Finian's Rainbow

with Fred Astaire, Petula Clark. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

My Rating:

Some movies never grow old, and then there's Finian's Rainbow.

Add a star if you are a kid of any age, particularly an easily amused one.
Add a star if you love mid-century musical comedies and Ireland.

Bitable Bytes:
"...Languidly paced..."
"Fred Astaire's...sprightly!"
"...'Retro' appeal...!"

What to do while watching:
Make out with a loved one.

What to eat while watching:
Lucky Charms Cereal

Hawaii is a great place to vacation. It's an old story, but I'll say it again: Hawaii is really a great place to vacation. Although all of the islands offer fresh air and tropical weather--never to hot and never too cold--The Big Island is especially mellow because it's sparsely populated, not so overrun with tourists, and languidly paced. The Mrs. and I recently spent two weeks in a condo on the Big Island and filled up with relaxation and peace.

We snorkeled and hiked across volcanoes. We toured the island during the day and grilled fresh Ahi and locally raised beef steaks at night. To quote a friend, "Them boys is tasty!" And some nights, we watched videos from the modest library at the timeshare office.

The vacation was wonderful. Though it happened now nearly eight weeks ago, my heart still fills with the expansive joy that we felt there. And if I'm just now turning to the task of reviewing some of the videos we saw on that vacation, you'll understand that I'm still on "Hawaiian time." This is especially true in regard to Finian's Rainbow, which could not get any more outdated if I waited another twenty years to review it. Nor, will I ever have a greater or lesser impression of the movie than I do now, for I hardly watched it the first time, and would hardly watch it again should it ever find its way back into my VCR.

Like many stage musicals in the early part of the 20th century, Finian's Rainbow started out popular on Broadway and made it to film based on some producer's itch to cash in. Francis Ford Coppola directed this--his first and only musical--at the age of 29--long, long, long before he did The Godfather or Apocalypse Now; and the latter films show how great was Coppola's development as a filmmaker. Another interesting aspect of this film: it is Fred Astaire's last lead role. At age 69, he has less vitality than in his earlier dance movies, but he's still sprightly, and well able to carry off the role.

Astaire plays Finian McLonergan, a wily Irishman, come to the United States with a rather ridiculous money-making plan. His idea is to plant a pot of gold near Fort Knox. His superstition assures him that doing so will cause the gold to grow in value. So he and his patient daughter, played by the lovely Petula Clark, trek across the nation and land in a small Texas sharecropper's town. The issues of socialist sharecropper's societies are so outdated that I was a little at a loss trying to follow this plot, but it's still clear that this community is full of good people and that the bad people are the sheriff and the racist senator. Then again, the sharecroppers are working on perfecting a new strain of tobacco for popular consumption, which isn't the most philanthropic of pursuits either.

Anyway, the plot takes a pleasant twist when an honest-to-gosh leprechaun shows up asking to have his pot of gold back. This character, though rather annoying to me, should delight kids who have not yet developed a sense of cornball. He also brings some magic into the story, transforming the racist senator into a black man, for instance.

The town hero, played by Johnny Steele or some such, leads the sharecroppers to financial liberation. A mute girl who can only dance in order to communicate dances all over the stage-set landscape. Many musical numbers fill this slow, convoluted, downright ponderous tale of some two and a half hours.

I confess that I didn't watch the whole thing. However, I was thrilled to find that this flick is the source of the great quote, made popular (in my mind anyway) by Daffy Duck, namely "How are things [thl-thl-ingths] in Gloccamorra?" On the minus side, this classic line was sung, said, and sighed over a dozen times in the first hour of the movie, no exaggeration, and I got a little fed up with it.

The musical numbers are typical of styles that span the middle decades of the 1900's. There are some of the original Broadway-style tunes, like "Look to the Rainbow," unforgettable because it's repeated approximately 7 times during the first 90 minutes of the movie, and doubtlessly once or twice more near the end. Also "How Are Things In Gloccamora?" which has more reprises than Two Scoops has raisins.

There also are some songs that seem to have been added later to appeal to the 60's audience: songs like "Devil Moon" and another one that has (thankfully) dropped out of my mind. These have a dated pop sound without even any "retro" appeal. And you also get the smattering of "genre" songs, the pun-filled gospel tune "Begat," and Wily McLoneghan's ditties "Something Sort of Grandish" and "When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich."

Basically, there are too many reprises. More, I believe, than are allowed by law in some states. Though Amazon shows a five-star rating from seven reviewers (the entire membership of the International Finian's Rainbow Fan Club), I realized that my father never sang any of these songs to me when I was a child, and he sang songs from just about every musical ever written. I've no doubt that my dad saw this movie, but they clearly didn't match his love for the songs from The Most Happy Fella or The Music Man.

If you never get a chance to watch Finian's Rainbow, you won't know or care about what you're missing. If it comes on the USA network some night, you might catch a few scenes of Fred Astaire jabbering in his Irish brogue, and be sated after a half-hour knowing that the happy ending will arrive sooner or later (probably later). Meanwhile, if you have an itch for stage-to-movie musicals, my recommendations include: How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a dark comedy that still applies to corporate life in spite of outdated costumes; Pirates of Penzance, deftly carried by Rex Smith, Kevin Kline, and Linda Rondstadt; 1776, Pippin, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Happy humming.

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Do you want to buy Finian's Rainbow? Haven't you been listening to me?

I'm still reading the incredible book, Impro for Storytellers by Keith Johnstone.

Listening to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying soundtrack.

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