No one ever seems to have much good to say about this musical, not even fans of musicals and/or its director Francis Ford Coppola, who seem to usually regard it as an aberration in the career line, to paraphrase Walter Hill - but I didn't mind it.
It doesn't quite work but I feel that's not Coppola's fault - the material is such that adapting it for cinema would be tricky. Maybe it needed to have been shot soon after it's debut on Broadway, shot on the never never land of some studio backdrop - and the older the film was the easier it might have been to take, say, Keenan Wynn in blackface, and the mute dancing girl, and all the tobacco picking. Louis B Mayer had the film rights in the 1950s and probably that's as late as it should have been made. Or not - who knows?
But looking at it now - I really enjoyed the songs, they are quite captivating and lovely. Petula Clark is bright and pretty as the main girl, and it's always fun to see Fred Astaire, even if he never really gets to dance. Tommy Steele can be irritating, and I'd heard he was particularly so in this film - but admit I didn't find that to be the case; yes he's got those massive teeth and all that "bounce" but his part actually isn't very big (at least not here) and he has energy.
I was surprised by the importance of the role played by Don Francks, who romances Clarke's character and is the leader of the locals. (In strict story terms his character should be black, and they combine his character with that of Howard/Al Freeman Jnr... I do recognise that would have been very, very tricky). I'd never heard of Francks and didn't know he was in the film - he sings well, and has a decent presence, though it would have been better with more of a star.
Barbara Hancock is the dancing mute girl, Wynn is always reliable, and the climax does attempt to tackle race, so this has an undercurrent. Maybe I'm over praising this, but the movie has unfairly copped it, I feel.