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If you want to Esther Williams in one of her better roles check this one
out. While she still has two very nice water ballet sequences, the best
parts of the movie involve the funny antics of its players. The cast is
good especially Williams and Van Johnson who have a great chemistry. It's
wonder they made 3 other movies together. Johnson is absolutely charming
Williams shows that she can do more than just swim. She definately holds
Of course it is pretty easy to perdict what will happen, but it's still a lot of fun. It will definately puts a smile on the face. It's also very neat to see a very young Mel Torme as a messenger.
DUCHESS OF IDAHO (1950) is one of those lesser-known MGM/Joe Pasternak
musicals that bridge the marathon musical spectaculars of the 1940s
(BATHING BEAUTY, TWO GIRLS AND A SAILOR) and the more streamlined
editions of the 1950s (EASY TO LOVE, Texas CARNIVAL, etc). But as with
many of the '40s films DUCHESS is still more concerned with wit, music,
and pure style than any kind of cohesive plot line. Musically we're
still in the '40s big band mode here, and the songs, by some of MGM's
lesser-hyped tunesmiths, are catchy, serviceable, and very 40-ish.
(JAILHOUSE ROCK and Presley were still seven years in the future). A
highlight is "Let's Choo Choo Choo to Idaho," arranged by Skip Martin,
and performed on a train on route to Sun Valley by vivacious band
singer Connie Haines, Van Johnson, and an African American quartet
called the Jubalaires.
Lena Horne is also on hand with a few numbers, as is Eleanor Powell for one of her last big solo dances on film, and comedian Red Skelton also puts in a guest appearance. A none-singing Mel Torme briefly appears (as a bellhop), and ditto "Gunsmoke's" titian-haired Amanda Blake as one of Lund's rejected girlfriends). In the second female lead Paula Raymond is one of those obscure but promising MGM personalities who, however, never quite made a break through. In DUCHESS she shows glimmers of charm but is seriously handicapped by some of the clunkiest outfits in the usually impeccable MGM wardrobe.
The look of DUCHESS anticipates the peak Technicolor styling of such early 50s MGMs as LOVELY TO LOOK AT, YOUNG BESS, and SCARAMOUCHE. Many of the interiors are keyed to soft beiges and earth tones against which Esther's always-modish outfits (one of which includes slipper socks!) stand out in jolts of brilliance. And of course it wouldn't be an Esther Williams picture without a few aqua numbers though those featured here are some of her most restrained. (A nocturnal ski run with multi-colored torches also provides a trippy visual/musical interlude mid-film).
Someone once said about Esther that "Wet she's a star, but dry she ain't," but on the whole DUCHESS showcases the star's under-rated acting skills and her often-ironic sense of humor. ("You'll see Esther Williams swim and ski and skate and do a dozen thrilling things!" the movie book ads proclaimed). While as noted the plot is not the strongest, the dialogue (by three credited screenwriters) is witty, often sophisticated, and well-delivered by all involved, including deadpan MGM character staple, Clinton Sundberg, who mutters an on-going chorus of grumbling asides as Lund's much put-upon man Friday. DUCHESS OF IDAHO is the cover story for the August, 1950 issue of "Screen Stories" which also includes a full-page ad for the film in the prime MGM spot right next to the contents, indicating that the studio considered this one of their key box-office attractions for the summer.
Watching this movie made for a very pleasant Sunday morning. It's a typical boy-gets-girl...boy-loses-girl...etc., film, but wholesome in its content and dialog. How refreshing to see Esther Williams portray a thoughtful friend in trying to assist in her roommate's quest for her bosses affection, with no malice or self serving interest. The chef to this boss provides some amusing lines - but some real smiles come when you see that Van Johnson's band isn't really playing their instruments (if you look close, you will see that the piano player only taps the tops of the keys!). Of course, there are the gratuitous swimming scenes to showcase Esther Williams ~ but you find yourself watching her movies to see how they'll weave in this angle each time! This movie serves the purpose for which it was intended - a little light hearted fluff to put a smile on your face. All in all, a pleasant way to accompany a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning.
"You always have to have a plot. There's never an easy way of doing
things." So says JOHN LUND in this typical ESTHER WILLIAMS movie based
on the familiar mix-ups involved when nobody tells the truth.
The mix-ups begin when Esther offers to help secretary PAULR RAYMOND catch a rich playboy (Lund), suggesting a trip to romantic surroundings in Sun Valley, Idaho would help. Esther, in the meantime, is pursued by VAN JOHNSON, a bandleader at the resort, who soon melts her heart. In the interim, there are guest appearances by RED SKELTON (at a potato square-dance contest that is deftly done) and ELEANOR POWELL, who does a guest spot in the usual MGM manner of at first coyly refusing to dance when requested. Then she rips into an impromptu routine that had to be rehearsed for at least three weeks. So much for reality.
It's a strictly fun, escapist musical, which is all it pretends to be. ESTHER WILLIAMS and PAUL RAYMOND look gorgeous in their various Technicolor outfits and Esther gets to do a couple of swimming numbers in her usual charming manner. JOHN LUND and VAN JOHNSON do nicely in the romantic comedy department as the love interest for the gals.
If you like Esther, this one is for you.
Esther really shows off her flair for light comedy in this one, and for
me - a lover of Esther Williams musicals - this one has the best music
of them all...one great tune after another. Former band singer Connie
Haines delivers two swinging songs and joins Van for another, and Lena
Horne is in top form singing the hot number "Baby,Come Out Of The
Clouds" in her glamorous style. Eleanor Powell tap dances to boogie
This is one of the films where we're supposed to believe that there is a huge nightclub with a giant swimming pool surrounded by chorus girls and filled with muscle men who strike poses with Esther...preposterous Hollywood fantasy, but that makes it all the more fun. A Technicolor delight.
DUCHESS OF IDAHO is a product of its time. Lavish costumes and settings done the MGM way. No one get dirty, everyone, including the men, are clean, made-up and stylishly dressed. Plot is fun...again, a plot that is a 'product' of its day. ESTHER WILLIAMS is really good in this one. I think she was an underrated actress. If you want pure escapist enjoyment, see DUCHESS OF IDAHO. And just look at that nightclub with its giant swimming pool. How on earth could the patrons see all the underwater stuff? And what nightclub could even afford something as extravagant as that. OH, I forgot...this is an MGM film. And if it's MGM in the 40's or 50's, don't expect realism. But that's the great thing about MGM..especially the musicals. Who wants reality??
If the ski slopes of Sun Valley in Idaho seem a most unlikely place to
find Esther Williams, for those of you who are fans fear not, for she
does get a couple of numbers in a swimming pool.
Duchess Of Idaho casts Esther Williams and Paula Raymond as a pair of sisters who were once in the army. Esther is of course an aquatic star and Paula has settled down to work as a secretary for playboy millionaire railroad tycoon John Lund who uses Raymond to fend off the advances of females with marriage on their minds.
The rest of the film plays like a plot from I Love Lucy. Raymond is first elated to get an invitation from Lund for a working vacation in Sun Valley, but then she's told Lund is going it alone. Then Williams gets the Lucy Ricardo like idea to go to Sun Valley on the same train and play up to Lund with the idea that he'll send for Raymond to bail him out again and Raymond can finally get Lund.
It starts to work out that way, but Williams also meets bandleader Van Johnson on the same trip and she starts falling for him. But true to her sister and her mission she still plays for Lund. It all ends a bit happier than Lucy Ricardo's schemes did.
Nothing terribly memorable music wise comes from Duchess Of Idaho. The best number is from Lena Horne as a guest star who sings Baby Come Out Of The Clouds. Eleanor Powell has a specialty dance number and this turned out to be her farewell appearance on the big screen. Clinton Sundberg has a nice bit as Lund's valet, but for the life of me I could not see casting Mel Torme in a film as a bellhop and not giving him at least one number. My guess is they did and it ended up on the cutting room floor.
The film opens and closes with an Esther Williams water ballet for her fans. And it certainly establishes a reason for her to be in the Duchess Of Idaho. Her many legion of fans will like the film and it's a pleasant diversion for the rest of us.
Esther Williams tries to help her friend Paula Raymond land himbo John
Lund. Why, I couldn't begin to tell you. Back in those days guys like
this were considered dreamy I guess. Anyway, not surprisingly, Lund
gets one look at Esther and goes gaga. Can't blame him there.
Bandleader Van Johnson is also in love with Esther. So we have a good
old-fashioned triangle...or rather, quadrangle.
The movie begins with Esther in a swimsuit doing an aquatic number, looking as lovely as ever. She is radiant throughout the picture, a goddess of technicolor. Paula Raymond is pretty and likable. The idea she would have to struggle to get any man is just something you'll have to suspend disbelief over. Notable for being Eleanor Powell's last film. She returned after being absent from the screen for six years (and becoming Mrs. Glenn Ford) to do this cameo where she gets to tap dance, which is always a treat. Red Skelton also has a cameo and Lena Horne sings a song. Also some songs by adorable Connie Haines. It's a light, fun movie. Not much swimming stuff despite Esther Williams being the star but it's a good one anyway.
If you can get past the irrelevant title of this film, you will find
it's a solid vehicle for Esther Williams, who--remarkably!--plays an
aquatic entertainer. As Christine Duncan, she gets involved in a plot
to hook up her sister (Ellen Hallit, played by Paula Raymond) with the
sister's boss (Douglas Morrissen, played by John Lund), a rich playboy
businessman who sees her only as his secretary. Typical for its day,
the plot revolves around getting him to notice her legs more than
recognize what a great person she is.
Christine's swimming routines include long stretches of swimming underwater and hiding behind scenery, so that audiences cannot see her well. But viewers of this film are treated to underwater shots and close-ups of her languid stroking. So we know up-front that we have entered the world of a Hollywood fantasy and left reality behind--which is where it belongs in this very stylized story.
The sets and the sights are richly colored, the fashions are well-tailored and sharp, the musical numbers are enjoyable and eye-catching. They are also numerous, because (fortunately) the characters spend plenty of time visiting nightclubs and running into singers and dancers (like Lena Horne and Eleanor Powell). Such numbers interrupt the narrative, but are an integral part of the formula. The music is mostly of the big band genre, with some boogie woogie to spice things up.
As for the acting, Ms. Williams is, in my opinion, always competent. The other leads are also up to the task, though the emotional demands of the script are minimal. This is a lighthearted romance where the musical entertainment is a primary draw. I enjoyed it as such.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At first I was rather dismayed when Van and Esther arrived at Sun Valley and there wasn't any snow. Having no snow in a movie that is set, for the most part, in Sun Valley is like having a movie set in the Gobi Desert and having no sand. Eventually it snows and all is well in Sun Valley except for the romantic complications that develop. The movie ends happily although John Lund's character never learns to cook which is kind of sad. I was also hoping he would shave off his mustache. So the movie isn't perfect but it is a pleasant diversion. Esther does a good job both in and out the water. So does Van "Cannonball" Johnson.
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