Nearly 20 years after it opened on Broadway, the E.Y. Harburg/Fred Saidy musical Finian's Rainbow was committed to film. Set in the mythical southern state of Missitucky, the story involves the whimsical Irishman Finian (Fred Astaire) and his daughter Sharon (Petula Clark) arriving in the community carrying a crock of gold, which they've stolen in the Auld Sod from Ogg the Leprechaun (Tommy Steele). Finian believes that if he buries the crock on American soil, it will grow into an even larger treasure--just as Fort Knox did (or so he thinks). Sharon falls in love with sharecropper Woody Mahoney (Don Francks), who like everyone else in the community is being threatened by the perfidy of Senator Rawkins (Keenan Wynn). While Finian haggles over three wishes with the tricky Ogg, Sharon runs afoul of the racially bigoted Rawkins. She wishes that Rawkins would turn black so that he could walk in someone else's shoes for a change--and this, thanks to Ogg, is exactly what happens. To rescue Sharon and Woody from being burned as witches, Ogg grants a last wish, which turns him into a human being; this is not an altogether bad thing, for Ogg has fallen in love with mysterious mountain gal Susan the Silent (Barbara Hancock). The racial tolerance subtext of Finian's Rainbow, considered radical in 1948, seemed rather antiquated in 1969, though it did allow for a hilarious scene in which a white associate of Judge Rawkins attempts to instruct young black botanist Al Freeman Jr. on the proper way to "act Negro". As Finian, Fred Astaire requested that the role be expanded to allow him to dance a little (as written, the character barely even sings). Most of the original score remains intact, including the hit song "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" Francis Ford Coppola seemed a curious choice to direct a musical, and indeed the production was a troubled one due to Coppola's inexperience in the genre.
by Hal Erickson synopsis