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:
“Jupiter’s Darling” – Musical #110
Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Marge Champion, Gower Champion, George Sanders, William Demarest, Richard Haydn, Norma Varden
A fabricated tale based on a historical event set in 216 B.C. when Hannibal (Keel) marched on Rome. Amytis (Williams) is the fiance to Roman dictator Fabius (Sanders). Curious and spirited Amytis hears Hannibal is attractive and wants to check out him, his troops and elephants that are stationed outside Rome. Amytis and her slave girl, Meta (Champion), are captured and brought to Hannibal. Amytis charms Hannibal, purposefully delaying he and his troops from attacking Rome.
-Remake of “The Private Life of Helen of Troy” (1927) which starred Maria Corda, Lewis Stone, Ricardo Cortez and Alice White.
-Esther William’s singing was dubbed by Jo Ann Greer.
-In the film, Esther Williams’ character rides a horse that dives off of a cliff into water. Esther Williams wrote in her autobiography, “Million Dollar Mermaid” that director George Sidney wanted her to do the stunt but she refused. Stunt man Al Lewin performed the stunt and broke his back in the process.
-Esther Williams’ last film made under contract at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
-The pool Williams swims in was modeled after William Randolph Hearst’s pool at his estate, San Simeon, according to Esther Williams’ autobiography.
-The “underwater statues” in the “I Have a Dream” underwater sequence were secured to the bottom of the pool wearing cleats, according to Williams’ autobiography.
-Williams broke her left eardrum, which had been broken five times before in films, while swimming in the 25 feet deep pool for the “I Have a Dream” sequence, according to her autobiography.
-The Hayes of Office, which dictated the moral censorship production codes, was uncertain about the scantily clad “marble statues” during the “I Have a Dream” sequence, Williams wrote.
-The movie opened to a disappointing box office. Williams wrote this was “not surprising.”
-Howard Keel said he felt this was the best film he and Williams made together and Hannibal was his best performance, he wrote in his autobiography “Only Make Believe.”
-In one scene, Keel and Williams walk in with a leopard. The director suggested Keel pick up the leopard and the animal bit his shoulder. Thankfully he was wearing leather armor, according to Keel’s autobiography.
Esther Williams swimming with a “marble statue” in the ‘I Have a Dream” sequence.
-The underwater, swimming “I Have a Dream” dream sequence with men painted like white marble statues. Notable mainly because it’s a bit odd, but it is staged pretty nicely too since it is all underwater. This includes swimming small children dressed as cherubs who shoot arrows.
-Husband and wife dancers Marge and Gower Champion to the song “If This Be Slavery.” The actual song is silly but this is the one dance in the movie that really show cases their talent. The dance with “The Life Of An Elephant” is a bit distracted by the actual elephants (though the babies are really cute).
-“Don’t Let This Night Get Away” sung by Howard Keel
-“I Have a Dream” sung by Esther Williams, dubbed by Jo Ann Greer
Esther Williams is one of my favorite stars, but “Jupiter’s Darling” is just no good. And Williams knew it too, according to her autobiography.
“Jupiter’s Darling” is not just a turning point in Esther Williams’ career but also the movie musical at MGM.
This musical marks the end of Esther Williams’ MGM career. At one point, she was MGM’s top star. After 12 years at MGM, it’s sad that her career at the studio that made her famous was a bit of a dud.
To put it into context, gossip columns around this time were writing “The Mermaid on the Lot has been beached,” according to Williams’ autobiography.
She was originally supposed to star the musical “Athena,” but was replaced by Jane Powell (but if you ask me-that wouldn’t have been any better of a last MGM film than this one).
Led by studio head Dore Schary, MGM was suffering and many of it’s major stars were leaving. Greer Garson, Clark Gable and Van Johnson were already “jumping ship.”
At the same time “Jupiter’s Darling” was released, Lana Turner also suffered from bad reviews for her film “The Prodigal.” Trade papers were both saying Williams and Turner were losing their fan base.
After this film, Williams was offered the lead in “The Opposite Sex,” the remake of “The Women” (1939). Williams wrote in her autobiography she thought it was ridiculous to remake the classic and refused. Williams realized Schary was probably purposefully giving her terrible scripts and that this was the end of her career, so she left and broke her contract.
It had been over 10 years since I last saw this movie and in my mind it was the worst movie.
After revisiting it- while “Jupiter’s Darling” isn’t the worst film ever made- it’s simply not very good.
In the 1950s and 1960s, several ancient history films were being made such as “The Robe,” “Ben-Hur” or “Spartacus.” “Jupiter’s Darling” fits into that fad but it just doesn’t work. Probably because it is so historically inaccurate.
The songs are ridiculous such as “Never Trust a Woman” which has lyrics about decapitating or “Hannibal” which is simply “Hannibal, oh Hannibal we’re fighting men of Hanniabl.”
I will admit that the color is beautiful and Williams’ looks gorgeous in the Roman costumes. However, set dressing and costumes can not save this film.
It’s a shame that Esther Williams glittering career had to end with such a dud. If you have never seen an Esther Williams film, don’t start with this one.
Esther Williams and Howard Keel in “Jupiter’s Darling”
Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at email@example.com