Tuesday, May 03, 2011

TCM Star of the Month: Esther Williams

This month Turner Classic Movies features a longtime favorite of mine, Esther Williams, as its Star of the Month.

TCM will be showing 21 Williams films in May, beginning Wednesday evening, May 5th.

Esther Williams, of course, holds a unique place in cinema history as the great swimming star of the movies. But there was more to her than that: she had a charming and confident personality which translated into a very appealing screen presence, and of course, she was truly a bathing beauty.

I've seen most of Williams' films multiple times, going back to when I discovered MGM musicals around the age of 10 or 11, and in turn, she was an actress who helped lure my children -- one in particular -- into being classic film fans.

Even the lesser of Williams' films are, among other things, marvels of Technicolor. There isn't a movie released today that looks anything like an Esther Williams film, and we're the poorer for it.

The fun kicks off May 5th with Williams' first starring role, in BATHING BEAUTY (1944), costarring Red Skelton and Basil Rathbone, not to mention Xavier Cugat!

That's followed by THRILL OF A ROMANCE (1945) with Van Johnson and then EASY TO WED (1946), a fun remake of LIBELED LADY (1936) costarring Van Johnson, Lucille Ball, and Keenan Wynn.

FIESTA (1947) is one of my favorite Williams films, though not so much for her or the story, which is some silliness about her wanting to be a bullfighter; the reason I love it is because it features some really spectacular dancing by Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban. The movie's worth watching for them alone.

The evening concludes with THIS TIME FOR KEEPS (1947) and ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU (1948), the latter once again costarring the great team of Charisse and Montalban, along with Peter Lawford.

Five films will be shown on May 12th, starting with one of my favorites, NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER (1949). Esther starred with a great cast -- Montalban, Skelton, and the late, great Betty Garrett -- in the film which gave us the Oscar-winning song "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

That's followed by another favorite, TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME (1949), starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Garrett. I couldn't begin to tell you how many times I've seen this film or heard "O'Brien to Ryan to Goldberg."

DUCHESS OF IDAHO (1950), PAGAN LOVE SONG (1950), and TEXAS CARNIVAL (1951) close out the evening; the lead actors in those titles are Van Johnson, Howard Keel, and Howard Keel, respectively.

On May 19th Williams plays swimmer Annette Kellerman in MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID (1952), costarring Victor Mature and Walter Pidgeon.

SKIRTS AHOY! (1952) is a modestly entertaining film about the WAVES. DANGEROUS WHEN WET (1953) costars Fernando Lamas, who became Williams' husband in 1969; the marriage lasted until his death in 1982. EASY TO LOVE (1953) was the last of Williams' films with Van Johnson.

The last film on the 19th is one of her strangest, JUPITER'S DARLING (1955), a film set in ancient Rome which also stars Howard Keel, Marge and Gower Champion, and George Sanders. This one left me cold the only time I saw it, but it's one of my younger daughter's favorite films!

The films shown on May 26th are an interesting grouping of Williams' early work, bit parts, cameo roles, and straight dramatic work.

The evening starts with one of the rare Williams films I haven't seen, a drama called THE UNGUARDED MOMENT (1956).

Also shown: her early work in ANDY HARDY'S DOUBLE LIFE (1942), a small role in A GUY NAMED JOE (1943), THE HOODLUM SAINT (1946) with William Powell, and a film in which she played a cameo, CALLAWAY WENT THATAWAY (1951).

It would be nice if sometime this month TCM squeezed in a 17-minute short she made with Edward Arnold, INFLATION (1942), but to date I've not read anywhere that it will be shown.

For those who miss Williams' films on TCM, I highly recommend the TCM Spotlight DVD sets Esther Williams, Vol. 1 and Volume 2. They get a lot of play in our house. :)

A decade ago, Williams published her memoir THE MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Fans can also visit the Official Esther Williams Website.

For more information on TCM in May, please visit TCM in May: Highlights or the complete schedule.

June 2013 Update: Farewell to Esther Williams.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Esther's movies take me back to Sunday matinees on local television. She was so pretty and sassy that it was easy to become a fan.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Wonderful post. I always loved Esther's films, because they always remind me of Summer.

5:44 AM  

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