Easy to Love (1953)
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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.
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.
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?", then she loathfully repeats Van's "fun, nothing but fun." Then Van asks Esther where she was all night, Esther tells him the truth about being with Tony. Van says "come on now, tell me the truth". Esther sarcastically says "I went swimming in Central Park, they threw pennies at me and I threw grapefruit at them". I loved that last one. Van kept trying to get her to that grapefruit convention that she was so unenthused about going to. 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")."That's what a rainy day is for" (Tony dancing with a group of senior citizens) is also nice. 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.
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.
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
The film stars Esther Williams as the premier star of the theme park, Julie. Her boss, Ray (Van Johnson), is not an easy man to like--he's all business and seems more content to exploit this star than anything else. Yet, inexplicably, Julie secretly loves him. I frankly saw NOTHING about the man that would make anyone fall for him. Laer, tiring of this seemingly pointless love, she begins spending time with a famous singer, Barry Gordon (Tony Martin). He at least says he loves her, though he is a playboy. In addition to these guys is Hank (John Bromfield)--a nice guy who works at the park and who openly and repeatedly tells her he loves her....plus he's rich. Of the three, the choice is obvious....Hank. However, considering that John Bromfield is not exactly a star, it's obvious he hasn't a prayer in the world. So who does she pick? See for yourself. Just be forewarned--it's a HUGE step backwards for women and I would hate to see my daughters pick a guy like that! As a romance, the film was definitely lacking. But, it was fun, a bit silly (in a good way--offering the most ridiculously over the top scenes of Williams doing the water stunts), and I liked Tony Martin's singing (particularly "That's What a Rainy Day is For"). Worth seeing if you like the old fashioned Hollywood musicals of the 50s--though I do suspect that a lot of younger folks today would find them all awfully silly.
By the way, at the very end, look for a cute little cameo between Martin and Cyd Charisse--Martin's real-life wife.