movies about the war. And that ending…

    There is no feeling of triumph in the death of Godzilla. He dies screaming, a tragic victim of humanity’s inhumanity. There is no happy ending for the hero who slays him. Dr. Serizawa kills himself in hopes of preventing his knowledge from being used to cause even greater suffering in the future. There is no bright, hopeful, ‘the human spirit shall overcome’ message. There’s only ‘my god, what have we done, and what will we do?’

    I absolutely think Gojira deserved to not only be nominated, but to win best picture. It is, however, far too uncomfortable a movie to win an award like that. Especially for US audiences of the time.

  8. starsend42b says

    Godzilla was robbed! I did theater when I was younger and I was in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers…thought it was awful. Now, Godzilla… :) My husband and I have been watching 1930-1960’s sci-fi, monster, mad scientist, alien, giant insects, etc movies since the pandemic began. I started at list. At first my husband made fun of the idea, but it wasn’t long before he was asking, “are you SURE you added “Fire Maidens From Outer Space” to the list??? The list now stands at 346 films. My friend gave me a pin of The Creature From the Black Lagoon to commemorate the event. I immediately put it on my jacket!! Godzilla For Ever!!

  9. chesapeake says

    Perhaps you remember the song “it depends on what you pay” from “The Fantasticks” when two parents are arranging for the abduction of a 16 yr old girl.
    You can get the rape emphatic.
    You can get the rape polite.
    You can get the rape with Indians:
    A very charming sight.
    You can get the rape on horseback;
    They’ll all say it’s new and gay.
    So you see the sort of rape
    Depends on what you pay.
    It depends on what you
    The Fantasticks’: Is it ever OK to have fun with the word ‘rape’? | St. Louis Public Radio

  10. Rob Grigjanis says

    Did you know that the first Godzilla movie came out in the same year as this dreck

    It came out in Japan in 1954, but I don’t think the original version was released in the US. The Americanized version (with Raymond Burr edited in) was released in 1956.

    The original is a masterpiece which stands head and shoulders above the goofy (but fun!) sequels. The soundtrack is beautifully haunting as well.

  11. says

    That name thing happened to my brothers and I. First and middle names. I think I’m doing enough for the moment. I’ll see what my culture used humor to feel better about later. I still haven’t rewatched Pepe Le Pew yet.

  12. says

    @13: Gojira was absolutely robbed. But then again, I keep saying that Who Framed Roger Rabbit was robbed, only getting techie Oscars and not Best Picture. The Academy goes with the safest bets, not anything groundbreaking. I learned that years ago. So anyone who claims to be a film snob because they watch “Academy Award winning movies”…. Yeah.

  13. birgerjohansson says

    Even as a child, I had problems with that western.
    The first Godzilla film was a “proper” film, not what we would consider a B film.
    As for later, goofier Japanese monster films, if you want tongue-in-cheek reviews at Youtube, I recommend Brandon Tenold or Decker Shado.
    The American habit of inserting US-made fillers in Japanese films is really annoying. It shows the distributors have no faith in the viewers being able to absorb a foreign film without altering it.

    BTW the weirdest Japanese Kaiju film has to be “Big Man Japan”.

  14. cartomancer says

    The Rape of the Sabine Women is an unusual piece of Roman mythology, which the Romans themselves spent a long time puzzling over. Many found its narrative troubling, and indicative of a certain brutishness at the heart of Roman culture that was readily apparent in its Imperial conquests. The story of Romulus and Remus bore similar thorny issues – Rome was founded by criminals and exiles, on an act of fratricide, what does that say about its fundamental character? But there were many other threads to the tale too.

    One which is very often overlooked is that the early Romans in the story of the Sabines first approached the other local Italian cities overtly, asking to make marriages with them and thereby create bonds of kinship and reciprocity. They were turned away without exception, and resorted to stealing women by deception after that. In a way, it was a story about the Romans being unfairly ostracized and rejected from Italian society, and asserting their claim to belong by force and guile. It must be borne in mind that the vast majority of Roman marriages were arranged marriages by our standards, with the participants having little say in the matter and everything being arranged by the parents of those involved. In such a context, the issue at the heart of the story is one of who gets to choose whether Rome is regarded as a legitimate society, and treated as an equal by its peers – the Romans themselves or those others. It’s a story of national identity, ethnicity and legitimacy cast in humanised, mythic terms, with the women standing in for the means and the right to perpetuate the Roman race.

    There may also be elements of explaining survivals of Sabine and Etruscan culture in Roman culture, when historically the Romans only remembered conflict with these places. The story is quite specific that these Sabine women are to be regarded as the honoured fore-mothers of the Roman people – not our foreign victims so much as our own foundational ancestors. The song in Seven Brides focuses on the psychological pain of the Sabine women far more than any Roman telling of the tale does. Though this is not to say that all Roman versions focused on the national and ethnic sides – Ovid’s version makes out that the early Romans just wanted some sex, and this is what they did to get it. But Ovid was notedly iconoclastic, and got into significant trouble for mocking and challenging official state positions on marriage, sexual chastity and acceptable social mores.

    The other crucial piece of context for the story is that Rome really was founded on a system of industrial kidnapping and forced integration into its society – slavery. By the First Century BC the vast majority of Roman citizens had a slave ancestor only a few generations back, and slavery was integral to the creation of new Romans. You were captured in war, or by pirates, or found as an exposed infant, or sold to pay off debts, and then Romans bought you and found a place for you in their society, and you became a part of the grand project that was Rome. More often than not you would be freed a decade or two later, afforded the status of libertus and find yourself set up with a trade, a slew of important connections and an established life as a Roman – and your children would be full citizens. This was an absolutely ubiquitous story in Roman society, and carried little shame or opprobrium. Plenty of slaves were even freed and married their former masters.

    Which is not to say that later cultures, lacking this context, haven’t taken all sorts of other messages from the story of the Sabines. But it really ought to be seen within its original Roman context to get a full understanding of where it came from, and how later interpretations have changed it for their own ends.

  15. PaulBC says

    cartomancer@21 Thanks for the explanation. I have to admit that I don’t find it shocking in the context of ancient Rome, so it’s interesting they did.

  16. says


    More often than not you would be freed a decade or two later

    Do you have any sources on that? I’ve often wondered exactly how common that really was.

  17. PaulBC says

    I’m not a huge fan of any comedy based on manipulating people into romance, though it’s a popular trope. Hopefully it’s less common now. I thought Buffy the Vampire Slayer explored this in some interesting ways, never really advocating manipulation or coercion, though the Buffy/Spike relationship came close. It was usually explored as the cause of problems. I liked the series of episodes where Willow uses a charm to keep Tara’s affection and the way it’s incorporated into the creepy yet touching “Under your Spell” number in the musical episode.

  18. Pierce R. Butler says

    Sabines, schmabines – mass rape as a Good Thing goes back at least to the Biblical book of Judges (21: 12-24).

  19. cartomancer says

    LykeX, #23

    It is not an easy or straightforward calculation to make, given that the Romans were little bothered to take census numbers of slaves, and tended not to record freedmen separately, but there is a good deal of indirect evidence that manumission and assimilation into the Roman populace was the norm. Surveys of tombstones reveal about as many freedmen as full citizens in the cemeteries around Rome (you can generally tell by the use of Greek or other foreign praenomina appended to a Roman nomen), and plaques detailing political office-holding in Pompeii often show that the young children of freedmen were technically appointed as magistrates as a get-round for the rule that freedmen themselves could not hold public office.

    Then there are the laws of Augustus and various later emperors, preserved in the Res Gestae and compilations of Roman law, which aimed at reducing the numbers of slaves freed by insisting on a minimum age of 30 for manumission and disallowing the manumission of more than 100 or so slaves in any one person’s will. If Emperors were legislating to reduce the practice, clearly it was very widespread.

    We also have cultural anecdotes from Greek historians such as Diodorus Siculus and Polybius that the Romans were seen as quite weird in their free use of manumission, where it was rare indeed in the Greek world and freed slaves rarely had any access to political power. Furthermore, Roman literature had some fairly strong stock tropes about the character and behaviour of freedmen – Trimalchio from Petronius’ Satyricon is the most famous example, but the comedies of Plautus and especially Terence (who was a freedman himself) are full of them too. They were clearly a sufficiently visible presence in society to comment on in popular plays. Roman philosophers too, such as Cicero and Plutarch, discuss quite openly the nature of slavery and its problematic nature for Roman society, and tend to assume that manumission rather than death will be the usual fate of the slave (Plutarch reports criticisms made of Cato the Elder, who was supposedly such a miser that he would try to get as much work as possible out of his slaves, and then either sell or free the elderly ones so as not to have to look after them in old age. This was seen as an especially strict stance on the subject). There are also discussions of freedmen as an important part of the network of patrocinium (patronage) and clientela (clientship) that bound the higher and lower orders together in Roman society.

    Finally, the general demographic trends of Rome suggest very strongly that sustained manumission would have been a necessary factor in maintaining the population levels of the citizen body, given the very low life expectancy of Romans in their malarial pit of a city. Particularly during the periods of sustained growth that coincided with the major conquests in the East of the second and first centuries BC.

  20. says

    It’s based on a 1926 Stephen Vincent Benet satirical short story (The Sobbin’ Women) set in Oregon Territory. A woman married to a man with six brothers is stuck doing all the housework for them all until she talks the brothers into kidnapping local women to share in the chores. Turning it into a musical always seemed a bit incongruous to me (I had to watch it as part of a class in high school) and the point seemed to get lost in the transition. Still, there’s no arguing with success I guess.

  21. says

    (I meant Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, by the way, not the first Godzilla movie. Though I suppose it could have been based on a Stephen Vincent Benet short story as well.)

  22. kaleberg says

    The television series Here Come the Brides was a much better take on this. The story was based on the Mercer Girls who were recruited from the east coast and offered passage to Seattle. I gather they were properly hosted and chaperoned and most of them married. This was the Victorian Era, and the whole point was to introduce more respectable women to Seattle, so no one was raped, sold into prostitution or worse. There were two expeditions. The first involved only a dozen women. The second involved closer to one hundred, but there were a number of screw ups. Lincoln’s assassination put a damper on recruitment, there was a lot of bad press and the expedition ran into money troubles.

    For women seeking a change and a bit of adventure but lacking the $300 for transportation and more for living expenses and capital to build a new life in frontier city, this was a serious opportunity. Even now, Seattle and other western metropolitan areas have a higher ratio of unattached heterosexual men than most eastern metropolitan areas, though it is nowhere as unbalanced as in the mid-19th century.

    P.S. Barbara Hambly wrote a really marvelous Star Trek / Here Come The Brides cross over, Call Me Ishmael. It sounds unlikely, but it’s quite wonderful.

  23. chrislawson says

    Seven Brides For Seven Brothers comes this close to exculpation when Milly throws all the men out of the house, saying of her husband “he has to learn not to treat people like this”, and making the house a safe space for the abductees. Of course, that turns out to be narrative window-dressing since in the long run the brothers get exactly what they wanted from abducting the women, presented as a sing-along, crowd-pleasing ending.

  24. says

    Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is less offensive than On the Waterfront, which won best picture. On the Waterfront is an anti-union, pro-HUAC, McCarthyism self-mythologizing piece of dreck that largely exists to allow the director and writer to try appease their consciences.

  25. nomuse says

    Ah, the wholesome American Musical. Or as a wardrobe master once said about The Sound of Music; “It’s a charming family musical — with Nazis.”

    Oklahoma at least just has a man with a bad porn addiction. Depending on where the individual production takes the Dream Ballet. Fantastiks — well, you can’t get away from THAT ballet; it’s in the lyrics. At least that’s better than Man of La Mancha (the musical I hate most.

    I think the audiences see these through rose-tinted glasses. We got an angry letter once after Aldonza got outright kidnapped and bound and carried off by the Muleteers. Asshole audience member caught a bit of flesh-colored body stocking in the scene and was terribly angry that there might be a flash of nudity in a scene about, well…

    Sometimes I hate people.

  26. PaulBC says

    Mike Smith@31 Maybe I need to watch it again, because I always saw it as a personal story rather than social commentary.

    and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palookaville … I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am …

    Sorry, but I love the phrase “a one-way ticket to Palookaville.” It’s a great metaphor for any act of giving up your big dream for security. (I used to think it a lot when I was working at Google.)

    As an anti-hero story, I’m not sure I’m supposed to hold up anyone as a paragon. I thought it was about the mob rather than a corrupt union, but as I say it’s been a long time since I watched it. The fact that Elia Kazan cooperated with HUAC says something about him, but I am not sure it taints all of his work.

  27. chigau (違う) says

    At the end of Seven Brides… the girls and brothers are “forced” into marriages because of the baby. Which means that the winter was exceptionally long or the townsfolk are not clear on human gestation time.

  28. PaulBC says

    In @11 I said I watched the clip, but I didn’t really make it more than half through. What disturbs me is the discordance between the outwardly wholesome appearance of the “brothers” and the content of the song. If it was intended as satire, I could laugh, but I think it is intended as cheerfully and cluelessly as it’s presented. I’d definitely watch On the Waterfront again despite its provenance, though I might look harder at the message. I think I’ll skip Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

  29. unclefrogy says

    I saw it as a kid and got the schmaltzy happy romance of it but I could not really understand it. the contradictions inherent in the plot were too much and I must confess it has made me feel embarrassed ever since
    uncle frogy

  30. says

    I’ve actually met the seven brothers and their brides on a cattle property in Queensland, Australia. It had been in the family for generations and as each son got married they extended the old homestead building to accommodate the new arrival. Six of the boys had never traveled much out of the area. The seventh who manged the property’s finances had traveled to the “Big Smoke” to get a marketing degree. He broke with tradition and built himself a separate house on the property. Australians jokingly call Queensland the “Deep North” because of its similarity to the old Confederate states. It even has its own one-horse town called,what else, Texas.

  31. Rob Grigjanis says

    Mike Smith @31: There’s no doubt Kazan saw himself as the Brando character, “telling truth to power” or some such. In that, Kazan fell flat on his face, but ended up making a great movie anyway. He threw others under the bus to save his skin. Terry Malloy risks his life to fight corruption. If anything, the film is a (maybe subconscious?) self-condemnation. I don’t know how anyone (including Kazan!) could watch the film and conclude that it is a justification for the kind of informing Kazan did.

    And to call the film anti-union is just silly. It’s clearly about wresting control of the union from the mob. Was Viva Zapata! anti-peasant?

  32. Ridana says

    29) @kaleberg: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was also a tv series in the early 80s. Among the brothers were Richard Dean Anderson and River Phoenix. Terri Treas (Newcomer Cathy in Alien Nation) who, with hair, looked like Lucy Lawless’ sister, played Anderson’s wife. Singing ensued. It was…different from the movie. I’m pretty sure no one was kidnapped, unless it was by villains.

  33. says

    Thanks to Cartomancer for interesting and lucid comments about the Roman world.

    From Demography of the Roman Empire:

    High mortality rates and pre-modern sanitary conditions made urban regions net population sinks, with more local deaths than births. They could only be sustained by constant immigration.

    It doesn’t explicitly mention manumission, but I guess this could be counted as immigration.

  34. Howard Brazee says

    I saw it way back when. I suppose it is possible to watch the big dance scene nowadays with YouTube. It was a great scene, but I would be reminded that I am watching a remake of the rape of the Sabine women. So I don’t.

  35. birgerjohansson says

    Going on a tangent. European film industries reliably produce film much weirder than this.
    This is most obvious in “superhero” films where the “heroes” behave like villains but also in “slasher” films and other B-film dominated genres.
    Sometimes the result has good photo or good production values with a plot that is just WTF?

  36. mvdwege says


    How did this manumission of slaves work with the massive slave populations that worked the latifundia? Did these slaves have a chance at manumission too, or was that a privilege for more specialised slaves?

  37. asclepias says

    The choreography is great, but I’m still disturbed how many of my college friend told me this was their favorite movie.

  38. PaulBC says

    “Bro culture taken to its literal extreme.” Sorry, the thought popped into my head, and I wonder if this is some of the appeal.

    My knowledge is limited to this discussion and maybe 90 seconds of the clip above. How much is this like a fraternity except with actual blood-relations? Am I off track? These guys just seem way too tight to me.

    Not my scene at all, and I’m from a big family with a lot of brothers. I just believe in giving people space.

  39. cartomancer says

    mvwedge, #46,

    Very difficult to tell. Rural slaves tend to get very little mention in our written sources and almost never got inscribed tombstones to show us something of their lives. It is entirely possible most dropped dead before they could be freed, though that is not a certain assumption. I can well imagine that Cato’s “free them when they get old so you don’t have to look after them” solution would have been popular among rural slave plantation owners on the latifundia.

  40. PaulBC says

    cartomancer@49 The use of manumission was part of the plot of Island in the Sea of Time by S.M. Stirling, based on the premise that the inhabitants of Nantucket were sent far back in time (bronze or maybe early iron age) for unspecified reasons, and quickly split off into two factions that act as antagonists to each other. The head of the authoritarian faction enslaves just about everyone he can, but understands the loyalty he gets by providing a path out (though his view is not fully shared, since some of his co-conspirators get off on reducing human beings to chattel slaves).

    It’s an interesting exploration, though I’m not sure how well researched it is. I forget how far I got in the series. I think he has another one that covers the other side of the modern world without Nantucket.

    Considering how pure fantasy adaptations have taken off (yes, I mean Game of Thrones), you’d think they’ve have something out there based on Stirling’s work. I wonder if fantasy and science fiction just have more popular appeal than alternative history.

  41. lumipuna says

    cartomancer wrote:

    I can well imagine that Cato’s “free them when they get old so you don’t have to look after them” solution would have been popular among rural slave plantation owners on the latifundia.

    So I gather that it wouldn’t be likely common to manumit the plantation slaves until they were past childbearing age (or too disabled to start a family anyway)? Now I wonder if the slavery on these plantations (and in Roman empire generally) was mostly hereditary, or mostly based on “recruitment”. I have this vague impression that natal slavery was at least somewhat common, but was it even halfway common enough to sustain rural slave populations? Did these plantation slaves generally have families in the local plantation community?

  42. cartomancer says

    lumipuna, #51,

    The precise domestic minutiae of slavery in the Roman countryside is, as I noted, very difficult to reconstruct. Indeed, we still have huge questions about the basics of day to day living in Roman towns like Pompeii where quite exceptional evidence has survived in the archaeological record. I expect the likelihood of manumission varied considerably with time, place and economic circumstances. Natal slavery was certainly commonplace. We have some information from Roman legal cases about the principles that regulated it during the First Century AD – cases where the point of fact to be established was whether a child was born to a freedwoman before or after she was manumitted, and therefore whether he was a freeborn citizen child or the slave property of her former owner.

    The relative supply and demand for slaves would doubtless have affected policies on the ground when it came to manumitting them and buying new ones or keeping them around to produce successors. In periods such as the Second Century BC, when the Roman armies were conquering territory, expanding the Empire and flooding the markets with fresh slaves, it would have been much more convenient to free slaves, creating freedmen with certain social and legal obligations to you, and replace them with newer models who were younger and better able to do the work. When new slaves on the sales block came mostly from piracy and were harder to source, it would have been more common to try to raise them yourself. Though there were always operators on the fringes of the Empire ensuring a supply of fresh slaves, and one province, Egypt, was run almost like a police state where the native population, especially outside the big cities, were badly oppressed and exploited to provide the Empire with grain.

    The economics of the situation would also have made unskilled farm-labouring slaves much cheaper to replace with new ones than the kinds of skilled craftsmen and professionals that one might be able to buy for urban tasks – slave doctors, teachers, smiths, scribes and the like.

  43. says

    Apologies for the OT comment, but, cartomancer,…

    I recently read Nicole Loraux’s The Divided City and found it interesting and relevant even when I had issues with the analysis. (I’m also now semi-obsessed with Ephialtes, to the point that I might be driven to read a historical detective [!] novel about his murder.) Could you recommend any books in the same, I don’t know, ancient-political-psychology vein? If nothing comes to mind, that’s OK.

  44. says

    @33 PaulBC

    Both Elia Kazan-the director- and Budd Schulberg-the screenwriter-testified and named names to HUAC. The film is structured around providing justification-political, social, theological-to being an informant, especially against bloody leftists. The film only exists because Kazan was mad people criticized his testimony before HUAC. The film is a very thinly veiled allegory about this stuff.

    @38 Rob Grigjanis

    The film doesn’t make a distinction-or make enough of the difference- between the union and the mob. The union merely is the mob and Terry is not saving the union by taking out the mob-he’s taking down the union/mob for the state and capital. It should also be noted that Sam Spiegel was-like most producers-anti-union. The film is anti-union because the film exists to form a bulwark against the “left.”

    Second, Schulberg-who also testified before HUAC-was deeply resentful over communists trying to influence his (prior) writing. The corruption-which IIRC is never seen in the film (we see murder, intimidation assault, etc. but nothing that fits a criminal offense of corruption)-angle is a mere pretext to get the word in the script as Schulberg was pissed at his work being corrupted.

    I am unable or unwilling (whatever) to ignore the psychological leakage of Kazan and Schulberg. I’m normally behind the author is dead perspective but for this film I can’t do it. The film is about justifying Kazan, and the a lesser extent Schulberg, naming names to HUAC. that’s it. Whatever one wants to make of Terry* being an informant from the limited context of the film’s text itself the allegory is just too forceful. Kazan saw himself as a persecuted hero and he made a bloody film to remind us of that.

    *the film stacks the deck in favor of being an informant by overcooking the villains and the priest character. The whole thing-Brando aside-is utterly artificial and inauthentic because it is not a story it a political polemic of a guilty conscious trying to convince itself.

  45. PaulBC says

    Mike Smith@54 I think for most viewers, Brando’s performance is what steals the show, and Rod Steiger delivers as well as his protective but misunderstanding brother. As a story, it’s very standard: Mobsters are the bad guys. The cops are the good guys. Informing to the cops is therefore good (but it’s been so long I honestly forgot that this was the plot resolution).

    I may not have watched it since film class in college decades ago and I was not paying the same attention I would now pay. I have no doubt that Kazan and Schulberg intended it as you say, but the plot is not what makes it a notable movie. There have been many tellings of that story. You could watch endless episodes of Dragnet if you want to see informants praised for cooperating with police.

    Terry can’t redeem himself, because his real dream was to be a prizefighter and that’s irrevocably lost. Informing certainly doesn’t transform him from anti-hero to hero. He goes from criminal/loser to reforming-criminal/loser. It’s a pretty weak redemption story if that’s what Kazan wants to use as his analogy.

    Karl Malden as Father Barry is one of the weakest, most contrived elements of the plot (not to knock Malden’s acting; he’s fine). The anti-union message flew right over me. I grew up in a pro-union family, and did not consider “unions bad” as a take-away, though indeed that probably was the point.

    I need to watch it again. It is certainly possible I will react more strongly to parts I ignored the first time.

  46. PaulBC says

    Mike Smith@54 Also, I’ll concede preemptively that “B-b-b-but Brando’s acting!” is not really any different from arguing “The dance numbers are great!” I would still rather watch On the Waterfront or maybe a “good parts” cut.

  47. Rob Grigjanis says

    Mike Smith @54: One’s perception of a work of art can certainly be coloured by the history of the piece’s making. You’ve chosen one aspect of that history and somehow come to the conclusion that “The film is about justifying Kazan, and the a lesser extent Schulberg, naming names to HUAC. that’s it.”

    That just strikes me as ridiculously simplistic. So Kazan and Schulberg didn’t care about the real plight of dockworkers? The history of the film is far richer and deeper than your shallow take.

    the film stacks the deck in favor of being an informant by overcooking the villains and the priest character.

    Overcooking? They wanted to shoot the film on the Brooklyn docks, but the local mob threatened to kill them if they tried.

    I’ll just recommend this article from a socialist magazine;


  48. PaulBC says

    RobG@57 Thanks for the Jacobin link. I’m not sure the movie needs a leftwing rehabilitation or that article provides a convincing one. In fact, it indicts Kazan with his own words

    I was. . . determined to show my old ‘comrades,’ those who’d attacked me so viciously, that there was an anti-Communist left, and that we were the true progressives and they were not. I’d come back to fight.

    “Not with that hair, you won’t. You look like a hairhopper to me.” (That doesn’t make much sense, just that I feel as dismissive as Pia Zadora’s beatnik in Hairspray.)

    But it’s still a great movie and Marlin Brando’s acting carries it. If Phil Ochs could idolize John Wayne (which I do not), I don’t have to hate On the Waterfront. I never thought the social message was the point. The acting is the main thing. Considering I saw it in intro to film, I’m sure the cinematography was discussed, but I don’t really remember. I’m still not going to watch Birth of a Nation for its early film innovation. I guess I draw the line somewhere.

    If I ever thought

    Finally, in this scene, Malloy has become the contender he always knew he could be.

    I have since forgotten. He’s an unfortunate person who does one good thing, but is way too compromised to be a hero, and ultimately unfulfilled.

  49. lumipuna says

    cartomancer 52 – Thanks for weighing in on my random curiosity, once again!