Carousel (1956)

carousel poster 1956 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Good looking, more complex than other Roger & Hammerstein musicals

Weird message on domestic abuse, story drags

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Carousel

Studio:  20th Century Fox

Genre(s):  Musical/Romance/Drama

Release Date(s):  February 11, 1956

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

carousel billy julie shirley jones gordon macrae

So want to marry a cranky roustabout?

Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae) was a bad man when he was alive…but he was trying to change.  A carousel operator in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, Billy had wed Julie Jordan (Shirley Jones) and was preparing to be a father when a foolish decision led to his untimely death.  Now, Billy learns that he might get a second chance to help Julie and his daughter Louise (Susan Luckey) when things on Earth are going wrong, and Billy might finally make amends.

Directed by Henry King, Carousel adapts Roger and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical which was based on the 1909 Hungarian play Liliom by Ferenc Molnár.  The movie was met with positive reviews but was not as strongly received as other of adaptations of Roger and Hammerstein’s works.

I didn’t really “grow-up” with Carousel like other Roger & Hammerstein musicals like The Sound of Music.  I wasn’t very familiar with many of the songs, and I wasn’t familiar with the plot.  Watching Carousel now, I see things I like, but I also have problems with Carousel…mostly in its telling.

carousel ending billy julie shirley jones gordon macrae

Soooo…just to clarify, we’re good on the whole “I hit you because I love you” thing…right?

The plot for Carousel kind of reminds me of It’s a Wonderful Life.  Unlike It’s a Wonderful Life where it is angels observing George Bailey’s life, it is Billy telling his life.  Like It’s a Wonderful Life, the secondary plot of Billy returning to Earth doesn’t seem as incorporated as it should be.  I realize in a stage production of Carousel this would be more difficult…an actor can only be one place at a time.  Here, it could have been better incorporated to remind viewers that he plot is actually going to be about Billy returning.  It takes too long to get there.

The casting of the movie includes Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae who had previously starred in Oklahoma! in 1955.  The movie was originally cast with Frank Sinatra who dropped out allegedly because Ava Gardner summoned him with the threat of having an affair (according to Jones), but some claim that the shooting style of the movie was the cause of the break.

carousel june is bustin out all over boothbay harbor

June is bustin’ out all over!

Carousel isn’t loaded with catchy tunes like many of Roger and Hammerstein’s productions.  The songs are more complex and feel more story driven than stand alone.  The film was largely shot in Maine with a number of big numbers being shot in Boothbay.  Having grown-up going to Boothbay, I can say that 1956 Boothbay didn’t look very different from 1980 Boothbay…which helps the time warp feel of the movie.

Carousel is widely considered one of Roger and Hammerstein’s most complex musicals.  The story and songs aren’t as easy as something like The Sound of Music, Oklahoma!, or The King and I.  It also has the weird mixed message on domestic abuse a hit from someone who loves you can feel like a kiss and isn’t meant to hurt?!?!  That message that doesn’t fly well now and makes the rather unsympathetic Billy even less sympathetic.  I admire Carousel for being edgier than Roger and Hammerstein’s more saccharin works, but it still feels like there is room for improvement.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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