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Olympic-swimming-hopeful turned MGM-screen-sensation Williams does her thing as only she could in this light musical. She plays an overworked employee of Florida's Cypress Gardens (owned in this film by Johnson) who gets a chance to hit the big time for four times the money and half the work. While on a trip to New York City, in which Johnson works her like a galley slave, she falls for suave singer Martin who introduces her to a big-time producer. However, despite his autocratic treatment of her, she loves Johnson and can't decide what road to take. Meanwhile, back in Florida, she has yet another man to contend with, her hunky swim partner Bromfield, who wants to marry her. Worked in between all the romantic shenanigans and misunderstandings are several splashy (pun intended) swimming and/or skiing productions and a large handful of silky love songs sung by Martin. The film is simple, undemanding entertainment with beautiful and creative aquatic and water-ski moments to enliven the more familiar and routine romantic plotline. Williams is absolutely gorgeous in or out of the water and her acting, while it isn't anything tremendous, is perfectly acceptable as she shows affection and not a little amount of spunk. Johnson's character is pretty obnoxious at times, but he and Williams have a good rapport together. As an actor, Martin sings beautifully, but he's smooth enough not to detract from the film. It's hard to imagine Williams even glancing anywhere else but at the tanned, buff Bromfield, who spends a great deal of his screen time in teensy black swim trunks (but is just as yummy in pastel sportswear!) Baker has one scene as Martin's suspicious girlfriend. It's always a feast for the eyes when Williams swims in one of Busby Berkeley's elaborate concepts. Here she shares a blossom-strewn love duet with Bromfield, is the centerpiece of a skiing spectacular and hams it up as a clown in a slam-bang circus number (looking like the result of an affair between Ronald McDonald and Lucille Ball.) It should be noted that she was pregnant during the filming of this movie! Like most films of this ilk, it all turns out with a happy (if unbelievable!) ending for all. Martin's denouement is particularly amusing.
Easy to Love may yet when the definitive history of film is written to
be Busby Berkeley's ultimate triumph. No longer confined by a motion
picture sound studio, Berkeley stages a water ballet finale that is
probably his ultimate fantasy number.
I have no doubt that somebody at MGM got together with someone at Florida's Cypress Gardens and decided to make a film promotion of the place. In essence that's what you have here. MGM shot the whole thing down there in Florida and the technicolor photography is spectacular.
When MGM did its compilation film That's Entertainment it was also mentioned that for one and one star alone did that studio construct a sound stage just for her. That would be Esther Williams, swimming star and movie star.
Esther's place at MGM was something akin to Sonja Henie's at 20th Century Fox. A sports star who was already a celebrity before becoming an actress, Esther because the Olympics of 1940 was canceled did not quite have the clout Henie did when dickering with the MGM brass. Yet Esther was as good a businesswoman as Henie and MGM did quite all right by her in marketing her to the public. She does some numbers in the tank, but that finale is something else.
For those of you who have only seen the finale because of That's Entertainment, the story is three guys and Esther and who she will choose. Her choice is her boss at Cypress Gardens Van Johnson, nightclub singer Tony Martin, and her swimming partner John Bromfield.
Tony Martin sings the Cole Porter classic title tune and several other numbers, the best of which is one sung with a chorus of senior citizens and Esther, That's What a Rainy Day is For. I particularly like that one it's perfectly suited to Martin's style. Besides the finale Esther a very cute number dressed in a clown get up with a seal and chimpanzee and a mechanical alligator. According to her memoirs they were among her most memorable co-stars.
I think it's unfortunate that Easy to Love did not utilize the musical talents of Van Johnson. He was signed by MGM in fact after he was spotted in the cast of Broadway's Too Many Girls. Of course he was no match for Tony Martin as a singer, but in films like Till the Clouds Roll By and Brigadoon he more than held his own. In fact MGM should have used him more in musicals generally than they did.
And for we who appreciate these things there's the sight of John Bromfield who spends most of the film in a bathing suit.
Easy to Love is quite the spectacle and real easy to take.
Release dates for this one indicate that M-G-M decorated the nation's movie
screens with this tuneful treat on Christmas Day. It was a delightful
concoction with Esther displaying just about everything that made her one of
the studio's biggest box office favorites, including a frantic number where
she's dressed as a clown and required, no doubt by Busby Berkeley,
assisting director Charles Walters, to perform some exceedingly lively
stunts in the course of an elaborate aquatic display of why she was still a
champion when wet.
Tony Martin croons the title tune, a Cole Porter standard, to Esther as she languidly swims for what seems like miles in a moonlit lagoon and there's an extremely sweet little song, entitled "That's What a Rainy Day Is For," tossed off, as they could afford to do in those melodious times, by Mr. Martin again, to a roomful of charming elderly ladies surrounding Miss Williams. The final extravaganza, set in Florida's Cypress Gardens, involves motorboats, dozens of swimmers, and Esther dangling and diving from a helicopter, no doubt the brainchild of Mr. Berkeley, the scourge of everyone assigned to execute the products of his fertile imagination (and, according to some reports, his alcohol-fueled tirades.)
Of course the plot, with Esther pining for a remarkably disinterested Van Johnson, probably irritated even the tolerant audiences of the early Fifties, but it was scripted cleverly enough to display Esther's gift for light comedy, something that is not as appreciated as it should be. When that lengthy sequence of scenes from Esther Williams movies was put together for "That's Entertainment!" in 1974, a young acquaintance of mine, completely unfamiliar with Hollywood's one-and-only mermaid, exited the theater thoroughly besotted with her charms. He found himself literally at a loss for words to express his admiration. I don't know if he ever had the opportunity to see one of her pictures in its entirety, but this wouldn't have been a bad choice, were he limited to just one title.
Although critics constantly gripe that Esher Williams could not act this movie lore is absolutely nonsense. Most of her films were slight escapist fare that called for her to display her sparkling light comedic touch which she showed over and over in hit after hit throughout the forties and fifties. WHen allowed to play more dramatic roles like "Million Dollar Mermaid"(MGM,1952) and most superbly in the underrated "The Unguarded Moment"(Universal,1956) she was very fine indeed but the rumor persists. But I will say it is in delightful musical confections like "Easy TO Love"(MGM, 1953) that she remained a top box-office star. Her chemistry with Van Johnson was always there. This was their fifth film together: their first was in Victor Fleming's dramatic fantasy "A Guy Named Joe"(MGM,1943) in support of superstars Spencer Tracey and Irene Dunne but this film made both stars; the empty but hugely successful "Thrill of a Romance"(MGM, 1945); certainly holding their own opposite the marvelous Lucille Ball in the charming and extremely popular "Easy to Wed"(MGM, 1946); and finally the solid hit "Duchess of Idaho"(MGM,1950) which allows Esther and Van to sparkle. But it is their last film "Easy to Love" that captures Esther and Van at their most captivating. The story is the usual fluff about fighting ex-lovers and is topped off with spectacular Busby Berkeley production numbers but all this is wrapped up in a witty script and the superb comic performances of Miss Williams and Mr. Johnson who were never better. Sad to say both their careers declined after this success.
She was great! And, she could swim too. Esther Williams earned the snide remark from Fanny Brice about her acting but we, back in the late forties and early fifties, loved her. I mean, she didn't even have to act or have a decent script! Check out Pagan Love Song, if you doubt my words! This story, a typical Esther Williams escapist medium, includes some great character actors: King Donovan, married to Imogene Coca; John Bromfield, as the other guy interest, TV's The Sheriff of Cochise and the couple crooner Tony Martin and his wife, Cyd Charisse. But, let's not forget that heart stopper of the bobby soxers, old Van Johnson. I remember my aunt and her girl friend standing in the rain to get tickets to see him in "30 seconds over Tokyo." This film, mild by today's standards, is a peaen to those halcyon days after the (second world) war, when the world was young and full of hope. No video, no DVD. Look for it on the late show.
That line was first said by Van Johnson to Esther Williams near the
start of film when he invites her to go to NY with him. Cut to scene at
NY photography session where, after one of many photo shoots, Esther
repeats "fun, nothing but fun" sarcastically to Van since his promise
to make their trip to NY fun turned out to be more work. Next line,
also funny: Van: "most girls would cut off their arm to be in your
position". Esther: " this girl would like to cut your throat." I love
how Esther loathes Van for never letting her have any time on her own
terms. I mean, I would love to have a job where I get to waterski, pose
for pictures, and swim in idyllically beautiful waters surrounded by
flowers and beautiful music. But I can also understand Esther's
feelings about not having any time on her own terms, and Van is smarmy
and controlling here.
Then Esther meets Tony Martin. They fall head over heels in love during the photo session, then Esther watches Tony sing at a club with several beautiful girls that also work with him, "Didja ever", a cute, catchy song. Tony later (againced Van's will because he wants her to rest up for the grapefruit contest the next day, lol) takes Esther out drinking and dancing all night. She is totally in love with him now. He hooks her up with a swimming audition the next morning and a job offer working with him. I'd love to know the name of that piano piece playing during her audition swimming, it was beautiful. The song and Esther. I also like a number of different funny, quirky comments made throughout the film such as: Esther saying " 10:30 darling" by accident to the elevator operator cause Tony just told her "10:30 darling" about their next meet up, Esther talking to bubbles in glass of champagne after ditching Van to be with Tony " feels good to be free, doesn't it?", and numerous more. Esther also has had relations with Hank, who Esther does a water ballet with surrounded by lots of flowers. I loved that piece of music played during that sequence. Also Tony's "lookout, I'm romantic", " little croquette" (with his beautiful girls again. Listen to the style of the music there, you can hear how the music style is slowly transitioning over from 30s and 40s swing style over to more almost 60s style almost like you'd hear on "Bewitched"), and "That's what a rainy day is for" (Tony dancing with a group of senior citizens). Then we get the fabulous water ski sequence with Esther and many other water skiers played to a great tune and is visually fascinating. This is one of a number of wonderful esther water ballets. My other favorites are in "Bathing beauty", " This time for keeps", and "Million dollar mermaid". I'm not gonna add any spoilers here, because my reason for subtracting a couple points, I wouldn't be able to tell you why without a spoiler.
Esther Williams is a swimmer/water skier in this fun-filled Technicolor romp of hers. Van Johnson is her boss who puts on the aquatic shows. She complains about being overworked and under-appreciated, but all the while she has secretly loved Van. Apparently, Van has too (her), because his jealousy starts to show when rival Tony Martin shows up with his smooth voice. But she is currently going with John Bromfield, a swimming partner in the shows. (I had never heard of John Bromfield before this film.) This is one of the better movie vehicles for Ms. Esther. This is funny and entertaining and has some great water spectacles for the viewer. This is, as you would guess, undemanding and uncomplicated fluff, but still manages to differentiate itself from her other films by way of its premise and how the story unfolds. It may be missing a sidekick for comic relief, like Jimmy Durante or Red Skelton, but is a good time for all. I hope you will find this and find it "easy to love."
What's good: beautiful Esther Williams. Enough can't be said about
this. She was positively radiant the entire film. No actress brought
technicolor to life like Esther Williams. Tan, fit, gorgeous Esther.
Also the great Busby Berkeley aquatic numbers. Esther Williams plus
Busby Berkeley equals a win every time.
What's bad: the men. Unfortunately, Esther is saddled with rather poor love interests here in Tony Martin and Van Johnson. There's no great chemistry to be had with either but Martin tries his soggy best. I definitely felt like he was attracted to Esther, although in a kind of scuzzy greaseball sort of way. He also has several terrible songs. MGM was pushing him extra hard in this. He wouldn't stop singing those terrible songs! I like Van Johnson but he's as exciting a male lead as a wooden plank. So bland and colorless. Esther really had some crappy choices here.
Honestly it's not one of the greats. The plot of Esther wanting Van but all he thinks about is business so she tries to make him jealous with Tony is pretty flimsy and the romance is blechh. But see it for the stunning Esther Williams in technicolor and the wonderful production numbers choreographed by the great Busby Berkeley.
Despite the fact that most films done with Esther Williams are just "Little Ditties" The cast in this movie is absolutely delightful. And the choreographed water scenes of water skiing and swimming by Busby Berkley are beautiful. So is the song Easy to Love, sang here by Tony Martin. The cast includes Van Johnson, who gives a touching performance. There is something about this actor that pierces through me in whatever part he plays. There is an appearance of beautiful Cyd Charisse at the end of the film together with her husband Tony Martin. Seeing this movie brings back memories of the time that TV was not available and Cinema was the most prevalent outing. There is nothing frightening or harmful in this kind of film it is pure entertainment.
While not quite an "easy to love" film, 'Easy to Love' is very much an
"easy to like" film. Flaws and all, it is a very likable film, one of
Esther Williams' most likable.
People will be disappointed at the paper-thin weakness of the story, and that other than the classic Cole Porter title number the songs while okay are not particularly memorable. While Williams swims through with flying colours, her two male leads are less than inspired. Van Johnson is relaxed in his rapport with Williams, but elsewhere looks uncomfortable and disinterested. Tony Martin's heavenly singing isn't enough to disguise his limited, wooden acting ability.
However, Williams is perfectly cast, her presence radiating star quality and she handles the comedic and romantic elements well and with a witty no-nonsense manner that never gets annoying. John Bromfield acquits himself well, as does a lively pre-'Baby Doll' Carroll Baker.
Then there is the involvement of Busby Berkeley. Responsible for some of the most jaw-dropping and imaginative choreography ever seen in film musical history, Berkeley does it again with his choreography of the water ballets something to be cherished forever.
'Easy to Love' looks glorious in rich, vibrant Technicolor, which is complemented by the cinematography and the beautifully designed costumes and sets. Charles Walters directs more than competently, while the pace is bright and breezy and the script is suitably peppy.
All in all, a very easy to like film. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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