Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jupiter's Darling (1955)

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.


Anonymous said...

So far, I've watched three Esther Williams movies. (They can't be called films; they just don't rate that high!)

Easy to Wed is the best one I've seen yet -- and Lucille Ball is in it! She completely steals the show.

I think I need to see Jupiter's Darling though. It sounds like monstrous fun! ;D

Jennythenipper said...

I'll keep a look-out for Easy to Wed. I love Lucy.

rudyfan1926 said...

Well, this is a George Sanders film I've missed! A pantless Howard Keel is A-Okay by me (I adore him). I'm less of an Esther Williams fan, but this sure looks to be well worth checking out! Thanks!

Ladybug said...

Thanks once again Jenny. For me the saddest part about this film is cutting George's song. He also did a version of "I Have a Dream".

When they were having problems with the cat, it was Sanders' suggestion to Keel to go ahead and do the scene that nearly ended with Keel being sent to the hospital.

Didn't end the friendship or the giggling.

SteveQ said...

It's always fun to see how they work swimming into the plots for Esther, but it's amazing how much better her films are than Sonia Henie's skating pics. It's a shame the U.S. didn't have women's pole vault back then - I'd love to see, say, Maid Marian thrusting herself to a balcony to escape the bad guys!

Jennythenipper said...

Steve, if I ever become rich and famous, I would like to hire you to be my in-house crap expert. You really have like a PH.D. in obscure, weird and the terrible. So awesome.

Sonia Henie made movies? Who knew. Wow. The sum total of what I know about Sonia Henie was that she wore a tutu (as per Sherman Potter on MASH.)

I looked it up on IMDB and now I have to see the one called "Thin Ice" with Tyrone Power.

SteveQ said...

As much as I love the weird terrible and obscure, if you're going to watch Sonia Henie movies, skip the one with the Three Stooges - it's just sad.

btw,you could probably afford my services right now; I come pretty cheap.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

I remember seeing this on TV years ago.

"Hannibal, the mighty Hannibal the conqueror of the world!"

California Girl said...

In ancient Greece and Egypt, yellow represented the divine. Perhaps that carried over to Rome and the film makers knew it. Or, perhaps it was a lucky coincidence. I wrote a theme on yellow a while back and learned the significance of the color in different cultures:

I've never heard of this movie. While I'm usually bored by her films, you make this sound fun so I'll keep an eye out.

Jennythenipper said...

Thanks for the info California girl. I was thinking of yellow=cowardice and being afraid to confront your mom. But truly Mr. Sanders is divine in anything so you may be right.

I think the key to enjoying an Esther Williams movie is to be in the mood for it and embrace the cheese.

Tom said...

While Esther Williams was an underwater movie star for years (the only one!) "Jupiter's Darling" was ahead of the camp curve and went a tad too far in unmasking the entire swimming movie star genre as bogus. It was a box office disappointment and Esther Williams never made another major MGM swimming picture. This was it for her but what a bizarre finale!

Unknown said...

Esther Williams is one of my favorite 'aquatic' actresses. I would have liked to be one of the underwater background swimmers in ''Million Dollar Mermaid''...

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