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.
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.
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.