A surprisingly cinematic musical, filmed in the Todd-AO aspect ratio where it was planned for screens curved at the edges, and ran at thirty frames per second; There are many POV shots that were specifically designed to emulate the human field-of-view and induce unheard-of immersion. These don’t play as well viewed on a small screen decades later, of course, but are still surprisingly effective. There’s a real sense of size to the whole thing, and the few ‘action’ scenes (like a sort of carriage chase sequence) are properly gripping.
The key to the whole thing is the music, of course, and it’s grand. There’s a real sense of coherence to how the music, dialogue, and background score all work to the same ends. The story itself is a curious thing; it underplays the more severe and interesting aspects in a way that definitely prompts curiosity but also undercooks some of what really pops about the film.
When the hero Curly sings a song to the villain Jud that tries to convince Jud to kill himself, it’s played comedically, and part of the interesting tension there is how ignored the darkness of the whole affair is. One could imagine a version of the film leaning straighter into such elements, and maybe that’d even be more compelling, but there’s a real appealing sort of dissonance to the brightness and pep of the musical as-is, with the actual subject matter throughout the film.
Lovely and energetic, fantastically-executed, and with glimmers of fascinating writing underneath the superficialities. Three and a half wrapped gifts, and a hidden knife.