Finian's Rainbow Francis Ford Coppola

When Finian's Rainbow arrived on Broadway in 1947, it's content was unusual. The idea that a sharecropper community in Kentucky lived a happy interracial existence was radical. It had a hit soundtrack by E.Y. Harburg and ran for almost 800 performances. The addition of Irish immigrants and a leprechaun were only icing on the cake. When it finally reached the screen in 1968, the storyline seemed awkward and out of date. The musical was too innocent for a nation in the midst of the civil rights movement and Keenan Wynn as a racist senator in black face singing minstrel-like songs was a bit too much for some. The movie received mixed reviews (Roger Ebert loved it!) and fair box office returns but had little staying power. Not that many people talk about Finian's Rainbow much anymore. Except, of course, for me. The music is wonderful, the directing is intriguing and the plot is fantastic (in all senses of the word). Finian (Fred Astaire), who has stolen a pot of gold from a leprechaun, and his daughter Sharon (Petula Clark) travel to Kentucky. He plans to plant the gold near Fort Knox so it will multiply. They settle in Rainbow Valley where black and white sharecroppers live in harmony but are harassed by the racist authorities, most notably Senator Rawkins (Wynn). Og (Tommy Steele), the leprechaun who is now turning mortal, follows Finian to America hoping to retrieve his gold. Sharon and Woody (Don Francs) fall in love but she is arrested as a witch when she turns Rawkins into a black man (she's standing too close to the pot of gold when she makes her wish). All of this, including a mute girl who only communicates through dance (while wearing a very short skirt and often in the rain), is balanced by a strong and memorable score. Listen to "The Transit Song" by the FemBots for a taste of Harburg's soundtrack. If you're a real keener you might notice that the sample they've used is my father singing "Look to the Rainbow." I'll forever be annoyed that he couldn't remember the right lyrics. Finian's Rainbow was Coppola's first big studio picture. He spends much of his commentary track pointing out the mistakes he made. He's refreshingly honest when admitting that he was over his head. Yet he was also inventive. He kept most of the action outside and tried for a naturalistic feel (which was probably a mistake considering the leprechaun factor). Coppola's choices might have been overly ambitious but they serve the slightly wonky style and storyline. I love this movie so much that I've used it as a dating litmus test (much less romantic than Brief Encounter, I'm afraid). I've yet to find many people who actually like it but it's good to know there are some who will at least give it a try. (Warner)