"Neptune's Daughter" (1949)

Welcome to the first thread of the SDMB Musical Lovers’ Salon and Debating Society. Today’s topic: Neptune’s Daughter, a 1949 MGM musical starring Esther Williams, (an extremely young) Ricardo Montalban, Red Skelton, and Betty Garrett.

The story is inconsequential – Esther plays a swimming champion turned swimsuit manufacturer in partnership with Keenan Wynn. Her man-hungry sister makes a big play for the man she thinks is the captain of the visiting “South American” (sic – no country is ever specified, oddly enough) polo team – he’s actually Jack Spratt, a masseur at the country club where the team is playing. Meanwhile, Esther starts dating the real captain in an effort to keep him away from her sister. Romance, songs, courtship, mistaken identities, slapstick hijinks, all resolved in the last 15 minutes or so.

There’s only one great song, Frank Loesser’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” but it’s a truly great song. It starts with Ricardo’s attempted seduction of Esther, then switches to the counterpoint version of Betty’s attempted seduction of Red. And then the director segues immediately to “Jungle Rhumba,” which opens with a Busby-Berkeleyesque shot of something that turns out to be the banana-decked arms of the barefoot, dusky-skinned maidens dancing around with weird little lanterns in their hands. This is about it for dancing in this movie – something I found odd only after seeing it again – I’m ordinarily all about the dancing. There’s a bit of swaying back and forth on the “My Heart Beats Faster” number at the stableyard – but let’s face it, Esther’s dress (the black sequined number with the flame thing happening at the bottom) was the star of that scene. Betty Garrett’s “I Love Those Men,” is the third big number, but again, not much dancing. Interestingly enough, “they” didn’t even do much with the swimming angle. Checking the Esther Williams page at IMDB (here) – BTW, here is her mini-bio, with some fun trivia – I realized this was a very, very early Esther Williams film, so they hadn’t really figured out what to do with her yet. The big finale number was more about the women skidding off the platform than it was about Esther swimming – they even do the “rehearsal” of the big synchronized number by the side of the pool, not in it. (The better to insert Red Skelton into the action? Should we assume he couldn’t swim?)

A few notes:

  • Lots o’ slapstick, most of it pretty damn corny. (And what was the deal with Ricardo getting his finger stuck in the bottle before going on the factory tour?) The scene of Red and Betty’s first date, where he plays the Spanish-speaking record (“And now, turn over”), did make me laugh, though.

  • The '40s were a simpler time. weren’t they? What an odd use of Mel Blanc!

  • The friend I watched with, not a real musicals buff, had never heard of Betty Garrett. I said, “She was in On the Town with Gene Kelly, and Take Me Out to the Ball Game with Gene Kelly and Esther Williams, and, uh…” Hmph. Turns out that’s about it, according to IMDb (ignoring her sitcom career later on). I’d have expected more – a reasonably talented singer, certainly a better actress than Esther Williams – I guess the need for such a “non-girlie” female, even as a sidekick to the female lead and/or half of a secondary couple, was pretty limited in the '50s.

  • The only site I found with the choreographer’s name was here – Jack Donahue’s career, though long enough, wasn’t particularly stellar (link), though he did do a couple of Shirley Temple films back in the '30s. He certainly didn’t have a lot to keep him busy on this film, as noted above.

That’s about all I’ve got – what did the rest of you think?

No kidding! :wink: Pretty much stock for an MGM musical. Until Oklahoma!, studio musicals were largely well choregraphed song and dance numbers that were periodically interrupted by largely irrelevant plot lines. :smiley:

One thing that surprised me was the lack of swimming. Even the big number at the end wasn’t that involved compared to other Esther Williams films. I suppose that that was largely due to this being early in Williams’ career.

IMHO, Red Skelton was the best part of the movie. The film was almost as much a comedy as a musical. Overall not that bad, but film musicals would get better.

True – but you say that like it’s a bad thing. :wink:

I was trying to figure out what the significance of the “polo” thing was about – was there some big polo craze after the war? (and whose mother was it who ran off with a polo-player – Diana’s or Fergie’s?) Perhaps it more of the casual racism – South Americans are all about horses, the lower-class ones as grooms and the upper-class ones as polo players – but the screenwriter could come up with no other reason for this swarthy gentleman to be here.

Same here, reading the back cover of the tape, I was expecting water polo team (which would mean more swimming) until I saw the horses. And I was also expecting a bigger swimming number…

I didn’t realize that that was Mel Blanc. (While watching, I did wonder “Years later, did any of these people ever look at this film and at the guy with brown face paint and the Speedy Gonzales voice and just cringe?” same with the weird “Jungle Rhumba” because goodness knows, flat out impossible to find anyone hispanic in California - better to smear unrealistic looking brown paint over everyone.)

What else? “Baby, it’s cold outside” was great, I’d never really liked that song before. The rest of the songs, not as much. Betty & Red were much more interesting and much more funny than the main couple.

I thought he was too. I loved his scenes with Betty Garrett. I think my favorite part though was the nightclub opening sequence. Such a long extended shot. Everyone must have rehearsed quite a bit to get it right.

I do have to say that I liked the part with Ricardo Montalban getting his finger stuck too. It made his character seem more human, a very nice comedic touch. And who knew that he was in such excellent shape! The chest he showed was much better than the one he faked in “The Wrath of Khan”. lol.

One of the thing sI found interesting about the movie was that Esther’s character was a swimsuit designer. Her own site still sells the designs that were based on her movie costumes here . I remember seeing her on one of the shopping channels selling them. Very tasteful and classy line of swimwear. :slight_smile:

Mmm, yes…I think the ruffly one I had picked out for myself was called the ballerina. :slight_smile:

This may be so wrong but now I just flashed on myself trying on one of the suits as a drag outfit. Being that I am a 300# 39 year old gay male, the idea was between too funny and too much. But Esther has quite a nice site there. Some care and planning has been put into it.

I finally got a chance to watch it.

First, I had forgotten what a hottie Ricardo Montalban was. Yow.

Esther Williams wasn’t much of an actress, though she wasn’t as bad as a few of the leading ladies of the era. Betty Garrett was driving me crazy–couldn’t think who she was until someone upthread said “sitcom.”

Twickster, you may be normally all about the dancing, but I’m normally all about the singing. What saves this movie is the wonderful “Baby…” but I was a little disappointed in the lack of music.

RM could do comedy! He’s no Red Skelton, of course, but a nice surprise.


I liked Betty’s green & white dress too. Clothes used to be so much more attractive!
I was also surprised at Ricardo Montalban. Far more likable than I would have believed.

It’s a sad commentary – or a tribute to Irene’s talents, one or the other – that the clothes were what we all noticed. I also luuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrvvvvvvvvved the white jacket with the wide-open sleeves (I have no idea how to describe it) that Betty “borrowed” from Esther to wear over the green-and-white dress.

And Betty’s dress in the final scene was also very cool – the asymetrical gingham trim.

If corny is good this is a good flick. I don’t find corny especially good or interesting so that’s where I’m coming from.

Let’s see, A glamorous lady swimmer / bathing suit entrepreneur arranges for a show to promote her wares. The show takes place near an International Polo Championship Meet and a rather exotic Night Club in apparently sunny California. Enter the characters: Eve Barret (Esther Williams), a glamorous but aloof swimming star / business partner in swimming wares company. Her male business partner Joe Backet (Keenan Wynn) with very obvious designs for Eve. Her Sister, Betty Barret (Betty Garrett) on the fast track for romantic intrigue with any hot South American Polo star. Jose O’Rourke (Ricardo Montelbaum), the super star Polo player / international play boy and Jack Sprat (Red Skeleton), a masseur wannabee international playboy.

The high jinks, not necessarily in a nut shell: Joe Backet is pursuing the aloof Eve Barret and failing miserably. Betty Barret mistakenly believes that Jack Sprat is the super star Jose O’Rourke and is falling all over him and Jack is only too happy to play along with her Betty’s incorrect assumption. Jose has his hands full with a stable of stunning women and doing what international super star polo players do when Eve, is incorrectly advised that her sister is mixing it up with Jose and Eve must convince Jose to leave her sister alone.

The basis for the comedy / high jinks / slapstick stuff is the mistaken identities and the interactions between these characters based on those false assumptions. Betty thinks that Jack Sprat is the super star polo player and Eve thinks that Jose is seeing her sister. Jose is not seeing Eve’s sister and has no clue what Eve is talking about. While Eve attempts to discourage Jose from seeing Betty, Jose gets the hots for Eve because she shows no interest in him. Forget his stable of more than willing gorgeous women!

So this is a musical? Yea a few tunes. A big band / exotic dance number - spectacular costuming in one scene - I wanted more! And one of the other highlights was the “Baby it’s Cold Outside” number, but it wasn’t! Jack and Betty were hot for each other. Jose and Joe were both hot for Eve and It was clearly summer like weather with swimming / diving / sliding into the pool scenes. What the hell is that all about?

It is patently clear to me why there is no Neptune’s Daughter II!

IMHO :smiley:

I finally got this. (Interlibrary Loan is slow, due to budget cuts, they said.) I had mixed reactions. On the one hand it’s a musical, so how seriously can anyone take it? On the other hand, parts of it were almost too embarrassing to watch. Start with the assumption that Eve can’t be both “a career girl” and married. Add in the sheer oddness of Betty and men. (This is the 50’s, right? So there is no presumption of sex, but she is warned about getting her heart broken, and she throws herself at Red in, frankly, sexy ways.) And the whole “My price for not going out with your sister is a date with you” which is just icky. Plus, it’s her car, and he’s driving. What’s with that? (He takes the keys away to make sure she can’t drive off and leave him at the stables, I missed it if she got them back before driving off and leaving him.)

I loved the dress she wore in that scene. (But if she isn’t interested, why is she dressed like that? Every scene where she’s in business, she’s very buttoned up, no cleavage. Every scene with Jose, she can’t stand him, but she’s stunning. Mixed messages, anyone?) Yes, clothes used to be far more fun and attractive. I wonder if real people dressed like that, or just movie stars?

“Baby” was great, but how cold can it be when they’re swimming outdoors? The minority actors/actors of color were really hard to watch, it was so, well, demeaning. It made me wonder how Ricardo Montalban got a serious career as a leading man in Hollywood, when clearly the negative stereotypes were alive, well, and unquestioned. Does anyone know? He was definitely a hottie. Who knew? I associate him with Khan and “fine Corinthian leather.” (Shows my age, I suppose.) And why was the club named “Casa de Cugat” after the bandleader, but owned by the mobster guy?

And who marries anyone based on a couple of days of the cold shoulder? Both engagements were far too fast. (Loud chorus of “It’s a musical! Deal with it!”)

Much less dancing, much less water ballet than I expected. Actually, much less singing. I can only think of three songs - “I love those men,” Whatever Jose sings at the stables, and “Baby…” The dance number at the club had no discernable words.

And finally, why was the “South American” Jose’s last name O’Rorke? Does some kind of assumed Irish ancestry make it OK for him to marry a white woman? And I really don’t remember, but wasn’t his name on Fantasy Island Mr. O’Rorke? (I can’t spell that, I know.)

After all that, I actually did like it. I give it a B-. (It would have had a B if Red Skelton wasn’t constantly described as a redhead when he obviously had brown hair. That drives me nuts.)

OK, finally got a chance to settle in and watch the film (previously unseen by me). Some brief comments: Red is just a poor man’s Bob Hope IMO, but he did have a couple funny bits (though the horse mount wasn’t one of them). The film belongs to the second-billed Montalban & Garrett–they own their scenes, due in large part to their respective sexual energy (Williams, though lovely, is a cold fish compared to her sister). I felt most bad for Wynn, who’s wasted as voiceover second banana. I found Blanc funny in a most-un PC sort of way, but that probably had to do with me knowing it was him and the WB associations involved; similar stylings from anonymous “ethnics” definitely grate, even with the historical concessions I usually allow.

Although it barely passes muster as a musical, the fluid, sweeping camerwork in the big Cugat number is quite good, as is the extended underwater bit, though I’ll admit that both also have a goofy period charm since cinematic “spectacle” was defined so differently back then. And “Baby” is pure gold–exceptional staging in both versions, effortlessly witty and charming. It wasn’t unusual to have songsmiths like Loesser showcase one big number in a film while cranking out a few forgettable pieces in the mix, but hey, this won him his Oscar (and deservedly so) and upgrades the film as a whole from, say, a 5 to a 7 for me.

Now to hit the Edwards…