Summer’s here, so I thought I’d go for a summer-themed Double Bill this month. And yeah, there’s a lot to choose from, but in the end, I went with… Esther Williams! And why not? Why not watch a couple of Esther Williams films, you know, the ones where she’s in the pool all the time? They’re fun, they’re sweet, they’re gooooorgeous and they have that harmless summer-y loveliness that makes you feel all warm inside.
Thrill of a Romance (dir. Richard Thorpe) is a perfectly charming film about a swimming instructor named Cynthia (Williams) who falls in love with war veteran Tommy (Van Johnson) while on her honeymoon. A fairly straight-forward plot, the film enjoys a supporting cast that very nearly steals the show, with Henry Travers and Spring Byington providing the laughs as Cynthia’s uncle and aunt, and Big Band icon Tommy Dorsey and opera singer Lauritz Melchior giving the movie that all-too-familiar MGM musical flair. Despite its stupid title, Thrill of a Romance is a lot better than it sounds. It isn’t the greatest of summertime romance movies, but it is absolutely lovely and thouroughly entertaining, albeit slightly dated. Besides, it’s an MGM picture! If nothing else, you get to look at it. It’s colorful, it’s extravagant, it’s bright and those bathing suits! Oh! I hate to use the expression ‘guilty pleasure’, but if this isn’t it, I don’t know what is.
Million Dollar Mermaid (dir. Mervyn LeRoy) stars Esther Williams as pioneering Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman and documents the early part of Kellerman’s life, from her childhood to her rise to stardom, highlighting her struggles, achievements and influence. The film co-stars Walter Pidgeon as Frederick Kellerman, her stern but supportive father and Victor Mature as Jimmy Sullivan, her manager and romantic interest. Often considered Esther Williams’ most iconic film, Million Dollar Mermaid is a suprisingly progressive film and it should not be underestimated. The similarities between Kellerman’s and Williams’ own life – both started out as swimmers, then went on be in movies – are apparent and, let’s face it, there was nobody more suited for this than Williams, who delivers a fine, slightly atypical and informed performance as the Australian icon. On top of this, Million Dollar Mermaid is an MGM spectacle, you know, the kind MGM was so outrageously good at, full of color, big, beautiful sets and breath-takingly stunning musical numbers.
Thrill of a Romance and Million Dollar Mermaid are fine films in their own right, as well as perfect summertime entertainment. I love this sort of stuff. I wouldn’t mind spending all day watching MGM extravaganzas and while these two are not necessarily my favorite summer flicks, you can’t go wrong with either of them. Besides, I thought I’d give Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955) a break for once. Even I’m sick of talking about it.