Skip to main content

Brigadoon - a Once per Hundred Year Fantasy Village

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Dusty is an avid classic movie fan who wants to share movie stories and evoke conversation about them.

Movie Poster



1 hr. 48 mins. Fantasy, Musical, Romance 1954 6.8 stars

Director: Vincent Minnelli

Cast: Gene Kelly - Tommy Albright

Van Johnson - Jeff Douglas

Cyd Charisse - Fiona Campbell

Elaine Stewart - Jane Ashton

Barry Jones - Mr. Lundie

Hugh Laing - Harry Beaton

Virginia Bosler - Jean Campbell

Jimmy Thompson - Charlie Chisolm Dalrymple

Dee Turnell - Ann

Dodie Heath - Meg Brockie

Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie

Two Weary Hunters

Van Johnson and Gene Kelly play Jeff Douglas and Tommy Albright who are lost in a forest in the Scottish Highlands

Van Johnson and Gene Kelly play Jeff Douglas and Tommy Albright who are lost in a forest in the Scottish Highlands

Synopsis (part I)

The plot of our story begins at dawn as a sleepy village awakens from its night. We are in the highlands… the highlands of Scotland.

The movie opens with the title song; “Brigadoon” intermixed with a song called, “The Highlands of Scotland”. Then we are treated to a scene of rural Scottish village life with a song called, “MacConaghy Square”. Soon afterwards the camera focuses in on the Campbell home where several girls are gathered to help a young lady named Jean Campbell prepare for her wedding that day. One of the girls asks Jean’s older sister, Fiona, when she will get married. She responds with a song, “Waitin’ for My Dearie”.

Two hunters from New York, Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas are lost in the forest. They break out a map to help figure out where they are but it’s no use to them. Looking into the valley below them they see a village which is not indicated on their map. Being as they are hungry they decide to walk down to the village to get some food. Once they arrive however they find that the villagers are extremely standoffish, no one will talk to them and some even run away from them!

Scroll to Continue

Finally a young woman who identifies herself as Miss Campbell greets them. She tells them that they are in the village of Brigadoon and directs them to the village square where they might find some food. Tommy is instantly taken with Miss Campbell and the feeling is mutual.

Jeff who is extremely cynical in his outlook on life hurries Tommy along to the square but when there they find that the people are still standoffish. They will not sell any food and will not accept Tommy and Jeff’s money.

A young man named Charlie Dalrymple comes up to them and greets them and offers to buy them anything they want. He is in a good mood because it’s his wedding day. When Tommy asks the bride’s name Charlie says, “Jean Campbell”. Immediately Tommy looks a little crestfallen because he thinks this is the woman, Miss Campbell, he met moments earlier.

Charlie begins to sing a song, “Go Home to Bonnie Jean,” about his choice to settle down and get married. Soon the whole town joins in, Tommy and Jeff as well, for what turns out to be a huge and dance number.

After the number Fiona comes up to speak to Charlie. Charlie asks, “Where’s my bride?” Fiona answers, “She’s at home, palpitating” and then she walks away. Tommy then addresses Charlie, “Your bride? Isn’t that your bride?” Charlie answers, “No, lad that’s her older sister, Fiona”, at which Tommy smiles broadly.

Tommy goes off with Fiona to gather heather on a nearby hill. The two sing and dance a number appropriately named, “Heather on the Hill”.

At about this time Jeff is approached by a lass named Meg. She has eyes for him but he wants nothing to do with her and is forceful in his rebuff of her.

Meanwhile a forlorn lad named Harry Beaton sighs with a sense of desolation because he is in love with Jean and is the rejected suitor.

Charlie will "Go Home to Bonnie Jean"

Scene from the number," Go Home to Bonnie Jean", Gene Kelly , Jimmy Thompson. Van Johnson

Scene from the number," Go Home to Bonnie Jean", Gene Kelly , Jimmy Thompson. Van Johnson

Synopsis (part II)

After Tommy returns from gathering heather with Fiona he tries to explain to Jeff the magical feelings he has for Fiona. He expresses himself with another song and dance number, “Almost Like Being in Love”. Tommy and Jeff walk over to Fiona’s house and happen to notice the family Bible sitting outside by a window. It was left so that Charlie could sign his name next to Jean’s as her husband. Tommy leafed through it and was perplexed to notice the names of people he had met that day; Fiona, Jean and Charlie all with birthdates from the 1700s. Tommy knocked on the door and when Fiona answered he asked if the names in the Bible were indeed hers and Jean’s and Charlie’s etc. She admitted that they were, but when Tommy asked how this could be she didn’t want to answer. Rather she took Tommy and Jeff to meet the local school teacher, Mr. Lundie. Mr. Lundie sat them down and began to explain the mystery or miracle of Brigadoon to them. Essentially two hundred years ago the town minster prayed for a miracle. He prayed that his beloved Brigadoon would vanish into the highland mist, but would appear for one day every hundred years. In this way the townsfolk would be spared the corrupting influences of the outside world. To Fiona and Mr. Lundie this miracle happened two days ago, but to Tommy and Jeff this miracle happed two hundred years ago! Mr. Lundie went on to explain some specific stipulations about this miracle. One is that no citizen of Brigadoon may leave the town limits (and they are clearly defined and include surrounding countryside for agricultural pursuits.). If someone were to leave the town, all its people would cease to exist; they’d vanish into the highland mist. Another, pertinent, stipulation is that someone could join the community but only if they were in love with a citizen of the village and not the village itself. Of course they would then enter into the once every hundred year cycle. All this news left Tommy very perplexed. He had a job and a fiancé at home, but he had fallen instantly in love with Fiona. He didn’t have the time to process everything. It was not as if he could make plans and come back a few days later because after midnight Fiona and her village would be gone for another hundred years! What’s a fella to do?

Jeff on the other hand wasn’t sure what to make of it all and he doubted if it was even real. He had grown impatient with everything and wanted to leave either to continue hunting or to return with Tommy to New York.

Tommy wanted to attend the big wedding. Fiona’s sister, Jean’s marriage to Charlie. Tommy and Jeff stayed (but Jeff was obviously annoyed).

The wedding scene is a wonderfully orchestrated song and dance number preceded by the “Gathering of the Clans”. At nightfall, at the conclusion of the brief ceremony the newlywed couple performs a dance and soon others join in. Involved in the dance was Harry Beaton, the rejected suitor. He cannot deal with Jean’s choice to marry Charlie so he attempts to abduct her, but is stopped by everyone there. Harry declares that he will leave Brigadoon and the whole village will disappear forever. It’s suicide for him to leave.

The townsfolk try to stop him; he has run off into the woods and everyone is out with torches trying to get him before it’s too late.

Meanwhile Jeff who is absolutely annoyed with everything that’s been going on has left the wedding to resume his grouse hunting. He hears what he thinks is a grouse up in a tree and shoots. But it is not a grouse; it’s Harry Beaton! Those who are chasing Harry did not know what had happened – they assumed that he fell and hit his head upon a rock.

The chase was over and Brigadoon was saved. Tommy and Fiona dance and Tommy decides he’s going to stay. Fiona goes to fetch Mr. Lundie to come and officiate their wedding.

In the meantime Jeff confesses to Tommy that he shot and killed Harry. He didn’t know what it meant since the town would soon disappear for another hundred years. Jeff reasoned with Tommy to come back with him to New York. Tommy realized that he hadn’t had time to think it all through and decided that Jeff was right.

When Fiona returned with Mr. Lundie Tommy confessed that he had doubts; he could not stay so he and Fiona bid each other a tearful gut-wrenching goodbye as Fiona and Brigadoon were consumed by the mist.

Back in New York Jeff and Tommy are at their favorite bar and it is humming with activity. Tommy sits down to have dinner with his fiancée, Jane, whom he has avoided ever since his return from Scotland, some several weeks before. Jane discusses their future together, but she says certain words or phrases in the conversation which trigger memories of Fiona in Tommy’s mind and he hears songs that he associates with Fiona (numbers from earlier in the movie) and he drifts off into that memory. To Jane he spaces out and she becomes annoyed. This happens three times in their conversation. Jane grows annoyed but Tommy can’t take it anymore. He tells Jane that their wedding is off then he calls to ask Jeff to get him plane tickets back to Scotland. Jeff goes with him.

Back in Scotland they reach the exact spot where they first noticed Brigadoon – a mist shrouded valley with no sign of the town. As Tommy hangs his head in sorrow about the hopelessness of ever seeing Fiona again Brigadoon emerges from its misty shroud and Tommy runs down to it. Mr. Lundie meets him at the bridge saying that Tommy’s longings have awakened him. He bids Tommy to come across the bridge and join them.

In the final scene Fiona is coming across the town square to embrace him.

Gathering Heather on the Hill

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly

Analysis (part I)

From the land that gave us the Loch Ness Monster, Scotland, we are presented with another mystical tale – Brigadoon. It is the story of a village which only exists one day out of every century. Here two American hunters who are lost in the forest stop by for breakfast and one of them falls in love which presents a rather unique dilemma for him.

It’s a delightful, fanciful movie with memorable song and dance numbers performed by some of the best. But despite its whimsical nature the story asks deep and meaningful questions and it delivers ponderable answers.

Deep within the lines of the movie more information about the village is given then is readily obvious to the casual viewer.

First however I will mention that, “Brig O’Doon” is a real place, but it is nothing like what is depicted in the move. As you can see it’s spelled a little differently. The real one is not in the highlands, but in southern Scotland, in Ayr. The real Brig O’Doon, you see is an old and somewhat romantic stone bridge arching over the River Doon. You can tell that this is what the name really means in Scottish parlance, “Bridge over the River Doon”. Along the bank of the river below the bridge is a nice outdoor café.

The deeper theme of the movie is the conflict between faith and skepticism. Tommy allows for faith in his life whereas Jeff does not. Early on in the story when they realize they are lost Tommy mentions that the forest reminds him of a cathedral to which Jeff responds that this were a cathedral he could find the exits. Tommy challenges Jeff by stating that he, Jeff, doesn’t believe in anything. Jeff’s response is that believes in anything he can “touch, taste, hear, see, smell and …swallow” (as he is holding a flask in his hand). When Tommy asks him how he handles the things in life he doesn’t’ understand, Jeff responds almost sneeringly, “I dismiss them”.

Faith verses skepticism follows these two throughout the events of their day as can be seen in the scenes where Mr. Lundie explains the “miracle of Brigadoon”. In that scene both Tommy and Jeff are perplexed by what they’ve observed but Tommy is in wonderment while Jeff says he’s not sure he believes it and adopts a sarcastic tone. To be fair Jeff has been sarcastic all day and Tommy is falling in love, but the information Mr. Lundie is sharing with the two only serves to enhance their predispositions.

After Jeff shoots Harry and is torn up about it he seeks solace in his drink. He feels guilty for shooting someone, but he’s not sure that Harry or Brigadoon even really exist. Should he feel guilty about an event that won’t even exist come tomorrow? It is a nightmare for Jeff, but it is a dream come true for Tommy. At the scene where Tommy has decided to stay Jeff reminds him that he can’t simply forsake everything else in his life and disappear. By this argument doubts arise in Tommy and those doubts are opposed to his faith. It is enough of an argument for Tommy to decide to depart with Jeff and not stay. He is as of yet unable to “forsake all others”.

Faith or lack of it also plays in the hearts of two other characters, Fiona Campbell and Harry Beaton. Fiona wants to meet a man whom she can marry. We see that desire when she sings, “Waitin’ for my Dearie”, but she is faced with some enormous obstacles if that dream is ever to be fulfilled. We can take for granted that she has known the local bachelors for a long time and no romance has been forthcoming. As to meeting an outsider, consider the difficulties. For one Brigadoon only exist for one day in every century. Additionally she cannot leave the village to meet anyone. So an outsider must happen upon the village on the one day it materializes, has to meet and fall in love with her and has to be willing to leave his entire life behind – a difficult decision – all within the space of one day. Yet, she has faith and hope in this instance.

Harry Beaton has no faith or hope. He sees Brigadoon as his jail, and he says so early in the movie. Though their prospects are the same their outlooks are completely different, like night and day. One has faith which gives hope while the other lacks faith which yields only hopelessness. It is no wonder that the faithless Harry chooses a suicide plan as his only way out. Make no mistake if Harry leaves Brigadoon it’s all over for everyone, himself included. Ironically it is the unbelieving Jeff who unintentionally saves the village he doubts exists and that by an act of violence.

And in the end the hope of Fiona is fulfilled – unlikely as it seems from the outset. And here we see the prophetic words of Mr. Lundie played out that, “if you love someone deeply enough anything is possible, even miracles”.

Mr. Lundie Explains the Miracle of Brigadoon

Van Johnson, Barry Jones, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse

Van Johnson, Barry Jones, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse

Analysis (part II)

By watching the movie closely we can learn things about the village in the time leading up to their miracle, but first we can tell the very day that Tommy and Jeff got lost and wound up in Brigadoon, the day that most of the movie took place. That day was May 24th, 1954. It was a Monday (though in the movie Fiona says it’s Friday). The miracle occurred two centuries prior on May 24th 1754 and that was a Friday. We know this because it’s the wedding date written in the Campbell family Bible.

It seems to me that Charlie Dalrymple is a well off young man. When he meets Tommy and Jeff in MacConaghy Square he is cautioned by the merchant that these visitors’ money is no good. Charlie’s response is a clue, “I do not want their money” as if the merchant worked for him. His influence softens the hearts of the rest of the villagers towards Tommy and Jeff.

It seems likely that just before this miracle took place Charlie had been out of town. I suggest this because he offers a toast to Mr. Forsythe for “postponing the miracle” for him. The postponement is not elsewhere explained. My conjecture is that Mr. Forsythe waited until Charlie returned, perhaps from the university (remember Harry Beaton complained that Charlie had gotten to go school in Edinburgh). By postponing the miracle Charlie had enough time to return and wed Jean. I’ll even speculate further that the reason Harry didn’t leave before the miracle is because he was betting that Charlie would not return and Jean would probably end up with him. If that is the case then Harry’s entire life was wasted when the miracle was postponed and Charlie returned. It is therefore no wonder that Harry would be despondent.

In Jeff’s sarcasm he makes three historical references. First when Fiona suggests that they go to see Mr. Lundie, Jeff asks, “is it informal of should I take my Napoleon hat?” Fiona is completely focused on Tommy and makes no response, but even if she was paying attention she would have no response because she wouldn’t know who Napoleon was – he hadn’t shown up on the world stage yet when the miracle took place.

Jeff later informs Mr. Lundie that New York used to be called New Amsterdam but the British took it over to which Mr. Lundie responds, “So I’ve heard”. That would be because the British taking New Amsterdam from the Dutch was an event that occurred 90 years before the miracle and was probably well known especially since the Scottish are a part of Britain so that would be in their own history.

Finally Jeff tells Mr. Lundie that Washington is going to get his army together and kick the British out of the colonies. Mr. Lundie might have found this interesting because it would show him events that would shortly come to pass. Mr. Lundie was undoubtedly a learned man, but even if he were the type to keep up with current events it is unlikely that he would have heard of Washington, but the year of the miracle was the same year of Washington’s appearance on the world stage. It is possible that he might have seen his name in a gazette (newspaper) of that day. Washington was a young major who lead a mission in 1753 months prior to the outbreak of the French and Indian War which started on May 28, 1754 – four days after the miracle. The writer of Brigadoon stumbled upon an historic event that happened at the same time as the miracle and places Jeff’s statement on the cusp of what may or may not have been known to the learned Mr. Lundie.

Consider what Mr. Lundie’s perspective would probably have been. In 1754, the year of the miracle, highlanders in Scotland were furious with the British Royalists who defeated them and tortured the survivors at the Battle of Culloden just 8 years earlier (in 1746). It is no wonder that many highlanders would eventually flee to the colonies and gladly join on the American side in the Revolutionary War. Jeff’s comments on the colonies’ uprising was if anything interesting and probably pleasing to Mr. Lundie. Incidentally highlanders at the time were forbidden by law from wearing the tartans and kilts or even playing the bag pipes so if the movie were to accurately depict the times then they were living in defiance of government mandates of the day. Though Jeff’s comments were sarcasm, they did clue Mr. Lundie in as to what was soon to happen.

The movie shows a delightful contrast between two worlds, the world of today (as of 1954) in America and the world of yesterday (1754) in Scotland. It challenges two men on what role faith plays in their lives and it shows how much of a sacrifice is sometimes needed to find love and happiness.

Three interesting things to take note of when watching this movie:

1. Note how on the opening credits the brooch on the tartan changes appearance several time.

2. Take note that Fiona and Jane resemble each other. This is mainly due to costuming as the two actresses did not particularly resemble each other any other time.

3. Note the sharp contrast between the environment of Brigadoon and that of New York City and how the director startles us with sudden loud music when the movie switches from one to the other.

The Wedding Dance

Jimmy Thompson, Barry Jones, Virginia Bosler

Jimmy Thompson, Barry Jones, Virginia Bosler

Movie Trailer

Go Home to Bonnie Jean (with Italian subtitles)

Heather on the Hill (performed by Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly)

Almost Like Being in Love, sung by Gene Kelly

Break up Scene

Related Articles