DUCHESS OF IDAHO is one of my very favorite Esther Williams movies. I wrote about it briefly way back in January 2006, when I'd only been blogging for a few months.
I picked DUCHESS OF IDAHO up from the Warner Archive a while ago but hadn't gotten around to watching it yet. With the sad news today of Esther Williams' passing, watching this film was the perfect way to celebrate her life.
Esther plays Christine, the star of a water show called MELODY IN SWIMTIME. (She's seen at the right in a set photo taken for LIFE magazine.) Meanwhile Christine's quiet roommate Ellen (Paula Raymond) is madly in love with her boss, Douglas (John Lund), a playboy who doesn't seem to notice her, at least as more than an efficient secretary.
When Douglas sets off for vacation in Sun Valley, Christine comes up with a crazy plot to pursue him there, hoping to drive him right back into the waiting arms of Ellen. (It's a long story...) Meanwhile Dick (Van Johnson), a band leader Christine meets on the train to Sun Valley, is head over heels for Christine but is frustrated by her seeming interest in Douglas.
There are so many things I love about this movie, starting with the fact that I'm a big fan of John Lund, and he's really almost more of the leading man than Van Johnson. (Williams, Johnson and Lund are all billed above the title.) I love his character's fascination with cooking, and his love story with Paula Raymond is delightful, especially the way the two characters bond over a biscuit recipe.
Of course, it's an Esther Williams movie so she has plenty of screen time! There are big water ballets to open and close the film, plus she does a little swimming with Van Johnson in the Sun Valley pool. Williams and Johnson were regular costars, and it's always good to see them together on screen.
Esther in this film makes me think a bit of Deanna Durbin's frequent screen persona, insofar as with all her scheming, her character really can be a bit of a pill, but she has so much audience goodwill that we go right along with it. And we can't help being charmed in the process.
Van Johnson performs band numbers with Connie Haines and the "Jubilaires," who include Bobby Troup. There are also specialty numbers by Lena Horne and Eleanor Powell which are smoothly worked into the film without interrupting the flow of the story, or maybe it's more accurate to say the numbers are so enjoyable the viewer doesn't mind taking time out for a couple minutes! This was Eleanor's last movie performance, and her tap number is sensational, as always.
Later in the film Red Skelton even pops in for a few seconds! It's that kind of a movie.
The Sun Valley location footage is gorgeous; it's rather as though scenes from one of MGM's Traveltalk shorts are periodically dropped into the movie. The lead actors never leave the studio, but the back projections are better than average quality, and the film conveys a great Sun Valley atmosphere.
LATIN LOVERS (1953); both films are so colorful and attractive, I think they could each be enjoyed with the sound off! Both movies feature costumes by the great Helen Rose.
Clinton Sundberg has a nice role as Lund's butler. That's Amanda Blake, "Miss Kitty" herself, as the redhead Lund wants to dump. Watch for Mae Clarke (THE PUBLIC ENEMY) as the resort florist. Bess Flowers, the extra who seemingly never missed a party, turns up in the dance contest scene.
DUCHESS OF IDAHO was directed by Robert Z. Leonard. The Technicolor cinematography was by Charles Schoenbaum.
DUCHESS OF IDAHO can also be seen on periodically on Turner Classic Movies, although unfortunately it won't be part of their 24-hour Esther Williams marathon next week.
TCM has the trailer available online.
This film was also released on VHS.
DUCHESS OF IDAHO is a movie which never fails to make me happy. Recommended for those who love Esther Williams, as well as those who'd like to get to know her work.