Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Movie review - "Bathing Beauty" (1944) ***

The film that launched Esther Williams as a star, although it was originally conceived as a vehicle for Red Skelton. It's a fascinating hodge podge sort of movie containing a bit of everything - something like seven different writers worked on it, and you can tell. Plots come and go, comic bits and musical numbers feel randomly inserted - it gives the impression of say a 1930s musical, before Oklahoma! came along and introduced more discipline to the form... in other words basically a variety show with a series of different acts and numbers and some random book trying to give it narrative and failing.

However it does work on those terms. It helps too that it was MGM in the 1940s so production values are top notch. Esther gets to have some spectacular swimming numbers, the color photography looks great, Red Skelton does some funny bits (and actually is one of her best leading men).

The plot involves - if I've got this right - producer Basil Rathbone (under contract to MGM at the time but not very well used by the studio) wants to break up Skelton and Esther Williams because he wants Skelton to work for him. He succeeds so Williams runs off to a girls school... and Skelton enrols in it in order to win her back. It's all very silly and stupid but you never spend too much time with the story - there's always a musical number (a lot of ones with a Latin feel) coming around the corner.

Esther is very pretty and has charisma, no doubt about it - people made cracks about her ability out of the water but she's likeable, with a warm, girl next door personality. Not everyone could have done what she did. I wasn't that familiar with Skelton's work - I'm not a massive fan after having seen the film but he's not bad. There's a wide galaxy of supporting players doing their thing - spitfire Latino, pompous man/woman, lunk head false love interest etc. So bright and colourful and carefree that in hindsight you can see why war audiences lapped it up.

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