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Charlie Reader is a successful theater agent. He is also successful with young ladies. One day he is visited by his old friend Joe, married with three children. Joe falls in love with ... See full summary »
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Attorney, Purdom, and singer, Damone, romance two sisters, Reynolds and Powell, who live with and are strongly influenced by eccentric, health oriented and star gazing grandparents. Written by
Even as late as 1954, Hollywood actors - in their shirtless scenes - generally wore their pants or bathing suits or loincloths high enough to cover their navels. In the Mr. Universe contest toward the end of this movie, the contestants wear snug-fitting, low-rising bathing suits which reveal several inches of skin below the navel. At the time, this must have been considered something of a "breakthrough." See more »
When Johnny offers Athena a lift back to her family's store rather than having her walk back, lack of shadows indicates it right around noon - yet it dark when they finally arrive at store, meaning the car ride has taken six or seven hours. See more »
ATHENA is a strange movie in many ways, some of which still resonate today. As a satire of a certain kind of Southern California lifestyle it was ahead of its time. Astrology, numerology, exercise, body-building, vegetarianism, non-smoking, environmental allergies, animal rights, contemporary art and architecture are all parodied or touched on here, and all became joke punchlines in the '50s and '60s -- until these 'isms' became part of mainstream culture. Here for the first time in movies we see familiar aspects of American life as we take it for granted in 2004.
On a completely different front, it was the lack of tuneful, memorable original scores that began to kill the movie musical in the 1950s and the exceptions were few: ROYAL WEDDING, CALAMITY JANE, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, GIGI, then much later, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE. Can you think of others? Those that were as good or better were either revues of old song catalogs (SINGING IN THE RAIN, THE BAND WAGON) or else were filmed versions of hit Broadway shows. On the other hand I LOVE MELVIN, HIT THE DECK, LUCKY ME, TWO TICKETS TO Broadway, Texas CARNIVAL, GIVE A GIRL A BREAK, SMALL TOWN GIRL, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, THE GIRL MOST LIKELY, THE GIRL RUSH and others like them presided over the slow death of a great film genre. Blane and Martin's score for ATHENA isn't top notch, but it's good and it deserves to be better known than it is.
Then we have the coded gay sensibility that slumbers in every film musical but occasionally awakens in '50s Hollywood in the 'Is There Anyone Here For Love?' number in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, in the 'Put 'Em Back' number from L'IL ABNER and throughout ATHENA, which even has an appearance by physique god and gay icon Steve Reeves, along with a gaggle of other adorable, glossy-haired muscle studs who were almost certainly gay to a man (for the right price, anyway). Somehow, ATHENA weaves these various skeins in a way that is simultaneously entertaining and mind-blowing, awful yet kinda terrific. All this and Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds in the same picture.
Which turns out to be revealing. Jane Powell was always pretty, peppy and efficient, and I've always preferred her operetta-style singing voice to those of Jeanette MacDonald, Deanna Durbin or Kathryn Grayson. And yet more than some others, this role reveals a certain detachment, a lack of affect. Having now watched six or eight Powell films over a short period (via the Universite de TCM), it gradually dawned on me that for all her niceness and professionalism she never really seems to connect to her material, her surroundings or her co-stars. Did she ever make you believe she was Walter Pigeon's daughter? George Brent's? Fred Astaire's sister? Or that she was in love with Peter Lawford, Cliff Robertson or (in this picture) Edmund Purdom? It's as if she's starring in a film in her own head where the other actors are her creations. Compare her to Debbie Reynolds here, whose talent and personality seem so much more engaged and energetic -- this may be a construction (Debbie was an ambitious and hard-working gal) but she is more immediate, more alive than Powell, and she effortlessly steals the 'I Never Felt Better' number out from under Janie, making it the best in the film.
Need more reasons to check out this curious and curiously enjoyable musical? Well, there is the very handsome Edmund Purdom, whose stiffness is for once used well in a film, and who manages, in his sly, quiet way to be very sexy and charming. Then there is dishy, bitchy Linda Christian, who loses Edmund to Jane, but who is so much more believable as his consort. As she must have seemed in real life: after husband Tyrone Power died, she briefly married Purdom. And then there's the fact reported by Esther Williams in her memoir "Million Dollar Mermaid" that she and Charles Walters originally dreamed up ATHENA as a swimming musical for her. Do seek it out. It's not entirely successful, even on its own terms, but it's worth a look.
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