Carousel (1956): Movie Musical out of Rodgers and Hammerstein Glorious Stage Hit

The glorious 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical hit, Carousel, was made into a Hollywood musical a decade later by director Henry King for Fox.

As is known, Carousel is based on the Hungarian play Liliom, a play by Ferenc Molnar (also filmed as a straight dramatic film in 1930 and in 1934).

Gordon MacRae stars as carnival barker Billy Bigelow, who against his will falls in love with Maine factory girl Julie Jordan (Shirley Jones).

Though Billy proves an irresponsible and unreliable husband, Julie loves him and stands by him. Upon discovering that Julie is pregnant, the unemployed Billy hopes to get quick money by joining his unsavory pal Jigger (Cameron Mitchell).

Predictably, the scheme goes awry, and Billy dies. However, standing before the Pearly Gates, Billy is given a chance to redeem himself by the kindly Starkeeper (Gene Lockhart).

He is allowed to return to Earth to try to brighten the life of his unhappy 15-year-old daughter Louise (Susan Luckey). Billy offers Louise a star that he has stolen from the sky; when Louise backs off in fear, Billy slaps her.

Things change when he and his Heavenly Friend (William LeManessa) attend Louise’s school graduation ceremony. The invisible Billy watches as the principal (Gene Lockhart again) inspires Louise (and, by extension, Julie) by assuring her that so long as she has hope in her heart, she’ll never walk alone, which is one of the show’s stoppers.

As a movie musical, Carousel benefits from widescreen and on location shooting, which may explain why the movie was so popular at its time, not to mention the glorious, timeless music.

Frank Sinatra, who was cast as Billy Bigelow, was forced to drop out of the production due to illness (laryngitis).

 

Credits

Running time: 128 minutes.

Directed by Henry King

Written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron (Nora Ephron’s parents)

Released: February 16, 1956

DVD: April 27, 1999

20th Century Fox