FINIAN’S RAINBOW (1968)
Article 2073 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2006
Posting Date: 4-16-2007
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Featuring Fred Astaire, Petula Clark, Tommy Steele
An Irishman comes to the small town of Rainbow Valley to bury a pot of gold (stolen from a leprachaun) near Fort Knox, in the hope that it will produce more gold. He ends up having to contend with his nemesis, the leprechaun who wants his pot of gold back and is slowly turning mortal, and a corrupt senator who is trying to seize the land in the town.
This movie was based on a 1947 Broadway musical that took twenty years to finally make it to the silver screen; this was due to the fact that those studios who were interested in adapting it to the screen wanted to make changes to the story (the themes of racism were ahead of their time and considered too hot to handle), but the writers held out until a faithful version could be made. By the time the movie was made, the themes were no longer controversial, but time had also rendered some of it quaint and a little dated.
Nevertheless, I found the movie thoroughly enjoyable. The opening scenes in which Fred Astaire and Petula Clark are seen walking against a backdrop of beautiful landscapes and famous sites (including the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore) are a form of cinematic magic that fires the imagination and prepares one for the magical events that follow. Fred Astaire was in his late sixties at the time, and even though he keeps his dancing quite simple, he still remains light on his feet and engaging throughout. The movie is also filled with top-notch songs and people who can actually sing (two things that DOCTOR DOLITTLE could have used), with Petula Clark and Don Francks performing beautifully, but Tommy Steele (as the leprechaun) doesn’t always manage to keep on the right side of annoying. Barbara Hancock is wonderful as a deaf and dumb girl (who communicates through dance, an appropriate conceit for a musical). Keenan Wynn almost steals the movie (he would have if Fred Astaire hadn’t been present) as the racist, pompous Senator who is turned black to learn the other side of his racist ways; unfortunately, his makeup is not particularly convincing in many of the scenes. The use of language is stunning in this movie; you can hear the music of the Irish lilt, and it is loaded with memorable lines. It’s a bit too long, though, and the plot gets confused at times, but there’s a lot of real magic here, and it’s become one of my favorite movie musicals.