CAROUSEL, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s second musical play, opened on Broadway in 1945, on the heels of their smash Oklahoma! Following suit, the 1956 the film version showed up just a few months after the movie of Oklahoma! was released. Other than a chance to see how a couple of their classic songs are put over, it’s a disappointment, staged with little flair, hobbled by characters who fail to evoke sympathy.
Set on the coast of Maine—and in Heaven—in the 1870’s and 80’s, the storyline has deceased ‘Billy Bigelow’ (Gordon MacRae) taking a look back (or down) from the Pearly Gates at the way he blew it on Earth by being a jerk with his wife ‘Julie Jordan’ (Shirley Jones) and an oafish rascal in general.
Henry King directed some excellent movies, but this $3,300,000 effort flounders as one of his weakest. Reuniting MacRae and Jones from Oklahoma! didn’t spark much, the location work in Maine is attractive but that’s undercut by too much obvious and unconvincing set-bound material.
There’s Heaven (the music) and then there’s Hell—the gawd-awful choreography of the dance numbers from Rod Alexander and Agnes DeMille. His stuff gets so silly it looks like a collision between leaping Cossacks and cheerleader calisthenics; hers is a balletic swoon, one of those wretched “showstoppers” (not in the good sense) that punctured so many period-set musicals with out-of-place modern dream/nightmare exercises: yes,”Louisa’s Ballet” was in the stage production, too. *
Only the music comes through—“If I Loved You”, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, the can’t-fail “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over and the enchanting “Carousel Waltz”. Coming in 24th place for ’56, with a gross of $10,700,000, it was outshone that year, critically and commercially, by another Rodgers & Hammerstein adaptation, The King And I.
Phoebe & Henry Ephron did the screenplay. With Cameron Mitchell (a bad guy again), Barbara Ruick, Gene Lockhart, Claramae Turner, Audrey Christie, Robert Rounseville, John Dehner, Susan Luckey, Richard Deacon and Tor Johnson. A 128 minute slog.
* These “interpretive” numbers are a matter of taste, of course: some find their expressiveness daring. For this observer, in period pieces they come off as indulgent. They mar not just the mediocre film version of Carousel, but dent the much better movies Oklahoma! The King And I, South Pacific, Fiddler On The Roof—there must be more, but thinking of them makes me rush around madly, flailing like I’m being chased by demons out of Hades—or Broadway. To each their own…