The Enchanting Cyd Charisse in Brigadoon (1954)

Gill over at Realweedgiemidget Reviews is hosting The No True Scotsman Blogathon which asks us to bring to light thespians playing Scots who are not Scottish themselves. For this unique look at the movies, I’m turning my sights to the Scottish Highlands of Lerner and Loewe’s musical, Brigadoon (1954), and more specifically Cyd Charisse as the film’s heroine, Fiona Campbell.

In our story, New Yorkers Tommy Albright (Gene Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Van Johnson) take a hunting trip to Scotland where they stumble upon a quaint, mysterious village. Tommy is unsatisfied with his life back in New York and finds what he’s looking for in Brigadoon, including love with Fiona Campbell (Cyd Charisse); however, if he’s to keep what he’s found, he will need to turn his back on all he’s ever known.

Vincente Minnelli and Gene Kelly

Unfortunately for MGM, their production of the Broadway hit Brigadoon was not as idyllic as the village it portrays. Gene Kelly and director Vincente Minnelli were excited by the idea of providing audiences with a film that was shot on location in Scotland. This realism had been denied Broadway theatregoers who flocked to see Brigadoon and the creative team was itching to see it come to fruition; however, their hopes were dashed by the prospect of unseemly weather and extensive cuts to the budget.

In addition to being confined to the sound stages, Minnelli was tasked with shooting the film in Cinemascope (which he disliked) as well as the standard widescreen format. With all of these drawbacks Kelly and Minnelli felt stifled, but still managed to give us a film to appreciate.

The stars of Brigadoon (1954) with producer Arthur Freed

Originally, Kathryn Grayson was chosen for the part of Fiona; but by the time production began Grayson was no longer under contract to the studio. The next choice – Moira Shearer (a Scot) – was unavailable, giving former Ballet Russe dancer Cyd Charisse her second leading role in a musical.

Cyd was American as apple pie, but this didn’t seem to hinder her performance. Cyd’s Scottish accent in the film is light and charming, although I’m pretty sure it’s not entirely accurate. On top of her refined speaking voice, she added a slight lilt and rolling of her “r’s.” Under all this, one would never guess that she was born in Texas and lived there till her teenage years. Lest ye think Cyd sprang some vocal chords overnight, she was dubbed by Carol Richards who carried the accent through as well.

Cyd Charisse’s star had risen by dancing with Gene Kelly in Singin in the Rain (1952) and Fred Astaire in The Bandwagon (1953), but in Brigadoon her graceful beauty shines through like never before. Cyd plays Fiona with passion and dignity. A brave woman who knows her heart and is honest with herself and others. Her ladylike bearing and poise is perfectly attuned to the character of Fiona. Just like Tommy, we, the audience, fall for her on sight.

The chemistry between Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly is palpable and is never more apparent than in “The Heather On the Hill.” Kelly’s choreography reaches the peak of romance as the two playfully run across the hills gathering heather and break into dance with some of the most beautiful lifts I’ve ever seen on screen.

The reprise is equally stirring as the passion between the lovers has fully bloomed and Tommy must make his decision.

For some reason I’ve always thought of this film as Tommy’s story. Upon further examination, I’ve realized that Fiona deserves more than I was giving her credit for. After all, when she falls for Tommy she is fully aware of the village’s secret and what she could lose if she puts her heart on the line, yet she does so anyway. Tommy hasn’t a clue what he’s getting into when he falls for the Scottish lass, but he does know what they have is real and true.

Brigadoon might go down in history as the MGM film that should have been shot on location, but to me the hand painted backdrops and studio sets add to the film’s magical quality (not unlike The Wizard of Oz, 1939). Also, as much as I love Moira Shearer, I can’t picture anyone else in the part of Fiona. In my book, Gene Kelly plus Cyd Charisse equals dynamite.

Fun bit of trivia: According to Imdb, Cyd Charisse said that of the several films she made with Gene Kelly, Brigadoon was her favorite.

This post is my contribution to The No True Scotsman Blogathon hosted by Gill at Realweedgiemidget Reviews. Thanks for letting me participate, Gill! Grab yer’ kilt head over to her blog for Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3.

28 thoughts on “The Enchanting Cyd Charisse in Brigadoon (1954)

  1. I wasn’t crazy about Brigadoon, but I did love Cyd Charisse’s dancing in it, such a graceful and agile artist. Her husband always said he could tell who she was dancing with by the way she came home: if she was tired, quiet, mumbling, and limping, she was dancing with Gene Kelly, if she was tired, smiling, limping, but moving like she was floating on clouds, she was dancing with Fred Astaire.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, I recall hearing something similar. If she came home black and blue, she was working with Kelly, if she had not a scratch, she was working with Astaire. Such different men and styles!

      Wasn’t Cyd’s dancing divine in this movie? To me, that alone makes it worth the watch. I also love how Minnelli staged the second to last scene where Tommy gets flashbacks of Brigadoon while in the crowded New York restaurant.

      So glad to hear from another Cyd Charisse fan. Thank you for stopping by!

      Like

  2. I love this movie, and you’re right, it’s as much Fiona’s story as Tommy’s, really. Everything about it is beautiful — I think the fact that it’s all shot on soundstages makes it feel like a dream or fantasy, like stepping into Brigadoon really is visiting another world.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dell on Movies

    I had only barely heard of Brigadoon before reading this post and no idea it was a musical. Those don’t often float my boat, but you’ve made this seem like something I should see. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s a charming musical that, unfortunately, misses greatness by a few yards. I do think that the good outweighs the flaws. It’s a lovely film with wonderful music and dancing. I wouldn’t mind seeing a new version shot in Scotland, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was surprised to learn that in the original Broadway show, because the leads were primarily singers, there was no dance for “Heather On the Hill.” My mind can’t fathom it. We are so lucky it’s captured in the movie with Kelly and Charisse. That would be fun to see…Thanks for stopping by, Eric!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Brian

    A great tribute to a classic, with some wonderful stills of the production. I wonder if shooting on location would have added anything really significant. The chemistry between the performers and their artistry are so important, regardless of the setting.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. In addiction to how well-written this piece is, I love the gif and the images you chose – particularly the top one. You really captured the beauty of their dancing and the magic of their chemistry. ❤

    The Encores production of Brigadoon is one of my favorite musicals. (If you’re interested, check YouTube and see what you can find.) I enjoy the film, too (one can’t helped but be pulled in), but I’d like it even more if Fiona’s role wasn’t so minimized. She’s more involved in the Broadway show – both musically, and in playing a larger part in the story. (Also, she’s older. When they read the birthdates in the Bible, it puts her in her 30s – which I think makes her decisions more poignant, and groundbreaking. I really appreciate that.) But it speaks even more to Cyd’s performance that she can convey the same calm, self-assured resolve and make such an impact, even in her modified role. (And that is aside from her incredible dancing!…Her, and Gene, and her flowy yellow-and-orange dress!)

    My favorite way to experience Brigadoon the film is to listen to the soundtrack right after – the version that includes outtakes and cut songs. It feels like a more whole expression of Fiona and the full story (plus, there’s more of Carol Richards’ singing, which is always lovely).

    Also, this has nothing to do with Cyd Charisse – but I think this might be Van Johnson’s finest performance. (It’s certainly my favorite of his, anyway.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oops – typo! “In addition”…Sorry. I was too swept away by Brigadoon magic to proofread well, I guess. 😉

      Oh! While I’m typing, here’s another thought: In the Broadway musical, “Almost Like Being in Love” is a duet. As I said, I kind of miss that here (it just removes Fiona even more), BUT I must say – Gene Kelly’s version is one of my all-time favorite songs of his. 🙂 I could probably listen to it on repeat. It brings me joy every time – the way he lets loose with that final phrase is exhilarating! It makes me happy. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you, Jillian! I will have to check the Encores production out, it sounds completely lovely. I was listening to the original Broadway soundtrack while writing my post but I will be sure to listen to the MGM soundtrack soon for the complete experience. Van Johnson is great here and “Almost Like Being In Love” is a real treat! Thanks again for stopping by 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m trying to imagine Moira Shearer as Fiona but you’re right: only Cyd Charisse could play this role! She is lovely and The Heather on the Hill is a marvelous dancing sequence. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m actually of the opinion that the film benefits from not being shot on location. After all, it is a fantasy, a dreamlike concoction which the artistry of the studio sets enhances rather than diminishes. In truth, I feel the wonder that emanates from a well constructed set has been dismissed too often by modern critics – movies will always be art to me and slavish devotion to reality feels like a denial of art in a sense. The more we seek to attain reality, the further away we drift from art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree with you, Colin. I think the sets added to the film’s magical quality. It’s too bad Minnelli and Kelly didn’t see it that way – they created something wonderful and didn’t even know/appreciate it. At least countless generations will get to enjoy it!

      Beautifully said, Colin. Depending on the story, I would much rather see a professional, talented artist’s interpretation of a setting than for the film to be shot on location. There are exceptions but I do love an imaginative, beautiful, and evocative set. It is quite magical and fires the imagination in a way that reality simply cannot.

      Like

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