Francis has fun with Fred's Finian
How do you like your musicals? Do you like the classy singing & dancing of a Fred & Ginger musical or the big show numbers of a Rodgers and Hammerstein production or maybe prefer the energy and vibrancy of a 60s musical. Well in "Finian's Rainbow" you almost get a bit of each as you have Fred Astaire showing that age cannot hide his talent as a song and dance man, you have many memorable songs and there is the energy of a 60s musical, oh and there is also Francis Ford Coppola directing and showing that he is not a one genre man. In all honesty "Finian's Rainbow" is not the best musical I have ever seen and the storyline feels disjointed as well as very dated but it is still fun with an entertaining blend of song, dance and comedy which when it comes down to it is what you want from a musical.
Irishman Finian McLonergan (Fred Astaire - Funny Face) and his daughter Sharon (Petula Clark - The Card) have travelled far and wide till eventually they come across Rainbow Valley with its community of sharecroppers lead by Woody Mahoney (Don Francks) who is trying to cross the mint plant with the tobacco plant to make naturally mentholated tobacco. Finian plans to bury a crock of gold he stole from a leprechaun as close to Fort Knox as he can as he believes it will double in size there. But 'Og' the Leprechaun (Tommy Steele) is on his trail and wants his gold back. Adding to the issues there is the racist Senator Billboard Rawkins (Keenan Wynn - The War Wagon) who wants to claim Rainbow Valley for himself to prevent a new hydroelectric dam from being built.
"Finian's Rainbow" roots come from a 1940s Broadway show which as you can imagine I haven't seen but from what I understand was not so much controversial but deemed a bit too hot to be adapted into a movie. Whilst the satire on racism certainly makes itself clear it seems almost hysterical that it was seen as having a socialist edge and as such deemed too risque by many a studio. But eventually it did get picked up by a studio, Francis Ford Coppola came on as director and we got what I can only say is a mix of old and new as we have Astaire delivering some wonderful solo dances and then some vibrant 60s numbers.
Now here is the thing, the storyline to "Finian's Rainbow" is not complicated as we have this tale of romance and a racist senator alongside Finian trying to get rich burying a stolen crock of gold in Rainbow Valley whilst a leprechaun tries to get it back. It is though very daft and also sadly disjointed and that is one of my main grumbles because it doesn't flow that well. The storyline is there linking together all the musical numbers but it becomes a musical all about the song and dance scenes rather than the story and by midway point it becomes messy. And whilst not horrendously long at 141 minutes it does mean you get over an hour of messiness.
What is for certain is that "Finian's Rainbow" is a musical of it's era with various elements which these days would be a complete no no. There is the obvious side as it pokes fun at racism with Senator Billboard Rawkins being a complete bigot till he is turned black by a wish from Sharon McLonergan. But there is also the side where we have Woody Mahoney trying to come up with mint flavoured tobacco to create the first naturally grown menthol cigarette. It's meant to be funny and to be honest it is but you can manage the authorities having a field day if someone tried to make "Finian's Rainbow" these days.
Now as in many a musical much of this storyline boils down to a touch of romance as we have Sharon and Woody falling for each other with a touch of help from Finian. But you also have the utter daftness of 'Og' the Leprechaun also trying to recover his stolen crock of gold. All of which is amusing but again feels slightly lack lustre because it comes across very disjointed and eventually almost unimportant.
As for the musical element it is a mix of the new and old with Fred Astaire proving that age cannot disguise natural talent. Astaire was not far of being 70 when he made this and whilst his dancing may not have been as quick as it once was it was still impressive, sharp and full of character. And that is something you have to say about Astaire's performance because as a whole this is him playing a character rather than some version of himself and it is an enjoyable performance.
But then whilst you've got Astaire showing some old fashioned skill you've also got the energy of the sixties with big group numbers as crowds dance and are dressed in a range of eye catching colours. These group numbers are not the most exciting visually but then they also have some great songs which accompany them which lifts them from being cliche. And that is the other side of the musical experience because we have Petula Clark and Tommy Steele delivering some very chipper tunes which would go on to become very popular such as "Look To The Rainbow", "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?", "Something Sort of Grandish" and "Old Devil Moon".
What this all boils down to is that whilst neither my favourite musical or the best "Finian's Rainbow" is still entertaining. The mix of the old and new when it comes to the singing and dancing works well as does the humour even if it is un-pc in this day and age. My only criticism is that it ends up feeling very messy, rushing from one musical number to the next causing the storyline to feel disjointed in doing so.