It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical:
“Bathing Beauty” (1944)– Musical #61
Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Basil Rathbone, Bill Goodwin, Jean Porter, Janis Paige, Donald Meek, Margaret Dumont, Nana Bryant
As themselves: Harry James, Lina Romay, Xavier Cugat, Helen Forrest, Ethel Smith, Carlos Ramirez
George Adams (Rathbone) is unhappy when his star songwriter Steve Elliot (Skelton) says he’s leaving the business to marry pretty swim instructor, Caroline Brooks (Williams). George creates a misunderstanding between the two that sends Caroline back to the all-girls college where she teaches. Determined to win her back, Steve finds a loophole in the charter and enrolls.
-Esther Williams’ first starring role.
-Skelton’s ballet routine was created by Buster Keaton, according to Gehring’s book.
-Originally titled “Mr. Co-Ed” with Red Skelton as the defined lead. Once Esther Williams was brought on the project, Skelton was knocked to secondary lead, though he has more screen time, according to Red Skelton: The Mask Behind the Mask by Wes Gehring.
-When Esther Williams did her first swimming number (the first in the movie and the first of it’s kind on screen), director George Sidney told her to do what she wanted because he knew nothing about swimming, according to Williams’ autobiography “The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography .”
-The finale swimming number with Williams, Harry James and Xavier Cugat was choreographed by John Murray Anderson, who choreographed Billy Rose’s aquacades, according to Williams’ book.
-The skit where Red Skelton pretends to be a girl waking up and getting ready in the morning was created by his first wife, Edna Stillwell, according to Gehring’s book.
-This film was shown in combat areas overseas during World War II.
-The pool used at the beginning was the Lakeside Country Club in San Fernando Valley.
-Janis Paige’s first film.
-Xavier Cugat’s musical performances with Lina Romay singing.
-Every swimming scene with Esther Williams
-Red Skelton’s skit of woman waking up and getting ready.
-Red Skelton dancing in a tutu
-“Te quiero dijiste” performed by Carlos Ramirez
-“Bim, Bam, Bum” performed by Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay
-“Tico-tico no fubá” performed by Ethel Smith
-“Alma llanera” performed by Lina Romay and Xavier Cugat
-“I Cried for You” performed by Helen Forrest and Harry James
-“Loch Lomond” performed by Harry James, Jean Porter, Ethel Smith, Janis Paige and other co-eds
This film is true escapism, particularly good for the World War II era.
“I think the reason the movie did so well was that it was exactly the right kind of breezy summer entertainment for war-weary public,” Esther Williams wrote in her autobiography.
While “Bathing Beauty”‘s plot line is a little silly, this movie is such a joy.
It’s vibrant Technicolor, humorous scenes with Red Skelton, Esther Williams looking beautiful and cool in the pool, and top musical performances from Harry James, Helen Forrest, Carlos Ramirez, Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay.
This movie is notable for several reasons:
-It catapulted Esther Williams’ career of swimming musicals- a genre never before seen on films- that were top in the box office for 10 years following. This new type of genre is a great example of how MGM tried to bring novelties to the screen and seem new, fresh and innovative.
“We didn’t know it, but we were about to invent synchronized swimming as it had never been before seen on film,” she wrote.
-You get a glimpse of who the top performers in music were: Harry James and Xavier Cugat. While MGM often tried to seem cultured while bringing in opera stars such as Laurietz Melchoir, they often brought in the most popular names in music.
-South American themed musical numbers- here with Xavier Cugat, Lina Romay, Carlos Ramirez- were commonplace in 1940s films, and this is a great example of that theme.
But while this musical landed Esther williams on top, it is also a little sad for Red Skelton, who had been in films for a few years but still was not on top. Skelton started in films with hopes of becoming a serious comic but was often misplaced in his roles.
However, in “Bathing Beauty” Skelton has more screen time than Williams and pulls out all the stops with his hilarious scenes, he received very little recognition in the film columns. All of the critics were enamored with Esther Williams and gave little mention to Skelton, according to Gehring’s book.
“Audiences apparently care more about what the heroine is wearing than if Skelton gets her in the in,” the New York Herald Tribune came to his defence.
Regardless, Skelton gives a great performance and Williams is a breath of fresh air…or maybe a cool dive in a pool.
While things are steamy outside, cool off with this film indoors and soak in the Technicolor, rather than get a sunburn.