“ Genre: Musicals & Classical / Theatrical Release: 1956 / Universal, suitable for all / Director: Henry King / Actors: Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Cameron Mitchell, Gene Lockhart, Robert Rounseville ... / DVD released 2006-03-20 at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, Box set, PAL, Special Edition „
Imagine if, long after you have died, you got given the chance to go back to earth for one day, to see and possibly help those you loved one more time.
This is the prospect dangled in front of Billy Bigelow, a no-good carousel barker at the start of the 1956 film adaptation of Rogers & Hammerstein's classic musical "Carousel".
Viewed today, 50 years after the film premiered, and over 60 years since the stage show debuted on Broadway, its hard to take in just how ground breaking "Carousel" was at the time.
Despite the stage version being a huge hit in both New York and London, the film version flopped at the box office, with only the soundtrack proving a hit with the public.
The film tells the story of Bigelow and a young mill worker, Julie Jordan, who live and work in coastal Maine. The pair meet on Billy's carousel but both end up without jobs after Mrs Mullins, the carousel's owner, becomes jealous of Billy's interest in Julie and fires him when Billy stands up for Julie. Julie loses her job at the mill she works at with her friend Carrie Pipperidge when her patriarchal boss finds her out past her curfew.
The pair elope and marry, but Billy finds married life difficult and fails to find any work. The young couple rely on the kindness of Julie's cousin Nettie. Julie's friend Carrie becomes engaged to herring fisherman Mr Enoch Snow, who proposes offering Billy a job, however Billy sneers at both the suggestion he work on a fishing boat and the snobbish Mr Snow so he remains out of work.
Julie reveals she is expecting a baby, a thought that both excites and terrifies Billy.
Realising he needs money, Billy ends up involved in a robbery with his wastrel friend Jigger which goes awry with Jigger escaping empty handed but Billy falling on his own knife which kills him.
The remainder of the film deals with Billy's return to earth for the day where he encounters his troubled teenage daughter Louise, who has inherited so many of his traits and how he uses his opportunity to help her.
So what is so groundbreaking about "Carousel"? Well it was probably the first stage musical to have a tragic plot. This isn't your bog standard Broadway show that ends with a wedding or a kiss.
Billy is not a sympathetic leading man either. Played by Gordon MacRae, its hard to believe now that Frank Sinatra was originally cast in the role, as MacRae makes the part his own. He conveys Billy's anti-hero status perfectly and owns the screen when he sings "Soliloqy" a song in which he reflects upon impending fatherhood.
Also, domestic violence is touched upon, a topic which was pretty taboo back in the 1950s. Billy hits Julie (Shirley Jones) in an unseen moment, but it is mentioned several times in the film. Jones sings beautifully in the film but is a little wet as Julie - she was yet to mature as an actress and fails to convey the true strength and fearlessness that Julie possesses.
There is then the class division touched upon by the snobbish Mr Snow, who is very condescending about Billy's feckless ways and continues to look down on Julie and Louise, despite his wife Carrie's continuing friendship with Julie following Billy's death.
Robert Rounseville is perfect as the uptight Mr Snow, and Barbara Ruick is delightful as Carrie, his wife. She certainly shares some of Mr Snow's snobbery but is far more relaxed about things and Ruick's performance is both tender and funny.
Cameron Mitchell is fantastic as Jigger, the ne'er do well who persuades Billy the robbery is a good idea. He also shares a wonderful comedic scene with Ruick and has some great one liners. He is an almost cartoon like villain and in any other film this might not work, but his performance is just perfect in "Carousel".
And so onto the songs. You cannot mention "Carousel" without thinking of the obvious song, "You'll Never Walk Alone". And in this film the song is both uplifting and capable of reducing one to tears. Sung by Claramae Turner, who plays Cousin Nettie, it is used as a device to comfort a grieving Julie and is part of a scene that tears me up every time I see it, and then is reprised for the finale of the film.
The other big numbers in the movie are "June is Bustin Out All Over", "If I Loved You", "Soliloquy", "Mr Snow" and "Stone Cutters Cut it in Stone", all of which are now musical standards.
It has been reported that a remake of Carousel will be out next year and while I love this version, I do think its one of the few films that might benefit from being revisited, and having the domestic violence and class snobbery looked at from a modern viewpoint.
Also, it would be lovely to see a film version of this musical including all the songs given several were omitted from this version. I still find it strange not to see Shirley Jones and Barbara Ruick sing "You're a Queer One, Julie Jordan", despite the song being available on the soundtrack CD for example.
However these are small complaints. If you enjoy beautifully crafted songs and lyrics, a good story and strong characterisations in a film, then there are far worse ways you could spend 2 hours and I highly recommend you make a date with "Carousel", which, to my mind anyway, is the best of the classic Rogers & Hammerstein musicals.
The DVD is available for £6.98 from Amazon in a special 2 disc version. An older single disc release is £4.98.