Finian’s Rainbow

  • Warner Bros. / Seven Arts, 1968, Color, 145 minutes, ****
  • Released October, 1968

Originally a stage production in 1947, this story’s anti-racism theme was so far ahead of its time that it was more than twenty years before it came to the screen. Irishman Finian (Fred Astaire) and his daughter Sharon (Petula Clark) come to the United States with a pot of gold “borrowed” from one of the “little people” – a leprechaun played by Tommy Steele. Finian believes burying the pot in the rich American soil will cause it to grow, and then he can return the original amount of gold to the leprechaun.

Finian and Sharon, after wandering the country, settle in the small southern community of Rainbow Valley, which unbeknownst to Finian, is directly in the path of a proposed river dam project. Woody (Don Francks) and Howard (Al Freeman, Jr.) have been working to develop a strain of mentholated tobacco so that the small community will have a better means of support. But, the local Senator (Keenan Wynn) is determined to take the land away from the people who live there in order to complete his dam project, from which he stands to profit personally.

Because it is leprechaun gold, those who make a wish in the vicinity of the pot of gold will be granted their wish. But the pot can only fulfill three wishes before its gold is turned to dross. When the Senator visits the village to try to force the people out of their homes by condemning the land, his plans are foiled by Woody and Finian. The Senator loses his temper and reveals his racial prejudice – many of the people who live in the village are black. Outraged, Sharon wishes she could turn the senator black so he could understand first-hand how he has hurt the black people of the village. Not realizing that she is close to the pot of gold, which Finian has hidden in the area – presto! – the senator becomes a black man! Humiliated, he rushes off into the woods to hide. When the senator is missed by his associates, the local law officials investigate and soon bring counts of witchcraft against Sharon. They lock her in a barn, which they plan to burn unless Sharon turns the Senator white again before morning.

Meanwhile the Senator, after wandering around the forest for a day or so, meets a quartet of black musicians (Avon Long, Jester Hairston and Roy Glenn). They have just lost one of their number, so the Senator joins the group as the new fourth man and has a great time. By the time he returns to the village, he has become best of friends with the members of the singing group and he has seen the errors in his ways. Now Finian must use the last wish in the pot to turn the Senator white again in order to save the life of his daughter. After a close-call, all ends happily and Woody and Sharon are married. Having fulfilled his mission, Finian – ever the wanderer – sets off for greener pastures, dancing out of the village and over the hill as the townspeople sing farewell. This scene is especially poignant in retrospect, since it was to be the last time Fred Astaire would ever dance in a movie musical.

Finian’s Rainbow is generally dismissed as trivial by the critics, but it’s one of my favorite films. Fred Astaire and Petula Clark are two of my favorite entertainers, and the film is lots of fun – lighthearted and at times quite comical, as well as deftly delivering a message in a delicate manner. The music by Arlen and Harburg is wonderful! Highlights include “Look to the Rainbow,” “How Are Things in Glocca Morra,” “If This Isn’t Love,” “That Old Devil Moon” and “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love.” In spite of Fred’s age (he was nearly 70), he dances a wonderful number on top of shipping crates in the production number, “When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich.” It’s a great film! Required watching for any musical fan!!

The Broadway to Hollywood Classic Musicals Collection DVD Box Set (shown right) contains this film and Easter Parade, The Band Wagon, Bells Are Ringing and Brigadoon.

Details

  • Produced by: Joseph Landon
  • Associate Producer: Joel Freeman
  • Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
  • Assistant Directors: Fred Gammon, Howard Kazanjian
  • Screenplay by: E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy
  • From the Broadway Play, Book by E. Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy,
  • Lyrics by E. Y. Harburg, Music by Burton Lane
  • Music Supervised and Conducted by: Ray Heindorf
  • Associate Music Supervisor: Ken Darby
  • Musical Score: Burton Lane
  • Choreography by: Hermes Pan
  • Production Design by: Hilyard M. Brown
  • Set Decorators: William L. Kuehl, Philip Abramson
  • Costumes Designed by: Dorothy Jeakins
  • Makeup Supervisor: Gordon Bau
  • Supervising Hair Stylist: Jean Burt Reilly
  • Sound by: M. A. Merrick, Dan Wallin
  • Director of Photography: Philip Lathrop
  • Filmed in Panavision and Technicolor
  • Film Editor: Melvin Shapiro

Awards

  • Academy Award nominations for Best Score (Musical) and Best Sound

Cast

  • Fred Astaire [Finian McLonergan]
  • Petula Clark [Sharon McLonergan]
  • Tommy Steele [Og]
  • Don Francks [Woody Mahoney]
  • Keenan Wynn [Senator Billboard Rawkins]
  • Barbara Hancock [Susan the Silent]
  • Al Freeman Jr. [Howard]
  • Ronald Colby [Buzz Collins]
  • Dolph Sweet [Sheriff]
  • Wright King [District Attorney]
  • Louil Silas [Henry]
  • Avon Long
  • Jester Hairston
  • Roy Glenn [Trio]
  • Ken Darby Singers [Vocals]

Musical Program

  • [0:00] Overture: “If This Isn’t Love” / “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love” (played by Orchestra)
  • [0:02] Main Title: Look to the Rainbow (sung by Petula Clark behind titles)
  • [0:08] This Time of the Year (sung and danced by the Rainbow Valley Citizens [dubbed by the Ken Darby Singers])
  • [0:13] How Are Things in Glocca Morra? (sung by Petula Clark)
  • [0:16] This Time of the Year (continued) (sung and danced by the Rainbow Valley Citizens [dubbed by the Ken Darby Singers])
  • [0:22] Look to the Rainbow (sung by Fred Astaire and Petula Clark with a little help from Don Francks
  • danced by Fred Astaire and Petula Clark joined by the Rainbow Valley Citizens)
  • [0:42] Old Devil Moon (sung by Don Francks and Petula Clark)
  • [1:03] Something Sort of Grandish (sung and danced by Tommy Steele and Petula Clark)
  • [1:08] If This Isn’t Love (sung and danced by Don Francks, Petula Clark, Fred Astaire and the Rainbow Valley Citizens [dubbed by the Ken Darby Singers])
  • [1:17] Something Sort of Grandish (different lyrics, sung by Tommy Steele)
  • [1:25] That Great Come-and-Get-It Day (sung by Don Francks, Petula Clark and the Rainbow Valley Citizens [dubbed by the Ken Darby Singers])
  • [1:29] Entr’acte: Look to the Rainbow (sung by Petula Clark)
  • [1:30] When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich (sung by Fred Astaire, Petula Clark and the Rainbow Valley Citizens [dubbed by the Ken Darby Singers]
  • danced by Fred Astaire on shipping crates)
  • [1:40] Old Devil Moon (reprised by Petula Clark and Don Francks)
  • [1:42] Rain Dance Ballet (instrumental arrangement of “Old Devil Moon” danced in the rain by Barbara Hancock)
  • [1:52] The Begat (sung by Avon Long, Jester Hairston, Roy Glenn and Keenan Wynn)
  • [1:56] Look to the Rainbow (sung by Don Francks, Petula Clark and the Ken Darby Singers during the interrupted wedding ceremony)
  • [2:02] When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love (sung by Tommy Steele, danced by Barbara Hancock and Tommy Steele)
  • [2:18] Look to the Rainbow (sung by Don Francks, Fred Astaire, Petula Clark and the Ken Darby Singers during wedding ceremony)
  • [2:20] Finale: Fred Astaire dances his last steps in a feature film to How Are Things in Glocca Morra? (sung by Petula Clark, Don Francks, Tommy Steele, Barbara Hancock and the Ken Darby Singers)
  • [2:23] Exit Music: “If This Isn’t Love” / “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love” (played by Orchestra)