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?