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Finian's Rainbow

Awkwardly poised between the bloated, old-fashioned musicals of Hollywood's golden era and the swifter, quotidian rock musicals to come, Finian's Rainbow was already an anachronism when it was released in 1968. The film was based on E. Y. Harburg and Burton Lane's brotherly love musical of the 1947-48 season, which opened at the Forty-Sixth Street Theatre for 725 performances, but has no memorable tunes in it, being a popularized form of The Cradle Will Rock-style agitprop. Warner revived it for cinematic treatment 20 years later in a confused, dizzy effort to "connect" with the "kids" who were supposedly avoiding movies in droves. Yet the finished product only ended up satisfying just the kind of matinee matrons who watched Singing in the Rain 40 times. In an effort to attract the "kids," Warner hired Francis Ford Coppola, a recent USC grad, to helm the project (in what would in reality be his seventh film as a director), but giving him little in the way of budget and, worse, vetoing his "youth-oriented" idea of shooting the musical on location in the blue hills of Kentucky. Finian's stars Fred Astaire as an Irishman (but not a leprechaun, though he acts like one) who has stolen a pot of gold and arrives in America with his daughter (Petula Clark) only to land in the middle of a dispute between a racist senator (Keenan Wynn) and some tobacco plantation workers. The film bears some slight commerce with Coppola's later Godfather films in being about the immigrant experience, and how people transform themselves; here, poor to rich, white to black, and leprechaun into human being. Unless one is a die-hard fan of the musical format, or of Astaire, and/or Clark, the real value of this disc is for Coppola completists. Coppola offers a video introduction that transitions easily into an audio commentary track that finds the director in a reflective mood. It was the last gasp of the old studio system and Coppola presided over it, and thus he has many stories to tell and does them well. He also imparts tidbits about the production, such as that Carroll Ballard shot the credit-sequence footage, that an early shot the goes "through" an oncoming train was borrowed from a Charles Eames short, and that George C. Scott almost got the role that went to Wynn. Coppola also suggests, without going into detail, some things about aspects of the relationship between Astaire and his choreographer Hermes Pan, who appears to have left the production abruptly (Coppola, who had directed numerous musicals during his college career, was frustrated with Pan's approach and fired him; meanwhile Astaire, whose part was greatly expanded from the stage version of the role, hated the things he saw Coppola doing. The director goes into little of this on his track). A Warner-Seven Arts film, Finian's Rainbow was made shortly after the Warner studio was bought out. Jack Warner still worked there, but he lacked the power of his heyday, as Coppola illustrates in one of his anecdotes. Warner Home Video offers a gorgeous anamorphic transfer of the color film (2.35:1) and good Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (with a DD stereo track in French). The disc also has closed captions and subtitles in English and Spanish. Along with the Coppola track, supplements include the theatrical trailer, "The World Premiere of Finian's Rainbow" (24 min.), a broadcast-ready TV show featuring a series of clips and interviews conducted by Chicago TV personality Lee Phillip with Astaire, Coppola, and others, including co-star Don Francks, who seems edgy and combative, an impression confirmed by Coppola's account of their relationship. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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