on April 23, 2003
People seem to either love or hate this movie. And that's understandable. On the one hand we have beautiful cinematography, and some truly classic songs sung and danced by top talent. I LOVE the title song Look to the Rainbow. But then on the other we have a director who can't seem to make up his mind whether he wants to film this movie in the great outdoors (get a load of those huge musical numbers featuring enough people to have a convention), or indoors (in sets that feel like they were swiped from Camelot or Brigadoon). On the one hand we have some great actors Fred Astaire, Tommy Steele, and Petula Clark (I think I'm in love). And let's not forget the at times hilarious dialog ("It's an angel! An Irish angel.)
But what really makes this a great movie is the way everyone involved put all their heart and soul into their role. That and the glorious use of widescreen and color (why this movie isn't out on dvd I will never know).
But again, the switching back and forth from studio set to outdoor helicopter shot feels...strange. And one or two of the musical numbers and do seem to drag (just a bit). And man, the plot of this movie sure is out there (burying gold stole from faery-land near Fort Knox as an experiment?) Some of the characters are a little hard to strange as well (a lovely mute girl who talks by dancing and a Leprechaun who finds himself turning into a human?). But if you can get over the low points (or perhaps just unusual points) and just embrace it for what it is (and especially if you love musicals), I think you'll find Finian's Rainbow to be worthy purchase. Now if only they would just release it widescreen on DVD...
on April 10, 2003
Opening on Broadway in 1947 with music by Burton Lane and lyrics by E.Y. "Yip" Harburg (who wrote the lyrics for 1939's THE WIZARD OF OZ), FINIAN'S RAINBOW was an unexpected smash that generated one pop classic after another--"How Are Things In Glocca Morra?," "Old Devil Moon," and "Look To The Rainbow" to name but three. But when talk turned to a film version, not a single studio in Hollywood would touch it: although the story was fantasy, it was also extremely satirical, contained elements that had a decidedly socialist edge, and made one of the most wickedly funny statements on racism seen up to that time. With Hollywood operating under the production code and the nation drifting into the communist paranoia of the 1950s, the whole thing was impossibly hot. And so FINIAN'S RAINBOW remained off the screen for over twenty years... until 1968, when a sudden splash of popular screen musicals prompted Warner Brothers to bankroll it.
The plot is deliberately ridiculous, and finds Irishman Finian McLonergan (Fred Astaire) and his long suffering daughter Sharon in Tennessee, where Finian plans to bury a crock of gold stolen from a leprechan (Tommy Steele) on the theory that the land around Fort Knox will make the gold grow. But things take an unexpected turn when they arrive in Rainbow Valley, where they encounter a commune-like community of black and white tobacco sharecroppers who are doing battle with a viciously bigoted Senator (Keenan Wynn.) And when daughter Sharon is outraged by the Senator's racism and happens to be standing by the hidden crock of gold--she accidentally "wishes" the Senator black!
Unlike the 1947 stage show, the big screen version of FINIAN'S RAINBOW tanked at the box office, and it is little wonder: both producers and then-novice director Francis Ford Coppola made a host of very basic mistakes with the material, the first of which was not keeping the film consistently within its original 1940s context; they instead give it a 'contemporary' tone that not only undercuts the fanciful storyline but makes many of the story's elements seem heavy-handed. In the process they manage to blunt the edge of the original in a very significant sort of way. There are also a number of cinematic problems with the movie, which feels awkwardly filmed and still more awkwardly edited, and the film visibly shifts between outdoor set-ups and studio soundstage sets in a very uncomfortable sort of way.
All of that said, there is still a great deal to enjoy in FINIAN'S RAINBOW--the aforementioned score for one and the truly memorable performances for another. Astaire is timeless, Tommy Steele almost walks away with the show, Keegan Wynn--in spite of some rather ill-advised make-up--gives a memorable performance as the bigoted Senator, and Al Freeman Jr. is absolutely hilarious in the sequence where he applies for the job of butler in the Senator's home--I laugh just thinking about it! But the real revelation here is Petula Clark. Best known as a pop singer, Clark is perfection as Sharon McLonergan; it is a tremendous pity that she was never again so well-cast on screen. And together they manage to gloss over most of the film's weaknesses; if you're a musical fan, you're likely to enjoy it.
A word of warning, however. At present, FINIAN'S RAINBOW exists only on videotape, and while the VHS release is not bad per se, it is also pan-and-scan. Admittedly, the cinematography wasn't much to begin with, but purists (of which I am one when it comes to ratios) will be frustrated.
on May 27, 2002
I have a hard time understanding why several other reviews keep saying that the themes to this story are outdated -- wishful thinking, perhaps. But unfortunately, the themes of bigotry, prejudice and hatred are still alive and well and living in the U.S. today (should anyone doubt this, consider that the first successful murder conviction in the south against a white man for killing a black man occurred in the 1970's!) Abuse of power and the overwhelming gap between the poor and the rich are also as healthy as ever.
Sure, there are some specifically outdated elements -- sharecropping, for instance. And the tobacco subplot isn't really very PC nowadays, though it's pretty funny. But what's important is still contemporary.
The acting is marvelous, and the chemistry between Fred Astaire and Petula Clark is very strong, making Sharon's instant infatuation with Woody much more believable than it might otherwise be. "He's just like you!" And Og is wonderfully comical with just a hint of a serious edge, making him utterly loveable. Though probably my favorite bit of acting in the show is Howard's complete non-expression in the scene where he is being taught how to "act black".
There is a plot hole big enough to drive the Death Star through, I admit -- but I choose to see it in a slightly different light. If Og made two of the wishes -- well, you figure it out. I like to believe that maybe things aren't quite what they seem.
All in all, I think it's a wonderful, delightful and moving story and I've loved it passionately since I was six.
on March 12, 2002
Finian's Rainbow has a way of building on the viewer and listener with each new encounter, though an objective study of its merits makes it hard to determine just why. Maybe it's the casting of such characters as those played by Astaire, Steele and Wynn, who seem to embody archetypes woven throughout the literature of the screen. The film certainly has its share of all-out exuberance, to suggest something rightfully sited in such Summer of Love days as 1968. So many of the scenes, too, are of folks with so little formal social structure, aside from that imposed by Senator Rawkins, his troopers and by analogy, his dogs. One often has the image of folks with too much time on their hands, looking for yet another reason to have a party. So it is, into this waiting collection of hedonistic yet well-intentioned expectations that Og the Leprechaun can inspire such furious action. The whole set of affairs is a surreal one, and even ridiculous at times, given a basic knowledge of American pop culture, only the viewer cannot help but be swept into the momentum of the assorted proceedings, both musical and verbal alike. While it may look contrived in many places, Finian's Rainbow's exaggeration is something the soul seems to want, and it is the natural tendency of the mortal man, after all, to be wishing while on other men's property.
on November 12, 2001
A great cast and a great score are not enough to keep this 1968 film version of the 1940's satirical fable from unraveling into many irrelevant musical fragments. While Robert Wise was directing "Star!", William Wyler - "Funny Girl" , Gene Kelly "Dr. Dolittle", Warner's turned to just-out-of-college whiz kid Francis Ford Coppola and handed him the plum assignment of directing Fred Astaire in this Broadway property. The results of Coppola's inexperience are all up there on the screen. Really bad edits, scenes that come out of nowhere, songs that spring from obvious cues, and a real lack of any overall visual concept. The obvious switch from location exteriors to studio built sets is somewhat painful.
To be fair to Francis, Warners cut his budget after the disastrous reception of their "Camelot" in 1967, and it's evident Finian wasn't being lavished with the same spectacle Warners had given "My Fair Lady" and "Camelot".
But there are still reasons you may want to take a look at Finian - the two biggest being the aforementioned cast and score. Petula Clark is lovely as Sharon and gives the Broadway ballads a bit of sixties contemporary flair. Her "Look to the Rainbow" starts a capella and opens the film beautifully. Don Francks (did he ever do another movie?) makes a fine leading man in the Howard Keel tradition - and has one of the best crooning voices I've ever heard on film. He purrs "Old Devil Moon" seductively and belts out "If This Isn't Love" better than anyone short of Sinatra. On the other hand - Tommy Steele mugs and overacts like crazy. But since he's playing a leprechaun, I'll give him a little leeway.
Ironically, while it was Coppola's first film, it was Fred Astaire's last musical. But it's a respectable performance nonetheless. Though he doesn't have all the moves he had as a young guy - he still moves like Astaire, and it's a joy to watch, particularly in the "Idle Poor" number that opens the second act.
And the songs - Old Devil Moon, How Are Things in Glocamorra?, Look to the Rainbow - great standards and they all get wonderful treatment here, particularly from Clark and Francks. The rest of the score - though it may not be as familiar - is all good.
But the (ahem) story... well. It wasn't much of a story on Broadway. It was never meant to be taken seriously - it's a fable. But fables are hard to pull off on film. Make them too stylized, and you miss the point. Make them too real and they seem ridiculous. Coppola commits error number two. He films the tale much too realistically, which only highlights the huge leaps in logic in the narrative. In addition, the satire which was much too cutting edge for Hollywood when the show debuted in 1948, was irrelevant by the time the movie was made in 1968.
That said, the scene where a white boss is teaching a young black man how to "act Negro" is still good for a snicker - especially when the joke pays off a little later in the story. There are places - this scene, and the opening - where you realize that you are being led by someone who has definite creative ideas.
Interestingly, 1968 saw another old Broadway property turned into a film - and it won the Academy Award: "Oliver!" Of course, being based on a timeless Dickens story helps - but contrast the two and you begin to sense Copolla's inexperience next to Carol Reeds very conservative, yet artistic treatment of Oliver Twist. Still, nobody can accuse Francis of being a poor learner - his next directorial assignemnt was "Godfather".
My suggestion: buy the album and hear Petula Clark, Don Francks, Fred Astaire, and Tommy Steele do justice to the great Burton Lane score. But if you can't find the soundtrack - the video is the next best thing.
Technical note - this is NOT letterboxed - which is a shame because it was filmed in wide screen and you miss pieces of the dance numbers and duets in the pan and scan.
on August 15, 2001
It was neat to see Fred Astaire (I like old movies) and TOMMY STEELE! He was my favorite character in "Finian's Rainbow", also my favorite in "Happiest Millonare." I think Tommy Steele's character, Og, was one of the most interesting. This movie has romance, comedy, and drama. The main male character,Mr. Mclanagan,(Fred Astaire)came from Ireland to America to bury the crock of gold he stole from the leprachans back home. He also brings his daughter, Sharon, along (Petula Clark). Og (Tommy Steele) is the leprechan who follows Mr. Mcglanagan to America. Mcglanagan finds this out after he buries the crock. "Oh, give it back Mr. Mcglanagan," Og pleads, because now that the crock has left Ireland all the leprachans are turning mortal including himself. He has grown so much that by that scene his pant cuffs are above his ankles. Mr. Mcglanagan is too greedy and refuses to give it back. Sharon, on the other hand falls in love with a tobacco share cropper, Woody, Og falls in love with Sharon, and then Sharon, angry with the unfair way the senator was treating blacks, made a big wish on the senator and the crock granted it. It makes a whole mess of problems, because now the neighborhood thinks Sharon is a witch. My favorite scene is when Og woos Susan, Woody's mute sister, since Sharon's already taken by Woody. He thought Susan was Sharon at first, though, because when her back was turned she looked like Sharon: Og:I'm 99% mortal now, and my feelings for you, . . it's a frenzy, a frenzy! Ah, but it feels better just bein' near ye, the scent of the air the touch of your hand, oh the miracle of it, the miracle of it, the sweet, sweet, miracle of it! (He reaches for her hand to put it to his cheek and Susan pulls away startled) She loves me! Her hand fits me cheek! Oh, Sharon you are the only one, the only one! (He sees her face) Wha- but- you're not Sharon at all! You're Susan "the silent." . . yet I feel the same frenzy for you. . is this what it's like to be mortal? Is every girl the only girl? Huh! I'm beginin' to like it! (Then breaks into a funny song) This one of my favorite movies as you can tell!!
on October 11, 2000
The film version of "Finian's Rainbow" was conceived at a time when the public's interest in movie musicals was on the wane; in fact, in light of the poor critical reception accorded "Camelot", studio head Jack Warner would have been content to pull the plug on what he perceived as another sure-fire disaster. To an extent, his feelings were justified - what had been a daringly provocative look at racial strife in the deep American South as seen through the eyes of a scheming Irishman and his less-than-supportive daughter when it debuted on Broadway in 1947 was no longer very pertinent, and the fairy tale aspects of the plot - which included the hyperactive antics of a leprachaun intent on retrieving his "borrowed" pot of gold - were going to be a hard sell in 1968. The score, although exquisitely timeless and highly recognizable, was old-fashioned in its theatricality and not likely to result in a best-selling cast album. Furthermore, directing the project was a virtual unknown, a "hippie" from northern California named Francis Ford Coppola, with only one prior film - a non-musical - to his credit. Given the odds the movie was doomed, Warner basically maintained a "hands-off, don't-ask, don't-tell" policy and simply hoped for the best.
The end result may not have been the "best", but it is considerably better than most critics described it upon its release. The overlong book, with several insignificant sub-plots, could have used some judicious trimming. Tommy Steele's performance as Og, the slowly-turning-into-a-human leprechaun, is frantically overblown. The film's editing is criminal in that Fred Astaire's feet are often unseen in his dance routines. And the attempt to blend reality and make-believe results in an awkwardly uneven balance of the two - Coppola would have been far more successful had he decided to emphasize the whimsey and play down the outdated political aspects of the story. But for all these shortcomings, "Finian's Rainbow" - from its spectacular opening credits to its nicely staged farewell to Finian - almost a goodbye to Astaire himself, for whom this would be his last dancing role - is pleasant entertainment, buoyed by its familiar score and anchored by the presence of Petula Clark, whose delightfully fresh and sweetly seductive performance is the true gold to be discovered here. At the time known in the States as a pop singer best known for the mega-hit "Downtown", Clark drew on her previous experience as an actress in mostly grade-B British films and developed a character whose acceptance of a leprechaun hiding in the backyard well is as easily believed as her skepticism regarding her father's plot to multiply his borrowed gold by burying it in the shadows of Fort Knox and her fiance's plans to grow mentholated tobacco. The Arlen/Harburg score - including such standards as "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" and "Look to the Rainbow" - could well have been composed specifically for her voice, which wraps itself around each note with a hint of a brogue and - in the case of "Old Devil Moon" - a raw sensuality suggesting the woman inside the sweet Irish colleen. A year later she was to tackle another musical - albeit far more dramatic - role in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips", for which she would be nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe - a surprise to no one who recognized the promise she displayed in her portrait of Sharon McLonergan. For that alone, "Finian's Rainbow" is definitely worth a look-see.
on September 8, 2000
Imagine a musical play so "scary" to the U.S. Goverment that however much every major movie studio wanted to make it into a movie, they wouldn't touch it with a 10 foot pole! There was an animated feature of it being planned by John Hubley, and even a soundtrack recorded--with Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra!!! Alas, the director was called before the House on Un-American Activities and the financial backers disappeared. In the interim, we had the Korean War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the beginnings of Vietnam. It certainly WOULD seem dated in the late '60's--but the film is a flawed miracle. Compared to MOST of the musicals in the '60's (My Fair Lady, Camelot, Hello Dolly) it stands oout over them all. Beautiful cinematography, great songs, great orchestrations, great singing!! A couple of the roles were mis-cast, most notably the REALLY annoying Tommy Steele.
on May 14, 2004
Although the story is very complicated, I will try to tell it the best I can. Two Irish immigrants move to a backwoods town of bizarros, in order to bury some stolen gold. The guy who the gold was stolen from, (in this case a leprechaun), has tailed them to the backwoods to take it back. Between songs and dances like 'Woody's Here' and 'How Are Things In Glocka Morra' the town battles against the intense, ramshackle house-living Senator, played by Keenan Wynn. This is quite bizzare for the usual light-hearted, song-and-dance musical, but I really wouldn't expect anything else to come out of the late 1960's. If you are interested in a queer, sly movie, get this. But you won't really go for this if you are a fan of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.
on April 1, 2001
When we say stunning- we don't mean it favorably. This movie was pretty difficult to comprehend and even some good actors couldn't make up for a very unusual story line. Fred Astaire's dancing was wasted because it isn't shown and Tommy Steele is the most annoying leprechaun we've ever seen. Petula Clark has a nice voice and does well in her part- it's just pretty ridiculous. This movie really isn't worth buying unless you've seen it before on AMC or something and know this is your type of film. As far as racism goes, this movie made African Americans look silly and the part where the Senator is turned black is absurd. Maybe we don't get this movie but we'd like to ask, "Is there anything to get?"