Seven Rapists for Seven Virgins or ...

‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ (Stanley Donen, 1954)

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If ever a film took a subject and made light of it in a way that makes the viewer feel incredibly ill at ease, then it’s ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’. Or possibly ‘Sleeping Dogs Lie’ (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2006) but sucking off a dog is the least of our worries here.

Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) is a no-nonsense backwoods mountain-man. He has a big ginger beard and tassels to match. A hearty voice, six brothers, a good Christian upbringing and a taste for baked beans. He’s also something of a musical sex pest. You see, Adam is in town today and he’s looking for a wife. He has an impressive shopping list of criteria for this woman: Pretty, slim, eyes just the right size but not crossed and as sassy as can be. Adam struts through town singing his heart out about his future wife’s arse while ogling Milly (Jane Powell) as she serves dinner, chops wood, fights off a similar sex pest and milks a cow. He asks her to marry him, she says yes, once she’s finished milking the cow, and so he sets off for a shave and haircut. We’re seven minutes in.

Six victims

Let’s step back a bit here and return to the opening credits for Stanley Donen’s hugely respected family musical masterpiece. The story is credited as being based on that of the ‘Sabine Women’, or more honestly: “The Rape of the Sabine Women”. Now while ‘rape’ here has changed its meaning over the years, it’s still an abduction. One of the abductees in the Roman tale confirms that no sexual assault took place. But this is a film about the abduction and sexual slavery of six women and one aggressive cow-milker. This is very odd material for a musical comedy.

So Adam and Milly are married and they go back to his house in the backwoods where a surprise is waiting for her (no, not that. Stop tittering). Adam lives with six brothers in a filthy, decrepit farmhouse. Milly is expected to cook for them, wash their clothes, keep the house tidy – she’s essentially their servant with perks for Adam.

Adam’s brothers are named alphabetically to make life easier, all good bible names: Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank(incense) and Gideon. Being ‘sassy’, Milly rolls up her sleeves and tried to make the best of a bad situation. Having cleaned and prepared a meal she’s appalled at the behaviour of Adam’s brothers. Quite what she expected having met Adam is anyone’s guess, but one thing’s for sure: Adam ain’t getting any tonight.

Slowly but surely, Milly trains the brothers in manners, civility and the ways of women. Having her around has given them all a raging horn and something has to be done.

Big fartLucky for all involved, there’s to be a barn-building in town. Milly decides the best thing to do is to make the brothers get haircuts and put on day-glo silk blouses. Unfortunately for them, the Pontipees are not terribly popular in town, and while the local talent seems up for it, the local lads are not happy at having their rhubarb rubbed by a Pontipee. There’s only one thing for it – a dance-off!

This is the film’s stand-out sequence and while I can watch it any time I like on DVD, a common treat used to be to go to MOMI (Museum of the Moving Image)¬† on the Southbank and watch the looped sequence on the big screen over and over again. The closure of MOMI was a great shame.

The dance-off goes well, the boys manage to pick a bird each and all seems sweet, but then during the barn building things go awry and a fight breaks out resulting in a lot of pain for all involved. Milly is livid.

Adam on the other hand resorts to his usual tactic and comes up with the bright idea of just kidnapping the women, holding them against their will for several months until they develop some sort of Stockholm Syndrome and put out.

Steak outThis is exactly what they do. Riding into town one early winters’ eve they sneak around assaulting family members and kidnapping women one at a time. The laughs come thick and fast as Gideon hides behind a door pretending to be a kitten so he can snare his chosen victim, but, ha ha, her other half sees him and just as he’s about to smash his brains in with a snow shovel, Gideon is saved by his brother who knocks the man out. So Gideon meows much quicker and eventually she relents and goes to let the cat in, whereupon he throws a bag over her head and drags her away from her family. Who knew abduction could be such fun?

Once they’ve got the girls part way up the mountain pass, Adam starts an avalanche to ensure they can’t be followed. This means the girls are stuck with them until the Spring when the snow thaws.

Milly, naturally, is delighted with the situation. The boys are thrown out, including Adam (who takes it badly and huffs off to a mountain shack) meanwhile the girls wander around in their knickers singing sweetly about what it might be like to get married in June. Whether it’s plain cabin fever or hormones or both, the girls eventually seem to be cooling to the idea of domestic and sexual servitude among the mean ‘ol pole cats. Just as they’re about to give it up, Adam gets back to defend the place now the pass is open.

AndBaby Loganberry aren’t the townspeople happy when they arrive? The girls put up a fight – they’re clearly warmed up now, and during the commotion, a baby is heard crying. This is the one Milly dropped earlier. It could be Adam’s, but my money’s on Gideon. Anyway, since the girls adopt an ‘I’m Spartacus’ stance, the only answer is six shotgun weddings. And as quickly as Adam can propose, the film’s over.

As rape/revenge films go this is no ‘Death Wish II’ (Michael Winner, 1982) but the silly thing is, despite its subject matter it is a very jolly, enjoyable romp. As a kid I loved it, as an adult I can only question the morals on display in what is clearly meant to be a ‘Christian’ film. The studio even panicked over the working¬† title (‘A Bride for Seven Brothers’) because it implied bigamy and the lyrics to ‘Lonesome Polecat’ which referred to zoophilia in the lonely mountains.

It’s probably not got a place in a 24hr Film Session, but it does have a place in our hearts. Now get out there and bless a beautiful hide.

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