Esther Williams Collection: VOL. 2 (DVD)
THRILL OF A ROMANCE Man overboard! War hero Van Johnson takes one look at Esther Williams and decides he needs swimming lessons. With Tommy Dorsey, Xavier Cugat and more. Dive in. FIESTA Mexico's greatest bullfighter isâ€¦Esther? She plays a devoted sister who secretly fills in for her twin matador brother (Ricardo Montalban) after he abandons the ring. -or- A non-aquatic change of pace: Esther disguises herself in matador gear and secretly fills in for her twin brother (Ricardo Montalban) after he abandons the ring. THIS TIME FOR KEEPS An ex-GI falls for a bathing beauty (guess who!). Lauritz Melchior, Xavier Cugat, Jimmy Durante and Mackinac Island locations add to the good times and romance. PAGAN LOVE SONG Island girl Esther plans to leave Tahiti, but maybe she'll have a reason to stay when Howard Keel arrives. Gorgeous, frothy fun with pristine Hawaiian locations filling in for Tahiti.MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID Tonight in the Hippodrome Tank: Annette Kellerman, Goddess of the Sea! Esther portrays Kellerman in a splashy biopic that includes a must-see Busby Berkeley extravaganza. EASY TO LOVE Esther wins fans at the Cypress Gardens' aquashow, but will she ever win the heart of her all-business boss Van Johnson? Busby Berkeley guides the legendary water-ski number.
]]> No doubt about it: this TCM boxed set is all wet. As a collection of movies featuring Esther Williams, MGM's swimming superstar, how could it not be? Six titles, in splashy Technicolor, comprise this daffy musical smorgasbord, all drawn from Williams' glory years as an unlikely box-office draw. Thrill of a Romance
, from 1945, is the earliest film of the bunch, a top-drawer production with a coy plot and location shooting in Yosemite Park. Esther's newly wedded to drippy businessman Carleton Young, but when hubby is called away from their honeymoon resort, war hero Van Johnson is nearby--and he needs swimming lessons. Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra breeze through, and (in on of MGM's amusing attempts to add class to the room) Wagnerian tenor Lauritz Melchoir is on hand to play Cupid and sing an aria or two. Or three. (Melchoir has a pleasant screen personality, actually, even if his presence here is absurd.)
Fiesta,a Mexican bullfighting tale, is duller and doesn't give Williams much screen time, but it does introduce the agile young Ricardo Montalban to the screen; he and Esther are twin offspring of a famous matador. Musical highlights include a folk version of "La Bamba" and Aaron Copland's "El Salon de Mexico." In This Time for Keeps, Esther is employed in an Aqua Follies show and backed by Jimmy Durante; Forties crooner Johnnie Johnston is torn between pop singing and the operatic expectations of his father (Melchior again). The collection's low point is Pagan Love Song, a 1950 musical seemingly offered to cash in on the tropical-island appeal of South Pacific. Howard Keel belts out his love for Williams with his usual oak-barrel gusto, and there's one crazy you-gotta-see-this-to-believe-it number with (thanks to trick photography) Esther appearing to swim through a series of different underwater sets as Keel sings the irresistible title tune. Lots of cut songs, included on the DVD, suggest how the movie got down to 77 minutes.
Million Dollar Mermaid purports to be the bio of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman, though the plot conforms to nostalgic period pieces of the era: Esther really loves brash Victor Mature, but contrivances keep them apart. If the story is tedious, the numbers are fun, especially the big ballet with water slides, trapeze divers, and all those sparklers going into the water with our star. Busby Berkeley worked on the big set-pieces; gee, what a surprise. Berkeley also did duty on Easy to Love, which has a few delirious musical interludes as Esther chooses between Van Johnson and Tony Martin. Much of it was filmed at Cyrpress Gardens, the Florida resort that also served as a watery backdrop to This is Cinerama. Some of the stunts involved prove Williams had as much in common with Jackie Chan as she did with Fred Astaire (she actually did break her neck on a diving stunt in Million Dollar Mermaid), and her fabulous physique remains impressive throughout these zany pictures. Watch a few in a row, and your head will be swimming right along with the star. --Robert Horton