Finian's Rainbow (film)

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Finian's Rainbow
FiniansRainbowPoster.jpg
Original poster
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Produced by Joseph Landon
Written by E. Y. Harburg
Fred Saidy
Starring Fred Astaire
Petula Clark
Tommy Steele
Music by Burton Lane
Cinematography Philip H. Lathrop
Editing by Melvin Shapiro
Distributed by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts
Release dates
  • October 9, 1968 (1968-10-09)
Running time 145 minutes
Country Ireland
United States
Language English
Budget $3.5 million
Box office $11,600,000[1]

Finian's Rainbow is a 1968 American musical film directed by Francis Ford Coppola that stars Fred Astaire and Petula Clark. The screenplay by E. Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy is based on their 1947 stage musical of the same name.

Plot[edit]

A lovable rogue named Finian McLonergan absconds from his native Ireland with a pot of gold secreted in a carpetbag, plus his daughter Sharon in tow. His destination is Rainbow Valley in the mythical state of Missitucky, where he plans to bury his treasure in the mistaken belief that, given its close proximity to Fort Knox, it will multiply.

Hot on his heels is the leprechaun Og, desperate to recover his stolen crock before he turns human. Among those involved in the ensuing shenanigans are Woody Mahoney, a ne'er-do-well dreamer who woos Sharon; his mute sister Susan, who expresses herself in dance; Woody's good friend and business partner Howard, an African American botanist determined to grow mentholated tobacco, and bombastic Senator Billboard Rawkins, who wears his bigotry as if it were a badge of honor.

Complications arise when Rawkins, believing there is gold in Rainbow Valley, attempts to seize the land from the people who live there and makes some racial slurs while doing so. Sharon furiously wishes he'd turn black himself—and, because she is in close proximity to the magical pot of gold, which is capable of granting three wishes, Rawkins does exactly that. Sharon is accused of witchcraft and sentenced to be burned at the stake unless she can make him white again.

To save his daughter, Finian tries to find the pot of gold, unaware Susan has discovered it and hidden it under a bridge. Rawkins eventually meets Og, who quickly realizes what caused the Senator's change in race. Seeing that the change of skin color did nothing to alter his hateful racism, Og casts a spell to make Rawkins more open-minded.

Sharon and Woody gather in the barn to be married, but the Sheriff, his deputies and the local District Attorney barricade the doors and promise to burn the building down if Rawkins isn't white by sunrise. Og meets with Susan on the bridge under which the gold is hidden and, after passionately kissing her, wishes she could talk. When she begins to speak, Og realizes they're standing above the gold.

For a brief moment he considers using the final wish to retain his leprechaun status and return to the fairy world. Instead he decides he would rather remain human with Susan and wishes for Rawkins to be white once more. Thanks to the now-empty crock helping to put out an accidental fire that was about to consume the barn, Howard's mentholated tobacco experiments become successful, ensuring financial success for all the poor people of Rainbow Valley, both white and black. Sharon and Woody are wed, and bid a fond farewell to Finian, who leaves Rainbow Valley in search of his own rainbow.

Production[edit]

Warner Bros. had optioned the film rights to the stage musical nearly two decades earlier, and they were on the verge of expiring. With Camelot having proven to be more costly than anticipated, and its commercial success still undetermined since it had not been released yet, Jack Warner was having second thoughts about another musical project, but when he saw Petula Clark perform on her opening night at the Coconut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, he knew he had found the ideal Sharon.[2] He decided to forge ahead and hoped for the best, despite his misgivings about having nearly-novice "hippie" director Francis Ford Coppola at its helm. Although Clark had made many films in the 1940s and 1950s in her native Great Britain, this would be her first starring role in ten years, and her first film appearance since rising to international fame with "Downtown" four years earlier.

It was known that Dick Van Dyke was considered to play the role of Finian, back in 1965, however, financial problems caused the filming to be postponed, and Van Dyke dropped out of consideration. (Source: "The Films of Fred Astaire")

"I don't know who Rand is, but I'd never trust a McNally," observes Sharon McLonergan (Petula Clark) as her father Finian (Fred Astaire), in search of Missitucky, consults a map

Fred Astaire, whose last movie musical had been Silk Stockings eleven years earlier, and who had concentrated on his TV specials in the interim, was persuaded at the age of sixty-nine to return to the screen to portray the title character. Given his status as a screen legend and to accommodate his talents, the role was given a musical presence it had not had on stage, and he was given top rather than the original third billing. Dressed in a ratty old cardigan sweater instead of white tie and tails and a battered felt hat in place of a topper, Finian is a far cry from the persona Astaire projected as Ginger Rogers' suave dance partner in their many movie musicals.[neutrality is disputed]

While a construction crew transformed more than nine acres of backlot into Rainbow Valley, complete with a narrow gauge railway, schoolhouse, general store, post office, houses, and barns, Coppola spent five weeks rehearsing the cast, and before principal photography began, a complete performance of the film was presented to an audience on a studio soundstage.[3] In the liner notes she wrote for the 2004 Rhino Records limited, numbered edition CD release of the soundtrack, Clark recalls that old-Hollywood Astaire was befuddled by Coppola's contemporary methods of film-making and balked at dancing in "a real field with cow dung and rabbit holes." Although he finally acquiesced to filming a sequence in the Napa Valley near Coppola's home, the bulk of the movie was shot on studio soundstages and the backlot, leaving the finished film with jarring contrasts between reality and make-believe.[2]

Clark was nervous about her first Hollywood movie and particularly concerned about dancing with old pro Astaire. He later confessed he was just as worried about singing with her.[2] The film was partially choreographed by Astaire's long-time friend and collaborator Hermes Pan, who was fired by Coppola during filming.[4] Finian's Rainbow proved to be Astaire's last major movie musical, although he went on to dance with Gene Kelly during the linking sections of That's Entertainment, Part 2.

Clark recalls that Coppola's approach was at odds with the subject matter. "Francis . . . wanted to make it more real. The problem with Finian's Rainbow is that it's sort of like a fairy tale . . . so trying to make sense of it was a very delicate thing."[2] Coppola opted to fall somewhere in the middle, with mixed results. Updating the story line was limited to changing Woody from a labor organizer to the manager of a sharecroppers' cooperative, making college-student Howard a research botanist, and a few minor changes to the lyrics in the Burton Lane-E. Y. Harburg score, such as changing a reference to Carmen Miranda to Zsa Zsa Gabor. Other than that, the plot remains firmly entrenched in the pre-Civil Rights era.

Because preview audiences found the film overly long, the musical number "Necessity" was deleted prior to its release, although the song remains on the soundtrack album. It can also be heard as background music, when Senator Rawkins first shows up in Rainbow Valley in his attempt to buy Finian out.

Cast[edit]

Musical sequences[edit]

CD cover
  • Overture
  • Look to the Rainbow
  • This Time of the Year
  • How Are Things in Glocca Morra?
  • Look to the Rainbow (Reprise)
  • Old Devil Moon
  • Something Sort of Grandish
  • If This Isn't Love
  • (That) Great Come-and-Get-It-Day
  • Entr'acte
  • When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich
  • Rain Dance Ballet
  • The Begat
  • When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love
  • How Are Things in Glocca Morra? (Reprise)
  • Exit Music

Critical reception[edit]

Released in major cities as a roadshow presentation complete with intermission, at a time when the popularity of movie musicals was on the wane, the film was dismissed as inconsequential by many critics, who found Astaire's obviously frail and aged appearance shocking and Steele's manic performance annoying. In the New York Times, Renata Adler described it as a "cheesy, joyless thing" and added, "there is something awfully depressing about seeing Finian's Rainbow . . . with Fred Astaire looking ancient, far beyond his years, collapsed and red-eyed . . . it is not just that the musical is dated . . . it is that it has been done listlessly and even tastelessly."[5]

Don Francks and Petula Clark contemplate the magic of that Old Devil Moon

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, on the other hand, thought it was "the best of the recent roadshow musicals . . . Since The Sound of Music, musicals have been . . . long, expensive, weighed down with unnecessary production values and filled with pretension . . . Finian's Rainbow is an exception . . . it knows exactly where it's going, and is getting there as quickly and with as much fun as possible . . . it is the best-directed musical since West Side Story. It is also enchanting, and that's a word I don't get to use much . . . it is so good, I suspect, because Astaire was willing to play it as the screenplay demands . . . he . . . created this warm old man . . . and played him wrinkles and all. Astaire is pushing 70, after all, and no effort was made to make him look younger with common tricks of lighting, makeup and photography. That would have been unnecessary: He has a natural youthfulness. I particularly want to make this point because of the cruel remarks on Astaire's appearance in the New York Times review by Renata Adler. She is mistaken."[6]

Time Out London calls it an "underrated musical . . . the best of the latter-day musicals in the tradition of Minnelli and MGM."[7]

Highly praised by all was Clark, whom Ebert described as "a surprise. I knew she could sing, but I didn't expect much more. She is a fresh addition to the movies: a handsome profile, a bright personality, and a singing voice as unique in its own way as Streisand's." In the Chicago Reader, David Kehr opined she "had every right to a distinguished career in musicals."[8] John Mahoney of The Hollywood Reporter said she "invites no comparisons, bringing to her interpretation of Sharon her own distinctive freshness and form of delivery."[3] In the New York Daily News, Wanda Hale cited her "winsome charm which comes through despite a somewhat reactive role."[3] Joseph Morgenstern of Newsweek said she "looks lovely" and "sings beautifully, with an occasional startling reference to the phrasing and timbre of Ella Logan's original performance."[3] Variety observed, "Miss Clark gives a good performance and she sings the beautiful songs like a nightingale."[3] Clearly, in the United States at least, Clark was known only as a singer, although she had appeared as an actress in British films since she was a child.[9]

Tommy Steele got plenty of negative reviews, calling his performance of Og overacting compared to the controlled charm[neutrality is disputed] found in David Wayne in the Broadway version of the musical. Steele's screaming and slapstick performance were considered by many critics to be overdone.[citation needed]

The film earned $5.1 million in rentals in North America.[10]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy but lost to Oliver! Petula Clark was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy but lost to Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl; Fred Astaire was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy but lost to Ron Moody in Oliver!; and Barbara Hancock was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture but lost to Ruth Gordon in Rosemary's Baby.

Ray Heindorf was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Score – Adaptation or Treatment but lost to Johnny Green for Oliver! M.A. Merrick and Dan Wallin were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound but lost to Jim Groom for Oliver![11]

E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy were nominated for Best Written American Musical by the Writers Guild of America.

DVD release[edit]

The film was released on DVD on March 15, 2005. Presented in anamorphic widescreen format, it captures all of Astaire's footwork, most of which was unseen in the original release.[citation needed] It has audio tracks in English and French, with both the dialogue and songs translated into the latter language. Fluent in French, Clark was the sole cast member to record the foreign version.

Bonus features include commentary by Francis Ford Coppola, who focuses mostly on the film's shortcomings, The World Premiere of Finian's Rainbow, and the original theatrical trailer.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Finian's Rainbow, Box Office Information". Worldwide Box Office. Retrieved March 4, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d Finian's Rainbow Original Soundtrack CD liner notes
  3. ^ a b c d e Finian's Rainbow at PetulaClark.net
  4. ^ DVDJournal.com
  5. ^ New York Times review
  6. ^ Chicago Sun-Times review
  7. ^ Time Out review
  8. ^ Chicago Reader review
  9. ^ Wikipedia article on Clark
  10. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
  11. ^ "The 41st Academy Awards (1969) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-25. 

External links[edit]