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:
Easy to Love (1953) – Musical #108
Esther Williams, Van Johnson, Tony Martin, Carroll Baker, John Bromfield, Edna Skinner, King Donovan, Paul Bryar, Benny Rubin (uncredited),
Cameo: Cyd Charisse
Ray Lloyd (Johnson) manages the Cypress Gardens resort, filled the water skiing and swimming shows, and beautiful girls in bathing suits and evening gowns. He has decided to remain successful, he must remain single and unmarried. One of his swimming performers Julie Hallerton (Williams) — while she feels overworked — is also in love with Ray. When she thinks Ray is inviting her on a fun trip to New York City, she finds it is all work, until she meets singing star Barry Gordon (Martin). While Barry sweeps Julie off her feet, Ray isn’t too sure he likes it.
• Esther William was pregnant during the filming of this movie, according to her autobiography.
• Filmed on location at Cypress Gardens resort in Winterhaven, FL.
• Fifth and final film costarring Esther Williams and Van Johnson
• Esther Williams had never water skied before this film, according to her autobiography.
• The Florida-shaped swimming pool at Cypress Gardens was created for this movie for a Busby Berkeley number.
• Carroll Baker’s first feature film.
• Initially intended to be a drama with Lana Turner.
• Not related to the 1934 film “Easy to Love.”
• The water ballet with the flowers and the water ballet audition
• The montage of her getting ready
• The elderly women singing with Tony Martin
• Cameo by Cyd Charisse
• “Didja Ever” performed by Tony Martin
• “That’s What a Rainy Day Is For” performed by Tony Martin
As a teenager, I sought out every colorful Esther Williams film that I could, as quickly as I could. I had an appetite for MGM musicals starring Williams (or Jane Powell, June Allyson, etc), and that appetite couldn’t be satisfied fast enough.
I remember the first (and last) time I watched EASY TO LOVE (1953). For some reason, at the time I didn’t care for it. I think maybe, because Van Johnson is a bit of a heel.
Revisiting it now for the first time in 20 years, I found EASY TO LOVE charming, visually stunning and quite funny.
Van Johnson plays Ray Lloyd, who operates Cypress Gardens and is a wiz in advertising. Women in bathing suits in advertisements sold unsuccessful appliances, and people flock to Cypress Gardens for similar reasons. Visitors can see water skiing performances and beautiful girls posed around the resort. One of those girls is Julie (Williams), who spends hours in the water and works 16 hours a day. While she’s exhausted, she’s also in love with Ray … who is not interested in love. She is wooed by famous singer Barry Gordon (Martin), and Ray isn’t so sure he likes it.
Somehow, EASY TO LOVE has a different feel from not only other Esther Williams/Van Johnson films of this time … even other MGM musicals of the time. It is filmed a bit differently and a little cheeky. One of my favorite moments was a sequence were Esther Williams is hurriedly getting ready for an audition and all we see are her hands and feet as she grabs lipstick, stockings, and shoes.
Even Williams’s swimming sequences are different. Her first is a swim sequence with John Bromfield is sensual and slower than others. Then we see her from the side of a water tank in another sequence. Both of these numbers are lovely. The only downside is that there is one number where Esther Williams is dressed as a clown for circus number. It’s pretty bad and ridiculous. Why did every 1950s actress seem to have to dress like a clown in these films?
Williams discovered she was pregnant during EASY TO WED and wrote in her autobiography that the first person she thought of was producer Joe Pasternak. Because she would spend most of the film in a bathing suit, she had to get everyone “rallied” to finish the film quickly before she started showing, according to her autobiography.
Being pregnant caused to also be a problem dance and water choreographer Busby Berkeley’s dangerous stunts. The film’s huge finale is a water skiing sequence on Lake Eloise. Williams had to learn how to waterski for the film, but also had to be careful because she was pregnant. In the skiing number, Williams’s character is supposed to go up on a helicopter and dive into the middle of the water-skiers. Because of her pregnancy, she recommended high diver Helen Crelinkovich to perform the stunt.
In their fifth and last film together, Williams and Johnson still have terrific chemistry. Williams wrote that after working so long together, they sometimes could improvise with the script.
EASY TO LOVE is visually stunning. Filmed on location in Cypress Gardens in Florida, it is just breathtaking. This movie is such a gorgeous travelogue for Cypress Gardens, that I found myself mourning that it is no longer open! (I hear Lego Land is now in it’s place?) Incidentally, my mom said her family went to Cypress Gardens in 1969 and it looked pretty similar to the film – water-skiers and all.
Not only is the scenery gorgeous, but so are all of the brightly colored Helen Rose-designed costumes. Esther Williams wears some gorgeous creations, and looks stunning in hot pink hues.
The film itself is funny, especially as the film starts and Van Johnson describes advertising strategies. He also says “Go eat your yogurt” as an insult, and it cracked me up.
I’ll admit, Tony Martin isn’t a favorite of mine, and he does all the singing here. With a face like a St. Bernard, I don’t get the appeal, but he does a good job as the “other man” here. I also really liked when he started singing and he’s surrounded by elderly women.
Overall, this was such a fun movie. And for some reason, the finale with the water-skiers had me feeling emotional. I don’t know, a big number does me that way I guess.
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I started watching this last summer, when I was on an Esther Williams kick, but I didn’t get very far. I will have to try again. I’d love to know the process that this movie went through to get from a Lana Turner drama!