This was my first Esther Williams movie. I'm always amazed by the movies I think I know because I've seen lots of clips or satires of them. It's easy to sell a movie like Jupiter's Darling short. Williams plays Amytis, a Greek woman who lives in Rome around the time of Hannibal's invasion. She is trying to squirm out of a protracted engagement with Fabius, Dictator of Rome (George Sanders), when she stumbles onto Hannibal himself (Howard Keel). Amytis and her slave Meta (Marge Champion) are taken prisoner and, of course, find love as a result. Singing, dancing and flimsy excuses for underwater ballet ensue. One of the most enjoyable things about an Esther Williams movie is that almost anything is a pretext for a swimming sequence. She always wears a bathing suit under her clothes, just in case she needs to throw down. In one scene she jumps her horse off a huge cliff, leading a pack of Hannibal's men on an underwater chase that is exciting as it is graceful.
The action begins with Amytis and Meta on a shopping trip that ends with Meta buying a boyfriend, Varius (played by her real-life husband, Gower Champion), in one of several terrific numbers choreographed by Herme's Pan. Meta and Varius take turning owning one another through a plot twist or two which providies a comic foil for the mondo battle of the sexes going on between the leads. A lot of people getting tied up in this movie. I'm just sayin.
The most interesting water scene is "I have a Dream." It begins with a forgettable musical number that Esther sings while feeling up the muscle-bound statues around her pool. Then she dives under water and the statues become dudes in body paint swimming around with her. This is how shallow I am: I think a scene where a woman gets to fondle a bunch of silent guys is feminist. Heck, it's the same principle behind Jane Campion's The Piano except that I was actually entertained by Jupiter's Darling.
I admit that I watched this movie because it starred George Sanders. His character doesn't get much screen time, but he makes the most of it. Fabius has mother issues. He also wears yellow all the time. I'm not sure what this means, but Sanders gets some priceless scenes of being a ruthless dictator completely controlled by his mom. He gets to "simper" in about a dozen different ways. C'est magnifique.
So after Esther hooks up with Hannibal, of course, the first thing she does is get him in the water. He doesn't swim so she drags his whining, baritone ass along with her. I've never been a big Howard Keel fan, but I like him in this movie, because he has nice legs and he doesn't ever wear pants. Not even once. Way to go, Howard. One of my informants tells me that Keel and Sanders got along on set and spent a lot of time giggling during their scenes, which instantly makes me like Keel even more.
I heartily recommend Jupiter's Darling for the sparkling, mindless entertainment that it is. I look forward to more Esther Williams in future.
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