Carousel

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The story revolves around Billy Bigelow, a rough-talking, macho, handsome carousel barker, and Julie Jordan, a young, innocent mill worker, both living their busy lives in the small town of Boothbay Harbor, Maine. They fall in love, but both are fired from their jobs for different reasons – Billy because he paid too much attention to Julie and incurred the wrath of the jealous carousel owner Mrs. Mullin, and Julie because she stayed out past the curfew imposed by the understanding but stern mill owner, Mr. Bascombe. Billy and Julie marry and go to live at the seaside spa of her cousin Nettie, but Billy becomes bitter because he is unable to find work, and in his frustration, strikes Julie (this moment is not shown at all in the film). Mrs. Mullin, the jealous carousel owner who is infatuated with him, hears of this and goes to Nettie’s to offer Billy his old job back, but will not re-hire him unless he leaves his wife. Billy seems to be considering the idea when Julie asks to talk privately. Julie, fearing he will be enraged, timidly tells him she is pregnant. But Billy is overjoyed and now firmly refuses Mrs. Mullin’s offer. However, newly worried about not having enough money to provide for his child, and unskilled at anything except being a carousel barker, Billy secretly agrees to join his pal Jigger Craigin in robbing the wealthy Bascombe.

During a clambake, held on a nearby island, Billy and Jigger sneak to the mainland to commit the robbery, but Bascombe, who is usually unarmed, carries a gun and the robbery is foiled. While Bascombe is momentarily distracted, Jigger flees and leaves Billy at the mercy of the police. Cornered, but trying to escape, Billy climbs atop a pile of crates, whereupon the pile collapses and Billy accidentally falls on his own knife. The others return from the clambake, and Julie sees the mortally wounded Billy. She rushes over to him and he dies after saying his last words to her. Julie is devastated because she truly loved him, even though she never had the courage to say it out loud.

Fifteen years later, in the other world (apparently the back door of Heaven), Billy is told that he can return to Earth for one day to make amends. Billy returns to find his daughter Louise emotionally scarred because she is constantly taunted over the fact that her father tried to commit a robbery. Billy, not telling her who he is, makes himself visible, tries to cheer her up, and gives her a star that he stole from Heaven. Louise refuses it, frightened, and Billy, in desperation, slaps her hand. She rushes inside the house and informs Julie of what happened, saying that she did not feel a slap, but a kiss. Billy tries to make himself invisible before Julie can see him, but she has glimpsed him for just a split second, and senses that he has come back for a reason. Billy asks his Heavenly Guide for permission to go to Louise’s high school graduation, and there he silently gives both her and Julie the confidence they need and the knowledge that, in spite of everything, he loved Julie.

REVIEW:

I’ve been trying to get back to reviewing classic musicals, but it is kind of hard since I’ve watched almost all of the major movie musicals. Of those that are left I can think of two that really stick out to the general public, Kiss Me, Kate and this film, Carousel. From what I hear there are some changes made that may or may not have a major bearing on how I see this film, so let’s see what I think, shall we?

What is this about?

Billy Bigelow has been dead for fifteen years, and now outside the pearly gates, he long waived his right to go back to Earth for a day. But he has heard that there is a problem with his family, namely his wife Julie Bigelow née Jordan and the child he never met, that problem with which he would now like to head back to Earth to assist in rectifying. Before he is allowed back to Earth, he has to get the OK from the gatekeeper, to who he tells his story… Immediately attracted to each other, he and Julie met when he worked as a carousel barker. Both stated to the other that they did not believe in love or marriage, but they did get married. Because the shrewish carousel owner, Mrs. Mullin, was attracted to Billy herself, and since she believed he was only of use as a barker if he was single to attract the young women to the carousel, she fired him. With no other job skills and unwilling to take just any job, Billy did not provide for Julie but rather lived off Julie’s Aunt Nettie. But Billy figured he could be the breadwinner through his association with a criminal lowlife named Jigger Craigin, which led to his death. In going back to Earth, Billy not only hopes to help his child, but “tell” Julie of his true feeling for her.

What did I like?

Music, man. Shirley Jones isn’t just the romantic lead in this musical, but also The Music Man. What you may not realize is that her on-screen daughter, Susan Luckey, was also in River City. I’m not sure if there just weren’t that many talented actresses that could pull off musicals, if this was a studio contract thing, or what have you, but it is always nice to see actors from one film work together in a totally different picture.

Fair and balanced. Ah, the late 1800s! A time of innocence, simplicity, and town fairs/carnivals. This isn’t exactly a period piece, at least not compared to what we see today, but it is set in this era. One feels completely transported back to this time, even with the simple sets. A true testament to the imagination of those behind the scenes of this flick.

Song and dance. How is the music? Well, this is a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, so that should tell you what to expect. The songs are a mixed bag, as with many Hollywood translation of musicals, but the standouts “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” really shine through. I also must mention the elaborate dance number down on the pier. While not the quality of a Gene Kelly number, it was tight, clean, and entertaining….though I could have gone without the sailors taking their shirts off at the end. This isn’t Magic Mike, after all!

What didn’t I like?

Titular machine. The titular carousel is not really a part of this film. It serves as a place of employment, albeit briefly, for our leading man, and that’s pretty much it. This makes me wonder why the title was chosen. Perhaps, in the original play, there is more focus on the carousel, but I can’t be certain. Changing the title may have been box office murder at the time this was released, but I still wonder if a better, more suitable title could be found.

Opposites attract. We all know the story. One character is prim, proper and from an upstanding family. The other is from the wrong side of the tracks, probably has some sort of criminal record, or at least a bad reputation. Somehow, these crazy kids come together and become infatuated with each other. Tale as old as time, right? Well, just once I’d like for there to be a change in this tale, even if it is just a gender switch. Some things get old after a while, you know?

Only if you want her to. Billy’s ghost/spirit/soul comes back to Earth to set his 15 year old daughter on the right path, before she ends up making the wrong decision. Nothing wrong with that, until he slaps her and the mother comes out to see what happened. We’ve seen thousands of films, tv shows, and even cartoons using this trope. Usually, the spirit is not visible. In this case, it was his choice to be visible or not. I thought that was a nice touch, except Shirley Jones’ character came out of the house so fast, surely she saw him. If that was the idea, then I retract this dislike.

So, what did I think of Carousel? This has been a horrible past few days. I needed something light and fun to watch. While this wasn’t as light as I thought it would be, I still had fun watching. This is one of those musicals that is for the more romantically inclined of us, which isn’t me, but I still found enjoyment from the music. The plot is a little thin, but still a good story, I especially appreciated the flashback. Do I recommend this? Yes…yes I do. Most of the time, you can’t go wrong with a musical from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and this is no exception!

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

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