The outside temperature might have been in the 40s, but this April Fool’s Day joke by Mother Nature didn’t harm the springtime feeling of renewal at the Redford Theatre on Friday, April 1, 2016.
The air of the Redford auditorium was filled with excitement as one of the most famous dance numbers in the history of movie musicals filled the screen in the 1954 MGM movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. In The Story of Cinema (1984), film historian David Shipman wrote that this barn-raising square dance was “as exhilarating as any sequence every put on film.”
At the Redford, this dance was the highlight of an invigorating evening where you could feel the beginning of spring, in spite of the cold weather outside. The climax of the movie in the springtime added immensely to that feeling.
Before the movie, organist Dave Calendine warmed up the lively crowd with selections from other movie musicals like Oklahoma!, The Wizard of Oz, and Mary Poppins. During the intermission, Dave returned to play songs from the first half of Seven Brides that still echoed in the senses of the Redford crowd.
When the movie ended, Dave smoothly segued out of the final credits with a live rendition of the song that was played over those credits—”Bless Yore Beautiful Hide.” Much applause greeted Dave’s final number, as people lingered to soak in the full feeling of this fun evening.
It was a social night for many people. As I walked out of the theater to drive home, I noticed several groups posing for pictures, including about ten women lined up along one of the staircases that leads to the balcony.
Before Seven Brides started, we saw the silent Laurel and Hardy 1927 comedy The Battle of the Century, with live accompaniment by the busy Dave Calendine. The pie fight in this short comedy inspired a memorable event at the Redford about six years ago (Another Fun Mess).
Seven Brides was one of the first widescreen musicals and made excellent use of the CinemaScope process that debuted about a year before Seven Brides was released in the summer of 1954.
Lead actress Jane Powell was spunky and radiant in probably her best known role. Lead actor Howard Keel once again reminded everyone of his contributions to MGM’s golden age of musicals, including Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Show Boat (1951), and Kiss Me Kate (1952).
When Seven Brides opened in Detroit on September 17, 1954, Detroit Free Press Movie Critic Helen Bower wrote:
What will be remembered longest about ‘Seven Brides’ is the marvelous dancing. Michael Kidd has devised some of the most terrifically intricate routines dancers were ever called upon to follow.
During the intermission, I had a nice conversation with another Redford patron about the unique features of the theater that distinguish it from megaplexes, such as the classic movies, low-priced concessions, and beautiful architecture. It reminded me of the special community of movie and theater lovers that has been created by the Redford, Detroit Film Theatre, and Michigan Theater.
The drawing for the 50-50 raffle at intermission was helped by special guest Peter Flynn, who directed a documentary about film projectionists that is being screened at this weekend’s Freep Film Festival (The Dying of the Light). Flynn complimented the restored beauty of the Redford and all of the people who had helped create that beauty.
The 50-50 drawing made my evening even more rewarding when my name was called from the stage for a $50 prize. I had bought $5 worth of tickets, which appropriately gave me seven chances on the night when they were showing Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It had been about 15 years since I had last won the Redford raffle, and experienced the elation and thrill of hearing my name called and the friendly applause that followed.
This all added up to another great Redford memory, which I’m savoring as I watch snowflakes dance around the baby blossoms on a fruit tree in front of my home.
But a springtime musical at the Redford helped make up the difference between a typically tentative Michigan spring day and the ideal ones that we know are coming.
Copyright © 2016 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.