A village priest, worshiped by his flock, is worried about the effects of witches upon the simple people. These witches aren’t in league with the devil, but are simply unbelievers. Since Christianity apparently can’t stand up to any dissent, he prays to have the people of Brigadoon cut off forever from the world. God answers, and the town vanishes, appearing for one day every hundred years, with the inhabitants spending the intervening time asleep. And for that one day, no one can leave, or they all die. No longer will they learn from the outside world, go to school, or trade, and they are doomed to become inbred or die off due to their small gene pool. Love, or just social pairing, will be difficult too since there aren’t enough eligible singles to go around. The strange thing about this curse: The villagers think it’s swell. On the second day of the “miracle,” two Americans, stressed-out Tommy Albright and alcoholic cynic Jeff Douglas, stumble across Brigadoon, and Tommy instantly falls in love with Fiona Campbell. As he decides if he wants to give up everything to join her in her pastoral prison, the folks have to deal with Harry, a rotten, horrible, slimy man who actually—now get this because it will be hard for you to believe—is not grateful for being condemned to stay in Brigadoon.
Let’s get the standard film criticism part out of the way: This is a crappy movie. The whole thing is filmed as if on a stage, which makes some sense since they are on a stage, an incredibly fake looking stage. (Gene Kelly wanted to shoot on location, but the budget was lacking.) I’m perfectly happy with that look when I go to a live performance, but this is a movie, and movies should have cameras that move (and swiveling from side to side doesn’t count). There should be two-shots and close-ups. But here everything is shot from a distance.
The music is non-objectionable faux Scottish—probably Lerner and Loewe’s worst, though a few songs rise above the level of background for Mel Gibson’s next violent epic. The acting is passable, though the dancing is nothing special, surprising for a Gene Kelly flick. Singing in the Rain this ain’t. The dialog is best forgotten and the humor is anything but. Jeff is a drunkard that dislikes Scotland; oh the hilarity.
Of course, I’m not reviewing Brigadoon to point out that it sucks. Plenty of others can do that. Nope, I’m looking at it’s repulsive message (and I don’t mean the “Love conquers all” one). If you think about it, and I don’t suggest it if you want to enjoy the movie, the whole idea behind it is creepy. The village has been pulled out of time because a priest was afraid of witches. Witches! That would be bad enough, but the school teacher explains that these weren’t real witches, who could cast spells and do evil. Nope, they were nothing more than wondering non-Christian women who might take people away from the church. Who the hell were these women? In the mid-seventeen hundreds, were their mobs of women, creeping in packs over the country side and gossiping that Christ wasn’t the Lord? Sounds like a paranoid fantasy. Assuming that the priest wasn’t insane or eating too many mushrooms, and there were such women, what was the danger? If a Christian hears the words of an atheist (or pagan—the views of the women are never specified), will he instantly lose his faith and start dancing nude under the moon? It sure hasn’t worked that way for me, but perhaps it’s only women who can entice believers away.
So this priest decides that his people are too weak willed to deal with anything but a single viewpoint, so he arranges with God to lock the citizens of Brigadoon off from the world. It isn’t clear if he discussed this with anyone, but it is certain that he didn’t with everyone. At least one, Henry, was stuck against his will.
Now, the general populous are all thrilled with their little segregated paradise, in which every person must think and act the same, no one can ever go anywhere, and all of their children must be exactly like them. The viewer is supposed to be thrilled too. While no one can leave, people can enter (which might help a little with their inbreeding problem, though not much unless an army unit happens by and the lasses have become a lot more relaxed about sex). So, Tommy can give up his modern ways and join Fiona is this lovely backwards place. Now what? The point was to save them from outside influence. Will Tommy be muzzled so he can’t mention things like plumbing?
The villain of the piece is Henry, who isn’t dancing about happily with life in Stepford. He lost his girl to another man, and knows he can never go away to school likes other have in the past. Why exactly is he the villain? He has been unlawfully imprisoned and everyone around him thinks that’s wonderful. No one expresses any sympathy for him, instead calling him ungrateful. They are a cold lot.
Paradise is a simple place, cut off from any ideas that might be new or different, so that its Christian teachings can be kept pure and unquestioned. It is a place where no dissent can be allowed, and the fate of anyone who doesn’t agree is not only bleak, but quickly forgotten. I suppose this might be heaven for particularly conservative, Christian fundamentalists, but not for anyone else. Sounds like hell.
What makes Brigadoon so obnoxious isn’t the views of the villagers, but the idea that we’re all supposed to agree with them. For the story to work, it is essential that the audience finds all this wonderful and to realize that God did perform a miracle—that it is a great idea to keep atheists, agnostics, and even other forms of deists out of your society. You might have an interesting story here if it was shown that really, they’ve been doomed by some dark forces, and they’re too blind to see it.