I was feeling in the mood for a musical, specifically of the cheesy 1950s variety, and Carousel was what I found. I can’t say that it’s the best example of the genre, but it is pretty cheesy and 1950s. It was also very strange in terms of its plot and characters. When all is said and done I don’t think this will be a film I will return to again and again, but it was good for a laugh this time around.
The film begins in heaven, with our hero, Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae) polishing stars (because that’s what goes on in heaven, apparently). When he becomes aware of his daughter Louise’s (Susan Luckey) unhappiness, he starts regretting his decision to waive his right to go back to Earth for one day. After an extended flashback showing how Billy fell in love with Julie (Shirley Jones), married her, but died during a robbery before Louise was born, they decide to let him go back down to Earth so he can help his daughter with the pains of growing up without a father.
This is actually quite a plot heavy musical, weirdly enough. Not only do we have all of the stuff in the flashback of Billy being a good for nothing scoundrel, his former employer wanting him back but only if he leaves Julie, and the subplot involving Julie’s best friend Carrie (Barbara Ruick) and her engagement to Mr. Snow (Robert Rounseville) and the meddling of Billy’s partner in crime Jigger (Cameron Mitchell), but we have the stuff in present day once Billy returns to Earth. I will say one thing for the film, it crams a lot of stuff into two hours.
The film actually deals with a lot of scandalous subjects, as Billy and Julie elope, her being a good girl and he being a good for nothing scoundrel. It’s one of those 1950s movies that gets really close to a lot scandalous stuff, but never fully examines them. The characters want to do “bad” things, but almost always catch themselves. Well, except for the robbery thing, but that’s presented more in the light of Billy trying to step up and provide for his family (explained in one of the film’s best numbers “Soliloquy”). It’s always interesting seeing this stuff from a modern point of view, seeing what has changed and what hasn’t. The film also displays a rather concerning “stand by your man” kind of viewpoint, but it is the fifties, I suppose.
I was surprised to learn that the film was shot on location in Maine. It was in the summary on Amazon, otherwise I never even would have noticed. I wish they had taken better advantage of the location; there were only a few times in the film that I really was struck by the differences between most musicals shot in a studio. That’s honestly probably my biggest complaint with this film. It’s so unusual that musicals go on location, I feel like they should have given us more wide shots. They did go on the water some, which I appreciated.
I found that the musical numbers I tended to enjoy the most, with the exception of “Soliloquy,” were the ensemble numbers that weren’t about anything in particular. “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” was a charming number, and along with “Louise’s Ballet” has the best dancing. The “Ballet” number was classic post-Red Shoes stuff, and it conveyed the story pretty well in a relatively short amount of time. “A Real Nice Clambake,” along with “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” is another example of the people in the town just being excited about how great Maine is, and those were some of my favorite numbers to be honest. The more solitary numbers with the characters singing about their feelings were kind of more annoying, because I wasn’t as in to the story. It was nice to see the community move together.
Carousel was a pretty strange and melodramatic cheesy fifties musical, but a cheesy fifties musical nonetheless. I kind of wish they had made more of a point of the Maine location. It’s not like they ignored it or anything, but I still think they could have went for it more on that level. In general, I liked the movie more when it was just spending time with the whole town instead of actually focusing on the plot or the main characters, because the story was very packed into the film’s two hour running time and it got pretty crazy. That’s all part of the fun though. Carousel wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that amazing either.
“My mother had a baby once.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars