Since I participated in last year’s Esther Williams Blogathon, it made sense for me to join the 100 Years of Esther Williams Blogathon. Hosted again by Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood, I wanted to review one of Esther’s films this time. I try to watch and write about as many movie recommendations as I can. Because Rebecca from Taking Up Room suggested I check out Bathing Beauty, that’s the film I chose to review! In 2020, for a different blogathon, I saw my first film of Esther’s; 1949’s Take Me Out to the Ball Game. That film gave Esther only one swimming scene, with the majority of her scenes taking place on land. With a movie titled Bathing Beauty, I was excited to see more of Esther’s swimming routines! Also, in 2020, I saw my first movie of Red Skelton’s; 1953’s The Clown. So, I was looking forward to talking about one of his earlier films! Now, let’s dive into this review of Bathing Beauty!
Things I liked about the film:
The costume designs: One thing I noticed while watching Bathing Beauty was the use of vibrant colors. This can definitely be seen within the film’s costume designs! At the very beginning of the film, Esther wore a hot pink swimsuit with a matching bow. The show-stopping piece, however, was her over-the-shoulder cape! This cream-colored piece was adorned in colorful flower appliques, adding touches of bright green, yellow, and pink. Besides pink, red was a common color found among the costumes. The students at Victoria College wore a uniform that consisted of a khaki dress. Red berets and neck ties provided a pop of color, not only pairing nicely with the khaki material, but also complimenting light and dark hair colors. During the performance of “I Cried for You”, Helen Forrest wore a rusty red colored dress. While the shape and style of the dress itself was simple, there was a sparkly belt and neckline. This small detail helped Helen’s dress appear elegant and appealing to the eye.
Red Skelton’s comedy: As I mentioned in my review of The Clown, I am familiar with Red Skelton as an entertainer. This knowledge caused me to be disappointed by the limited use of comedy in that film. Because Bathing Beauty is a romantic comedy, the material gave Red Skelton more opportunities to showcase his comedic talents. The ballet lesson from The Clown also appeared in Bathing Beauty. This time, Red’s character, Steve, took the lesson because it was a part of the college curriculum. Even after a year of first seeing it, this scene is still hilarious! The slapstick nature of Red’s comedy and the graceful reputation of ballet creates a funny oxymoron. Sometimes, Red’s comedy could be heard within the script. While at a local bar, Steve and a fellow patron explain their problems using nearby fruit. When Steve chooses to represent himself through a pineapple, he makes a comment about how he needs a haircut. Little comments like that one help include comedy into conversations among the characters!
The cinematography: An element within Bathing Beauty that stood out was the cinematography! It surprised me how good it was, especially for a film released in 1944! Anytime Esther swam underwater, those scenes were captured very well, presenting a clear view of what was happening under the surface. This added to the appeal of the swimming/water related scenes within the movie. In one scene, Esther’s character, Caroline, kisses Steve by the poolside. As she slowly dips under the water, Steve’s face follows her, with a close-up shot of his face shown under the water as well. Keeping in mind the limited technology of the ‘40s, these scenes were, to an extent, ahead of their time. A few scenes featured Harry James and His Music Makers. During these scenes, Harry was captured in close-up and medium shots. The camera also moved with him, presenting the illusion that Harry was floating among the orchestra. Because he was the star of those performances, this was a interesting way of highlighting Harry’s importance in those scenes!
What I didn’t like about the film:
A somewhat misleading title: This movie is not only called Bathing Beauty, but it also stars Esther Williams. Therefore, certain expectations are placed on the film for those reasons. While we do see Esther in the pool, this was shown for two scenes: toward the beginning and end of the movie. The rest of the film shows Esther spending more time on land. Even when Basil Rathbone’s character, George, mentions a water pageant on several occasions, this was not the main focus of the overall story. After having Take Me Out to the Ball Game as my introduction to Esther’s filmography, I was left a little disappointed.
Red and Esther’s on-screen chemistry: While I have seen at least one film of Esther’s and Red’s, this was my first time seeing a movie starring both of them. Throughout the movie, they had nice on-chemistry. However, I thought Red had stronger on-screen chemistry with Jean Porter. Portraying one of the students at Victoria College, Jean displayed an on-screen personality that was similar to Red’s, coming across as easy-going and spunky. During the musical number, “I’ll Take the High Note”, Red and Jean performed so well together. I wanted Steve and Caroline to work out their relationship issues. But because of “I’ll Take the High Note”, I wish Jean and Red had led a film together.
A weak connection between the story and musical numbers: Musicals can be an enjoyable experience. Songs and instrumentals can progress a story forward, as well as help the audience get to know the story’s characters. With Bathing Beauty, there were several musical numbers sprinkled throughout the film. But anytime a musical number took place, it caused the story to pause. Even though these musical numbers were entertaining, the only one that directly connected to the film’s narrative was “I’ll Take the High Note”. This is because the number was a part of an assignment Steve had to complete in order to pass his music class. As I mentioned earlier, a water pageant is brought up on multiple occasions. However, this was the only water related spectacle in the movie. Because Esther was one of the stars of the film and because the story takes place in two states surrounding water (California and New Jersey), this feels, to an extent, like a missed opportunity for more water related numbers.
My overall impression:
The end of any Olympics is an exciting time. A closing ceremony filled with spectacle and awe give athletes, fans, and people from that host country something to look forward to. As this year’s Tokyo Olympics come to a close, I can’t but think of blogathons being similar to the Olympics. Think of it like this: the athletes that represent a particular country share one common goal. That goal is to bring home as many medals as realistically possible. The Olympics themselves have a start and end date, taking place in a different location. While there are typically no prizes involved in blogathons, participants share a common goal: talk about and celebrate the chosen subject. In this case, that subject is Esther Williams. Like the Olympics, Michaela’s event is an annual one that has a clear start and end date. Yes, it is known that Esther never went to the Olympics as planned. But I’d like to think she became a champion in her own right. An Olympic podium turned into an aqua-musical stage. Gold medals became a thirty-three project filmography. Instead of hearing the National Anthem after an Olympic win, show tunes are the chosen sound within Esther’s performances. I’d also like to think Esther paved the way for swimmers that came after her. Maybe aquamusicals haven’t made a comeback, but swimmers have been able to find own their success, almost like Esther did.
Overall score: 7.6 out of 10
Have you seen any of Esther Williams’ films? If so, which one would you want me to review next? Tell me in the comment section below!
Have fun at the movies!