"Ah, Wilderness!" should make a great musical--in fact, it made a very good one on Broadway, as "Take Me Along" in 1959--and this Freed Unit special has some greatness in it, which keeps being undercut. It's beautifully cast, the Technicolor is extraordinary, and the director, the always underrated Rouben Mamoulian, shows a lot of feel for the small-town turn-of-the-century setting and the small crises in the Miller family. But it was a troubled production, and it suffered some ruinous cuts. The editing's frankly sloppy, and misguided things happen that you don't expect to happen in MGM musicals. Mickey Rooney (10 years too old for the part, but he hides it well, and not doing those Mickey Rooney overacting things that often annoy me) and Gloria De Haven (lovely, with a lovely voice) dance fetchingly to "Afraid to Be in Love" on an emerald park lawn, and the number just fades out, no payoff, no resolution. Rooney gets drunk with Marilyn Maxwell in a cheap saloon, and there's supposed to be an Omar Khayam dream ballet (there are production stills), but it doesn't happen, and that scene, too, just fades out. The always-exemplary Walter Huston, who's charming here, rolls up the movie with the curtain line, "Well, spring isn't everything, is it, Essie?", and it's supposed to resonate because he was supposed to sing "Spring Isn't Everything," a sweet ballad similar to the "September Song" Huston introduced in "Knickerbocker Holiday," but that, too, has been cut, so it just seems an odd way to fade out. What's left of the Harry Warren-Ralph Blane score isn't great, but it's quite integrated into the action, and well performed. I caught this again on TCM recently and it's better than I remembered, but I keep wanting it to be better still.
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