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The bronzed and be-flowered Mimi, a half-American, half-Tahitian girl, was raised on the island but longs for the good old U.S. of A. "All my life's been one long vacation," she sighs, "and I'm bored." Luckily, Hap Endicott arrives on the scene. He's an Ohio schoolteacher who has come to manage his late uncle's coconut plantation. The two meet cute, and love and singing ensue. Includes songs at the drop of the hat, some terrific Tahitian dancing, and a lovely moment when a lovelorn Hap looks up and sees Mimi swimming gracefully among the clouds. Written by
What a fascinating historical document, a dazzling Technicolor window into the hearts and desires of the American public, or at least what MGM was marketing to them in 1950! As long as today's viewer isn't expecting to see a gripping love story or the conflict that might occur when two radically different cultures attempt to meld, as long as plot or logic or suspense don't matter much, this musical document is amazingly entertaining! And perhaps it's entertainment value evolves from secondary values such as color and location and decent singing. It's not Mutiny On The Bounty!
I expect no one ever has watched an Esther Williams film for the intellectual challenge or for cutting edge plot development: first and foremost, we want to see Esther swim, to gloriously navigate the MGM waters as no one else has managed--in over a dozen films, this Million Dollar Mermaid dallied with her suitors, wore bathing suits perfectly, and ultimately proved who was boss in the romantic department, just as she does in this escapist delight. When Howard Keel sails into Tahiti (at the time there were no viable airfields accessible on Tahiti so the studio settled for Hawaii, and it's ravishing!), he mistakes Esther for a native swimmer, treats her with condescension and Esther goes along with the joke until she can turn the tables on him.
In the meantime, Howard learns how to live more gregariously with the local natives, a happy lot who seldom challenge his ways, and who are always happy to run off to a luau or a beach party when there's coconut to be husked. There are a couple of lavish MGM showpieces here, one of them a staged cellophaned hula extravaganza featuring dazzling hula action and a performer who utilizes his body as a percussion instrument: it's a frenzied five minutes!! And wait until you see the mind- boggling Dali-esque underwater fantasy ballet, a trip through a bright coral wonderland peppered with golden flashes from the local fishies!
Had Stanley Donen, director of such gems as Singin' In The Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, been allowed to direct, this might have been one of Esther's best--but she had suffered under his indifferent attitude toward her talents on Take Me Out To The Ball Game, and she refused to work with him, so the studio provided Robert Alton. Fortunately, we are spared Red Skelton or the other usual guest appearances which hamper the pace, and we are gifted with actual lush photography from the island of what appears to be Kauai for a 50's time warp, a zippy escape from any kind of reality.
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