Thursday, January 05, 2006

Tonight's Movie: Duchess of Idaho (1950)

This movie is a delightful romantic trifle starring Esther Williams and Van Johnson. Swimming star Esther is trying to engineer a romance between her roommate (Paula Raymond) and her roommate's boss (John Lund), which leads to complications in Esther's own romance with band leader Van.

The plot unfolds briskly and serves as a good excuse for several musical numbers -- including guest spots by Lena Horne and Eleanor Powell -- two of Esther's trademark water ballets, and a lovely MGM Sun Valley setting, with eye-catching sets and costumes. Red Skelton pops in for a one-minute cameo and has the funniest line in the movie.

The supporting cast includes the inimitable Clinton Sundberg (as Lund's butler), Mel Torme (as a hapless bellhop), Amanda Blake, and Bobby Troup, who appears as a singer and musician in Van Johnson's band. My children are currently watching Troup as "Dr. Joe Early" in EMERGENCY!", a childhood favorite of mine which they received on DVD for Christmas, and enjoyed recognizing the younger Troup. Torme and Troup have bit roles here, but they composed two of the great classics of the American Songbook: "The Christmas Song" and "Route 66," respectively.

The film is currently only available on video, at a steep price. A boxed set of Esther Williams movies is due on DVD in coming months; perhaps this will turn up among the titles.

This movie may not be particularly well-known, but it's a great example of the kind of handsomely made family fare which MGM turned out on a regular basis during its Golden Era.

2011 Update: This film is now available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive. The DVD includes outtake musical numbers by Mel Torme and Lena Horne.

2013 Update: I've now posted an expanded, illustrated review of this film, viewed again on the day of Esther Williams' passing.


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