TCM SPOTLIGHT: ESTHER WILLIAMS VOLUME 1
During my misspent youth, I don't know how many times I stayed up until the middle of the night just so I could see BATHING BEAUTY (which was about the only time the local television stations showed it). Fortunately, thanks to Laserdisc and now DVD, I can put the blame for my sleepless nights elsewhere. Featuring Esther Williams, along with Red Skelton, BATHING BEAUTY offers moviegoers the merest contrivance of a plot to hold this frothy entertainment confection together. The premise of BATHING BEAUTY follows a popular songwriter (Skelton) who enters a woman's college to get his new wife (Williams) back. This big "splashy" musical comedy allows Esther to swim, while Red gets to do some highly amusing comic bits. In between bits, BATHING BEAUTY allows movie fans to take in musical performances by Harry James and his Music Makers, Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra, plus Ethel Smith on the organ. The cast of BATHING BEAUTY also features Basil Rathbone, Bill Goodwin, Jean Porter, Carlos Ramirez, Donald Meek and Margaret Dumont.
EASY TO WED
EASY TO WED is a highly enjoyable musical remake of MGM’s screwball comedy hit LIBELED LADY. In this Technicolor update, Williams tackles the role heiress Connie Allenbury, who sues a newspaper after they mistakenly print an article about her, without first checking the facts. Van Johnson portrays Bill Chandler, the suave former reporter brought in by newspaper editor Warren Haggerty (Keenan Wynn) to get the heiress to drop her libel suit against the paper. While the leads are good, Lucille Ball goes a long way to steal her scenes as Haggerty’s continually put off fiancée Gladys Benton. The cast of EASY TO WED also features Cecil Kellaway, Carlos Ramírez, Ben Blue, Ethel Smith, June Lockhart, Grant Mitchell, Josephine Whittell, Paul Harvey and Jonathan Hale.
ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU
ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU is an amusing musical trifle that finds Williams in the role of swimming movie musical star Rosalind Reynolds. Peter Lawford portrays Lawrence Kingslee, a navy lieutenant who is brought in as technical adviser on the film starring Reynolds. As expected, a romantic spark ignites between our young naval officer and the actress; then the expected romantic complications ensue. While the plot isn’t original, it is fun and broken up by performances by Jimmy Durante and Xavier Cugat. The cast of ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU also features Ricardo Montalban, Cyd Charisse, Leon Ames, Kathryn Beaumont and Dick Simmons.
NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER remains one of Esther Williams’ most enjoyable starring vehicles. In NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER, Williams portrays swimsuit designer Eve Barrett, who takes a romantic voyage on a cruise of mistaken identity, when she comes to think that she and her sister Betty (Betty Garrett) are being romanced by the same man. Of course, this misconception arises when Betty mistakes humble masseur Jack Spratt (Red Skelton) for South American polo champ José O'Rourke (Ricardo Montalban), and then, the actual polo champ takes an interest in Eve. In addition to the comic hijinks of Skelton and Garrett, NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER also features the Academy Award winning song Baby, It's Cold Outside, plus the rhythms of Xavier Cugat. The cast of NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER also includes Keenan Wynn, Ted de Corsia, Mike Mazurki and Mel Blanc.
DANGEROUS WHEN WET
DANGEROUS WHEN WET is as enjoyable as any of the swimming stars other musicals, but is probably strikes its biggest chord with fans because it is the film where Esther Williams swam with Tom and Jerry. The plot DANGEROUS WHEN WET is utterly preposterous, but is totally acceptable in the realm of movie musicals. DANGEROUS WHEN WET finds Williams in the role of Katie Higgins, who comes from a family of dairy farmers, that also happen to be excellent swimmers. Unfortunately, the dairy business proves less than successful, with the family needing a prize bull to breed better quality dairy cows. Of course, the bull is something they can ill afford. Vitamin salesman Windy Weebe (Jack Carson) offers the family a solution to their financial woes- and all they have to do is swim the English Channel. Look for Williams’ future husband Fernando Lamas as her romantic interest André Lanet, while the cast of DANGEROUS WHEN WET also includes Charlotte Greenwood, Denise Darcel, William Demarest, Donna Corcoran, Barbara Whiting and Bunny Waters.
Warner Home Video has made all the movies that comprise the TCM SPOTLIGHT: ESTHER WILLIAMS VOLUME 1 ($50) available on DVD in the proper 4:3 full screen aspect ratios of their theatrical releases. All of the films are in Technicolor and the presentations range from more than serviceable to very good. Problematic instances have more to do with the condition of the un-restored film elements, than the actual presentations themselves. There are moments of mis-registration that could have only been corrected by costly restorative work, which appears to be reserved for higher profile films. For the most part, fans will be absolutely tickled to have these films on DVD and will tend to overlook the inconsistencies of the film elements. Image sharpness and detail varies slightly by film, but is usually just fine, if not quite good. The Technicolor hues are, again variable, sometimes appearing glorious and other times, less so. Black, whites and contrast are in keeping with Technicolor films from the 1940s & 1950s. Film grain is present across the board, and is more noticeable in earlier films. Digital compression artifacts never call attention to themselves.
All of the films featured in the TCM SPOTLIGHT: ESTHER WILLIAMS VOLUME 1 come with pretty good sounding Dolby Digital monaural soundtracks. For musicals from 1940s & 1950s, there is little to complain about. Fidelity is slightly limited, but not bad and the musical numbers hold up rather well. For the most part, the majority of background hiss and audible anomalies have been cleaned during the mastering process, leaving each of the soundtracks with fairly pleasant sonics. Dialogue is clean and easy to understand. No other language tracks have been included on the DVDs, but English subtitles are provided.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements that have been spread out across the collection. Individual disc supplements are as follows: BATHING BEAUTY comes with the fifty minute interview program Robert Osborne Hosts TCM’s Private Screenings With Esther Williams, plus the Oscar-Nominated Short: Main Street Today, the Academy Award-winning Cartoon: Mouse Trouble and a Theatrical Trailer. EASY TO WED comes with Oscar-Nominated Pete Smith Specialty Comedy Short: Sure Cures, Classic Cartoon: The Unwelcome Guest and Theatrical Trailers of EASY TO WED and LIBELED LADY. ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU comes with a Vintage Romance Of Celluloid Series Short: Personalities, Classic Cartoon: The Bear And The Hare and a Theatrical Trailer. NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER comes with Outtake Musical Number: I Want My Money Back, Esther Williams Cameo Sequence From 1951’s Callaway Went Thataway, Oscar-Nominated Pete Smith Specialty Comedy Short: Water Trix, Oscar-Nominated Cartoon: Hatch Up Your Troubles and Theatrical Trailers of NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER and TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME. DANGEROUS WHEN WET comes with Outtake Musical Number: C’est La Guerre, Pete Smith Specialty Comedy Short: This Is a Living?, Classic Cartoon: Name To Come and an Esther Williams Musicals Trailer Gallery.
Esther Williams’ movies have been absent from DVD for far too long. TCM SPOTLIGHT: ESTHER WILLIAMS VOLUME 1 is a box of splashy movie musical joy that rectifies the situation. Despite a few issues with the film elements, Warner’s presentations are generally quite nice. If you are a fan, adding this collection to your personal movie library is a no brainer. Recommended.
reviews are Copyright © 2007 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied
or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.