Musical Monday: Neptune’s Daughter (1949)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Neptune’s Daughter (1949) – Musical #117

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Edward Buzzell

Starring:
Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Ricardo Montalban, Betty Garrett, Ted de Corsia, Mel Blanc, Mike Mazurki, Theresa Harris (uncredited), Joi Lansing (uncredited), Dee Turnell (uncredited)
Himself: Xavier Cugat

Plot:
Eve Barrett (Williams) is a champion swimmer who is convinced to start a Neptune’s swimsuit company in a partnership with Joe Backett (Wynn). Eve becomes a successful swimsuit designer with Joe. A South American polo team comes to town for a match, and Eve and Joe plan a swimming extravaganza and fashion show to partner with the big event. Eve’s man-hungry sister Betty Barrett (Garrett) hopes to find a romance with a polo player, and mistakes the team’s masseur Jack Spratt (Skelton) for the lead player, José O’Rourke. The real José O’Rourke (Montalban) pursues Eve, while she is thinking he is two-timing her sister.

Trivia:
• The song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was introduced in “Neptune’s Daughter.” The song won the Academy Award for Best Song.
• Early into filming, Esther Williams realized she was pregnant, according to her autobiography of “The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography.”
• Mel Blanc plays a role in the film as someone who works with the polo team. In the credits, his name is Pancho, but in the film he is called Julio.
• The song “I Want My Money Back” performed by Betty Garrett was cut from the film. The song is a joke number about how women are portrayed in magazine ads. The song is included on the DVD.
• Produced by Jack Cummings
• Costumes by Irene
• “Neptune’s Daughter” was screened at the 2010 Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival with Esther Williams and Betty Garrett in attendance. The Aqualillies performed a water ballet at the Roosevelt Hotel for Williams.

Red Skelton and Betty Garrett in Neptune’s Daughter

Highlights:
• Bathing suit fashion show
• Esther Williams water ballet at the end of the film.
• The Technicolor cinematography
• Xavier Cugat performance of “Jungle Rhumba”

Notable Songs:
• “Jungle Rhumba” performed by Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra
• “I Love Those Men” performed by Betty Garrett, Red Skelton, and Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra
• “Thrill of a New Romance” performed by Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra
• “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” performed by Esther Williams, Ricado Montalban, Betty Garrett and Red Skelton
• “My Heart Beats Faster” performed by Ricardo Montalban

Finale swim number of “Neptune’s Daughter”

My review:
While always colorful and refreshing, Esther William’s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer swimming musicals are often demoted as just escapism fluff.

And while they are feel-good films, “Neptune’s Daughter” (1949) has some significant features in the film.

First, the plot of “Neptune’s Daughter” strangely foreshadows Esther Williams’s real life, as she notes in her autobiography “Million Dollar Mermaid.”

In “Neptune’s Daughter,” Williams is first a champion swimmer, which she was in real life. Now, in real life, she became an acquacade – and then movie – star after the 1940 Olympics were canceled; ending her competitive swimming career.

In the film, Williams is a swimsuit designer. During a fashion show in the film, Williams dives into the water and gets out, showing that the suit doesn’t sag or lose shape after swimming. Later in her career, art imitated life when she started the Esther Williams swimwear line, which she designed with comfort and beauty in mind, according to the swimwear’s website.

Also in the film, Williams marries “a South American Romeo,” played by Ricardo Montalban. In her autobiography, she noted that the character is not unlike Fernando Lamas, who entered her life later on and the two were married from 1962 to 1989.

The film also introduced a song which is now constantly in headlines during the holiday season: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Songwriter Frank Loesser sold his song to MGM for this film and won the Academy Award for Best Song. In the film, Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams sing the song, as he tries to get her to stay – while Williams doesn’t stay in his apartment, she does end up going to a nightclub with him after the performance. It’s rare that we get to hear Esther Williams do her own singing, but you do see it here. Then, in a comedic switch, Betty Garrett sings this song to Red Skelton, as she tries to get him to stay. “Neptune’s Daughter” isn’t a Christmas film, so don’t let the song’s evolution confuse you. (If you’re interested in the controversy, you can read my full article here on the history of the song).

As for the film, this is a fun and joyful movie. I hadn’t seen it in years until I rewatched it to write this review.

The film teams Esther Williams, Betty Garrett, Keenan Wynn, Ricardo Montalban and Red Skelton – all who had starred together in some capacity in other films. This was the third film to star Williams and Montalban, but their first to have them successfully end up together.

The Technicolor is gorgeous, and Esther Williams (who was newly pregnant) also looks beautiful. I love that her hair is still long. Betty Garrett (who’s name is Betty Barrett in the film) also looks beautiful and adorable in the film. Irene fashioned their costumes, which are breathtaking.

If you love fashion in films, we also get a brief and fun bathing suit fashion show. They are all gorgeous and colorful.

Outside of the sheer beauty of the film, “Neptune’s Daughter” is also quite funny with some laugh out loud moments. For example, Ricardo Montalban says to Red Skelton, “Hasta la vista.” Skelton says “What does that mean?” Montalban says, “In your language, that means ‘adiós amigo!'”

You feel a bit sad for Keenan Wynn at the end, who also is in love with Williams, but doesn’t get the girl in the end. He narrates the beginning and end of the film and sort of ruefully says “A happy ending.”

Also keep your eyes peeled for Mel Blanc, who voiced characters like Bugs Bunny. You may not recognize his face, but you will know his voice. He plays a character billed as Pancho but named Julio in the film.

I watched “Neptune’s Daughter” via the Esther Williams DVD set. For anyone who owns this set, have you ever had an issue with it stopping? My DVD kept stopping, but thankfully would continue if I hit “play.”

“Neptune’s Daughter” (1949) is so much fun that it is sure to lift your spirits. Just don’t confuse it with “Jupiter’s Darling,” because that one is a real stinker. You can revisit “Neptune’s Daughter” on April 16 on Turner Classic Movies during their Stay Home TCM Classic Film Festival, which will include Williams and Garrett at the 2010 film festival.

Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams in the finale

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1 thought on “Musical Monday: Neptune’s Daughter (1949)

  1. “Fun and joyful” is a great description. I love it so much.

    When I had surgery a few years ago, this was the first movie I played during my recovery. And it was just perfect to see then! Or any time. 🙂

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    Like

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