Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Easy to Love (1953)

EASY TO LOVE is a terrifically entertaining film starring the late, great Esther Williams. This movie is a spectacular illustration for anyone who wants to know what an Esther Williams film is all about.

Esther plays Julie Hallerton, who water-skis and swims in shows at Cypress Gardens in Florida. She's rather inexplicably in love with her boss Ray Lloyd (Van Johnson), a manipulative workhorse who constantly guilts Julie into doing one more job, one more personal appearance.

When charming singer Barry Gordon (Tony Martin) falls for Julie while she's on a trip to New York, it looks as though Julie has found the real Mr. Right and will transfer her affections to Barry. If only.

The movie's one flaw, actually, is that Barry is so nice and genuinely interested in Julie -- plus he sings like an angel -- that it makes it really hard to see what Julie likes in Ray. Ray continually lets Julie down, and there doesn't seem to be much of an up side to their relationship. Sure, we know she loves him 'cause he's Van Johnson, but other than that...Barry's the one who's the catch.

The screenplay writes itself into a bit of a corner with this issue, but then extricates itself brilliantly with a Hail Mary pass that will leave any musical fan with a huge smile at the end. Barry comes out A-OK, and that's an understatement. It had been so long since I saw the film that I'd completely forgotten how it ended, and I confess it actually made me tear up a little with happiness. More than that I won't say.

Esther looks absolutely fabulous, dressed in creations by the great Helen Rose. She has a variety of swimming numbers which are all very different, special in their own ways. The opening swim routine, with John Bromfield, is quite a seductive, elegant number. Later she swims in a tank during a job tryout, showing off lovely somersaults and other balletic swim moves through the glass.

The final number is a massive water-ski routine designed by Busby Berkeley, and it still thrills today. It's even more impressive when the viewer knows that Williams was pregnant at the time -- and had never water-skiied before in her life! Williams insisted that a double perform the final high dive, fearing it could cause a miscarriage, but otherwise that's Esther out there on skis throughout the number, even jumping over the orchestra!

This was the last film teaming Esther with her frequent costar Van Johnson. Some of the posters are amusing, implying that Van was also on water-skis, but that's not the case. Poor Van is actually saddled with a fairly unlikeable character in this, and he's also not photographed to best effect, with his skin looking noticeably splotchy in a couple shots.

EASY TO LOVE is a bit of a reversal of Van and Esther's relationship seen in their previous film, DUCHESS OF IDAHO (1950), where Van had the nicer character and Esther was constantly stringing him along. But, anyway, despite the annoying character, it's Van Johnson and he and Esther always end up together so presumably they'll live happily ever after!

Look for Carroll Baker in a small role as Barry's jealous girlfriend; it was her first feature film. The cast also includes King Donovan and Edna Skinner.

EASY TO LOVE was directed by Charles Walters, a nice man who, as I recounted a few years ago, I had the good fortune to meet. He and Esther were good friends and actually created the story for MGM's ATHENA (1954) together, only to have MGM steal it away to use as a Jane Powell-Debbie Reynolds movie.

EASY TO LOVE runs 96 minutes. It was shot in Technicolor by Ray June. The extended location shooting in Florida is a real plus for the movie.

EASY TO LOVE is part of the TCM Spotlight Esther Williams Volume 2 DVD collection. It can be rented from Netflix and ClassicFlix.

It also had a release on VHS.

EASY TO LOVE is also shown on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer can be seen on the TCM website.

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