Musical Monday: Bathing Beauty (1944)

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



George Sidney

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.

Red Skelton's comedic ballet

Red Skelton’s comedic ballet routine which was created by Buster Keaton.

-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.

Red Skelton and Esther Williams in

Red Skelton and Esther Williams in “Bathing Beauty.”

-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

Notable songs:
-“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

My review:
This film is true escapism, particularly good for the World War II era.

Esther Williams in the finale of

Esther Williams in the finale of “Bathing Beauty.”

“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.

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The All-American Aphrodite: Remembering Esther Williams

My cinema relationship with Esther Williams helped shape my film interests.

I didn’t full watch any of her films until 2003 when my film appetite craved musicals.

A swimming scene from "This Time for Keeps"

A swimming scene from “This Time for Keeps”

As I gorged on her candy-colored, aqua musical extravaganzas, I couldn’t wait until I could see another film. Each of her musicals brings back memories of spending weekends endlessly watching her movies.

When I was 15 I read her autobiography, “The Million Dollar Mermaid.” It’s my favorite film autobiography that I’ve read so far.

When I was 17, I bought one of her Esther Williams bathing suits.

Williams inspired me to practice swimming strokes and try to learn how to swim (I failed swimming lessons when I was five years old. How embarrassing).

I remember in 2004 when she was highlighted during TCM’s August Summer under the Stars series. I wasn’t looking forward to going back to school in August but my excitement of Esther Williams’ day out-weighed my dread.

Esther Williams and frequent co-star Van Johnson in "Easy to Wed"

Esther Williams and frequent co-star Van Johnson in “Easy to Wed” dressed for the number “Bonecu de Pixe.” Carmen Miranda helped them with the Portuguese lyrics.

But it’s not just how she affected my every day actions, but my film knowledge that makes her important to me.

To date, I have seen all but two of Esther Williams’ films: “A Raw Wind in Eden” and “The Big Show.”

Esther Williams’s films are a textbook example of the mid-1940s to early 1950s MGM musicals: brightly colored, beautiful clothing and lavish musical numbers that may include Williams swimming, Xavier Cugat and his band shaking maracas or opera singer Lauritz Melchior belting a tune.

Her films also introduced me to my biggest film crush- Van Johnson.

Something I have always found appealing about Williams is that she is very attainable.

Her beauty is natural and girl-next-door like and her figure is athletic, rather than actress anorexic. In her 1996 Private Screenings Interview with Robert Osborne, she said becoming a star was all an accident.

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Boola boola and rah rah rah: College in the movies

A typical day at Winthrop…not. (From “Good News

After a fast Christmas break, I have moved back into my Winthrop University dorm for the last time.  In honor of my last semester as a college “co-ed”  here is a blog with different representations of college in classic film and judge at how realistic the films portray college.

*I’d like to point out that all of these are classic films, so don’t be disappointed that I didn’t review “National Lampoon’s Animal House” or “Accepted.”


Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston in “The Freshman”

•The Freshman (1925)-

Harold Lloyd is very excited about going to college after seeing a movie about a popular campus. Lloyd’s only purpose at college is to be the big man on campus. He achieves this by doing a silly dance before he shakes people’s hands and fumbling around the football field. However, he just makes a fool of himself. To review: I’m not a huge fan of Harold Lloyd actually (I am loyal to Buster Keaton), but this is actually one of my favorite silent movies. It’s heartbreaking to see how people make fun of him but also hilarious at the same time. I really don’t know what college life was like in the 1920s, but in my college experiences there is not one BIG popular person. I will say, I am on a fairly small campus of 6,500 people so there are notable figures but no one person who I would say is the most popular.

Pigskin Parade (1936)- Winston and Bessie Winters (Jack Haley and Patsy Kelly) are college coaches trying to have a winning season. Things are going rough until hillbilly Amos (Stuart Erwin) and his sister Sairy (Judy Garland)-also a redneck- come to campus.  Amos can throw a winning football pass after throwing melons on the farm. To review: Its been a long time since I’ve seen this movie but I remember it being pretty excruciating. Between Judy’s country accent and the Yacht Boys singing, it was pretty obnoxious.


Rosemary and Priscilla Lane publicity shot for “Variety Show”

•Varsity Show (1937)-

Priscilla and Rosemary Lane (as Betty and Barbara) and friends are trying to put on a show on Winfield Campus, but the faculty doesn’t like swing music. They pull in former student and Broadway star Chuck Day (Dick Powell), to help with the show, but his last performances have laid eggs. To review: I love Priscilla Lane and Dick Powell, and its fun to see them in a movie together. However, this is another stereotypical song and dance college musical. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in college put on as big of a show as they do in this movie.

Vivacious Lady (1938)-Francey (Ginger Rogers) marries college chemistry professor Peter (James Stewart). The marriage is a secret from his family because he is already engaged and his father (Charles Coburn)  is the college president. Stewart and Rogers go to extreme measures to stay together, including Rogers becoming a student at the college. To review: This is one of my favorite movies. Rogers and Stewart have wonderful chemistry and there are several funny moments. I did think most of the college students in Stewart’s class looked a lot older than college students though.

Bathing Beauty (1944)- Caroline (Esther Williams) goes back to her old job as a teacher at a girls’ college after a misunderstanding with her boyfriend Steve (Red Skelton). Steve tries to win Caroline back by finding a loophole in the rules and enrolling in the school. Comedic moments ensue with Red in a tutu and Harry James jazzing up music class. To review: I love this movie. Esther is beautiful in Technicolor. Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay spice it up with Latin rhythm along with other musical talents like Ethel Smith and Harry James. I know that James and Cugat don’t come and jazz up “I’ll Take the High Road” in music class in college, but it certainly does make college look fun. I also love the ever pert and fun Jean Porter in this movie. She really seems like the quintessential college/high school young lady of the 1940s to me.

Susan Peters is a co-ed with “Young Ideas”

Young Ideas(1943)- Romance author Josephine Evans(Mary Astor) marries college professor Mike (Herbert Marshall) and cancels her book tour.  Astor’s children, Susan (Susan Peters) and Jeff (Elliot Reed), oppose of the marriage, especially since it may mean their mother’s book career is over. Susan and Jeff enroll in college and do whatever they can to break up the marriage. To review: This is a classic, fun MGM movie from the 1940s. I love Herbert Marshall and he was really funny in this movie. Susan Peters and Elliot Reed were pretty bratty but Richard Carleson gave a nice balance to it. This movie seemed the most of what college might have been like-though I do wonder if freshman really wore little beanies.

•Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble (1944)- Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) goes to college and is surrounded by beautiful girls-his dream. Two twin blondes trick him and he falls for the icy Kay Wilson (Bonita Granville). Hardy competes with professor Dr. Standish (Herbert Marshall) for Kay’s attention. To review: I don’t like the Andy Hardy movies as much when he goes to college. However, the way college was represented seemed to be pretty realistic.

Peter Lawford and June Allyson in “Good News”

Good News (1947)- In the 1920s, co-ed librarian June Allyson isn’t exactly what you would call a vamp. Allyson falls for popular, football star Peter Lawford but he is interested in modern woman, Patricia Marshall.  Several songs are fit in during the pursuit of love, including a great number involving “The Varsity Drag.” To review: Once again, I wonder if in the 1920s, schools were so small to have one person who is the most popular? The movie is fun and colorful, but it seems more a vehicle for Joan McCracken and Patricia Marshall-neither who did much else in movies. I wish June Allyson was in the movie more, because she was the whole reason I watched it.

Apartment For Peggy (1948)- Peggy (Jeanne Crain) and Jason (William Holden) are married, and Jason is going to college as a chemistry major using the G.I. Bill.  Professor Henry Barnes (Edmund Gwenn), a professor at the college, has decided he has lived long enough and wants to commit suicide. The couple lives in a trailer, but needs more room because Peggy is expecting. The professor agrees to let the couple rent out his attic as an apartment and his views on life begin to change. To review: This is a really fun and cute movie. It is very light hearted but let me warn you for some sad parts. I think the college aspect is pretty realistic when put in perspective of post-war men using G.I. Bill to go to college and their wives and their struggles.

Mr. Belvedere Goes to College(1949)- Clifton Webb as Mr. Belvedere decides to enroll in college since his highest level of education is from the fifth grade.  Though he is older than all the students, Belvedere is considered a freshman and has to deal with ritual hazing. During all of this he makes friends with Tom Drake and beautiful Shirley Temple who has a secret. To review: The movie is very funny, and Clifton Webb gives a droll perfomance as always. Other than the hazing, I thought this seemed pretty similar to a real college. It was pretty large and it didn’t seem like there was that one person in charge.

The Varisty Drag from Good News:

Other college films:
College (1927)- Starring Buster Keaton
College Swing (1938)- Starring Bob Hope, Gracie Allen and Martha Raye
Dancing Co-Ed (1939)-Starring Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford,  and Artie Shaw
These Glamour Girls (1939)- Starring Lana Turner, Lew Ayres and Anita Louise
Second Chorus (1940)- Starring Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard, Burgess Meredith and Artie Shaw
The Feminine Touch (1941)- Starring Rosalind Russell and Ray Milland
The Male Animal (1942)- Starring Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Leslie
The Falcon and The Co-Ed (1943)- Starring Tom Conway
Mother Is A Freshman (1949)- Starring Van Johnson and Loretta Young
HIGH TIME (1960)- Starring Bing Crosby, Tuesday Weld and Richard Beymer
Joy in the Morning (1965)- Starring Richard Chamberlin and Yvette Mimeux

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