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JUPITER'S DARLING is an offbeat MGM musical with many entertaining elements. Famous as one of the musical flops of MGM's 1955 output (which included KISMET and IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER)which all but ended the MGM musical -as well as the contracts of some of its major participants- the movie generally received critical praise in its day and still has a "fan base" today. The credits for the film are eye-opening.It is based on a landmark play of 1927 entitled THE ROAD TO ROME which dealt humorously with Hannibal's march on Rome but was in fact a plea against war.It's author, Robert Sherwood, died the year of the film's release and amongst his other stage and screen work are titles such as The Petrified Forest,Idiot's Delight, Rebecca and The Best Years of Our Lives.Though much changed to accommodate the aquatic talents of Esther Williams and the form of the screen musical, generous amounts of Sherwood's witty and even racy dialogue survive. At a time when the period epic was in its full CinemaScope bloom (egs. THE ROBE, THE Egyptian) it's refreshing to see the genre being lampooned in such a tongue-in-cheek manner. Esther even spoofs her own underwater ballets in the I HAD A DREAM sequence (the best song in a somewhat underrated Burton Lane score)and has another dramatically exciting underwater scene in a later reel. Vocally strong as ever,Howard Keel is robust and virile as Hannibal (who in one funny scene reveals a fear of water and an inability to swim-surely an "in-joke" considering his co-star!)and the supporting cast (Marge and Gower Champion,George Sanders,Norma Varden,William Demarest and Richard Hayden) all get great moments. The direction is by one of MGM's best musical directors, George Sidney (The Harvey Girls, Show Boat, Pal Joey) and the inventive wide screen cinematography is by Paul C. Vogel and Charles G.Clarke,two of the best D.P.'s of the day. (Clarke shot CAROUSEL for Fox magnificently one year later).Written for the screen by MGM contractor Dorothy Kingsley (Seven Brides,Kiss me Kate)and budgeted at possibly the biggest figure for an MGM musical at that time, the film is a visual stunner with unique merits which outweigh its flaws.(One complaint- MGM cut the reprise of I HAVE A DREAM by Williams(dubbed) and Sanders (not dubbed) which was followed by a sizzling dance by the Champions.A faded out-take on the laserdisc edition at least allows buffs to view this now!)
A legendary MGM flop, one of the big musicals reputed to have helped kill off big musicals. And it's pretty silly in spots, with a buff Gower Champion singing lyrics like "If this be slavery/ I don't want to be free!" and song-and-dance cues arriving perfunctorily. But it's also an enterprising effort at keeping a dying genre alive, with plenty of sung-lyric exposition by Richard Haydn as a bewildered historian, and more plot-song integration than most MGM musicals attempted. It's also sexier than the average musical, quite frank about why Hannibal kept delaying his attack on Rome, and with plenty of chemistry between Esther Williams and Howard Keel in the main plot and the Champions as the secondary, comic-relief couple. The Burton Lane-Harold Adamson songs aren't great, but they aren't terrible, and for such a huge production, it's surprisingly light on its feet and irreverent. There's a fairly exciting, well-edited chase-through-the-water climax, and if Dorothy Kingsley's screenplay doesn't achieve the Shavian heights it's attempting to scale, it's smarter than most musical screenplays of the day. The wide screen is well filled, and the thing moves quickly. Well worth a look.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Howard Keel in his career at MGM did three original musicals with them,
two of them with Esther Williams as co-star. The first was an
unpretentious charming piece called Pagan Love Song with Esther
Williams, the second was the incomparable Seven Brides For Seven
Brothers and the last is Jupiter's Darling. Sad to say it's the worst
I'm not sure that musicals and spectacle go together. I've not seen anything quite as dumb as Hannibal's men singing as they march off to sack Rome. To be sure classical times have proved a good basis for musical comedy. Rodgers&Hart's The Boys From Syracuse, Cole Porter's Out Of This World, and By Jupiter from Rodgers&Hart again all did well on Broadway. But the material was lighter to start with.
Burton Lane and Harold Adamson contribute a very mediocre score for Jupiter's Darling. Keel certainly sang better material than this on the screen. The film picks up considerably when Esther Williams is in her tank at MGM, she has a nice water ballet sequence and her swimming skills are utilized during an escape scene.
Marge and Gower Champion have a couple of numbers also. I did like the dance they did with the elephants.
Howard Keel had a rough shoot according to his memoirs. A leopard would have done serious damage to him. had he not been wearing the armor which deflected the leopard's claws. He also said that during the final confrontation scene with George Sanders he found the lines so ridiculous as did Sanders the two of them got the giggles and had to shoot it separately. Keel said that when Hannibal says he'll accept Esther Williams as payment for not sacking Rome, Sanders in his Roman toga costume looked like a bordello madame when he said we have many other girls to offer you. He told Sanders this and the two of them couldn't finish the scene together after numerous takes.
I couldn't also help thinking that if Hannibal was satisfied with one woman, how was he going to explain it to the rest of his men who were looking forward to some booty of their own?
Esther Williams, Howard Keel, and husband-and-wife dancing team Marge and Gower Champion star in this musical about Hannibal. I went into this a little wary, but wanted to see one of Esther's lesser-known films. Granted, it may have earned a somewhat campy and corny reputation, but I found as I got deeper and deeper into it, that I really enjoyed it. What's a little ingenious about it, is that they worked in an Esther Williams swimming interlude in a dramatic way, as she is being chased. And, the great supporting cast of George Sanders, William Demarest, Douglas Dumbrille and Richard Haydn helps a lot. And, both Howard Keel and Esther are very believable as these mythological characters, she so beautiful and he so big, virile, and commanding. This is the type of film, that one will have the dialogue and especially the songs memorized from watching this over and over, because it's so much of a guilty pleasure. I definitely am going to see this again soon. I was going to give this a seven, given the fact this isn't one of Esther's top successes, but it's just so enjoyable, that I give it an '8.' After all, who cares what movie critics think? Just sit back and enjoy the histrionics of Hannibal and Amytis. By the way, do you think this is accurate?
Esther Williams' swan song at MGM is also her final aquatic musical.
Less significantly, it's also the last (and best) of the three movies
Esther did with Howard Keel. It's a movie that takes place in ancient
Rome where Esther plays Amytis, the object of affection for Roman ruler
Fabius (George Sanders). Fabius is anticipating an attack on Rome from
the famous military commander Hannibal (a bearded Howard Keel). When
Hannibal meets Amytis, she tries to use her feminine charms to persuade
him not to attack.
It's a silly movie but an enjoyable one that is better than its reputation suggests. The sets and costumes are all colorful and bright, though some today might find it all a bit corny. Esther is fit and gorgeous (those legs!) with a lovely underwater swimming number where she 'dances' with statues that come to life. A real classic and the highlight of the film. She does well in the romantic scenes with Howard Keel, who sings some forgettable tunes. I especially liked that Esther's character was so sexy and fun. Of the three films Keel and Esther did together, this is the one where they have the best chemistry. The cast backing up the leads is solid. George Sanders plays Fabius with as much seriousness as he can muster considering how silly the whole thing must have seemed to him. Richard Hayden is oddly enjoyable as the singing storyteller Horatio. Others in the cast include William Demarest, Douglas Dumbrille, Michael Ansara, and dancing couple Gower & Marge Champion. The Champions perform the "If This Be Slavery" number ("Hooray for slavery!"), which has some lyrics that are funny when taken out of context. Most of the songs and dance numbers are nothing to write home about but none are terrible. Anything with Esther is worth seeing just for her smile...and those legs!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Featuring two then top stars in yet another 'battle of the sexes'
musical, which Keel had done, in quite different settings, with Betty
Hutton, Doris Day, Jane Powell, and a couple times with Kathryn
Grayson(the ones I'm familiar with). I'm quite surprised how obscure
this film has become. I wasn't aware of its existence until seeing it
on TCM today. Here, an attempt is made to amalgamate Keel's recent
style of musicals with Esther's swimming forte, and the then popular
Hollywood format of lavish productions sited in the ancient classical
world. On the whole, I think it was rather successful , despite the
lack of any memorable songs. At least, it was more entertaining than
most of the 'straight' ancient spectaculars, although actual battle
scenes were minimal
Amazing to realize this was the third film pairing of Keel and Esther, although the first in 4 years. None of them have garnered an IMDb mean rating above 6.0, and all are mired in obscurity today. The styles and settings of these 3 films couldn't be more different. I rated "Pagan Love Song" well above average, featuring Keel much more than Esther. The lower -rated "Texas Carnival" actually more belongs to the supporting actors: Red Skelton and Anne Miller.
With full beard to enhance his supermasculine image, the tall robust Keel seems like he had just stepped out from a take of "Kiss Me Kate", in which he plays an often bombastic tamer of a notorious shrewish medieval maiden(Grayson's character). As in this former film, Keel's interactions with Esther's character, Amytis, vacillate from threats or attempts to kill her to a desire to make love to her. This makes for quite a stormy and unpredictable twosome, once these 2 meet, which doesn't happen until well into the film. Esther even sometimes sports reddish hair, in mimicry of Grayson's dyed reddish hair during her role as a shrew.
Meanwhile, we have hordes of soldiers and war elephants ,marching around, threatening to destroy Rome, after several victorious battles. Keel sings his alliterative 'Victory March', at the head of his marching troops. At times, the elephants enhance a circus-like atmosphere. For example, in the segment where Gower and Marge Champion, as a subsidiary romantic couple, tease each other, and sing and dance a bit in the presence of several elephants. Also, near the end, we have a string of elephants, each painted a different color.
Amytis(Esther) sees it as her role to try to seduce Hannibal and convince him that he really doesn't want to destroy Rome. You see, she's betrothed to General Fabius Maximus(George Sanders), Hannibal's main opponent. Fabius is characterized as more cultured than the barbaric Hannibal, but also decidedly a less sexy catch to Amytis. Thus, the final deal is to exchange Amytis for Hannibal's guarantee not to destroy Rome(no historical basis). Yes, a very unlikely agreement, given the historic Hannibal's extreme hatred for Rome and vice versa.
Esther's big 'solo' scene has her cavorting with a bevy of marble male statues around a pool, which represent the physical form of her ideal lover, while singing(dubbed) "I Had a Dream". This is followed by an extended playtime in the pool, which also contains a variety of underwater male and cherub statues, which eventual 'come alive' to cavort with her. Quite a sophisticated production, which can currently be seen at YouTube. I still find it amazing that such water ballets could be done looking like they never had to surface.
It may interest you that, once again, Esther's left eardrum ruptured during filming: a recurring problem in her films. From then on, she had to wear a plastic prosthesis covering her nose and ears during her water scenes. Also, she refused to be on the horse when it galloped off a high cliff, into the Tiber River(supposedly). She had broken her neck just 2 years before from a high dive while making "The Million Dollar Mermaid", and didn't want to chance a possibly lethal repeat. As it turned out, her stuntman broke has back from this fall!
Unless someone tells you in advance that "Jupiter's Darling" is a
spoof, you may be like me and wonder through the first part of the film
exactly what you are watching. I thought it was a badly made "serious"
musical. And I wonder if calling it a "spoof" forgives a film for its
bad elements? Bad dancing. Stilted lyrics. Questionable artistic
choices. Awkward moments. The beginning of this film is plagued with
them. Once you take the film to be a spoof, some of them can be
forgiven--IF you are sure that the silliness is intentional. I am not
sure all of it is.
When Esther Williams sings "I Had a Dream", you might be surprised to hear her sing. I was. Then I learned that it was dubbed by Jo Ann Greer. Good choice of singer, because it sounds like Esther's voice. Note that she sings while swimming. That's a little awkward. And then the number turns (appropriately) into a dream sequence. Even if you find the film less than excellent, it's a number that is interesting--filmed to give the illusion that it was done without coming up for air.
Howard Keel, as Hannibal, is the romantic interest. He lends his booming voice to some silly lyrics. I had the recurring impression I was listening to The Grinch.
Another interesting thing: the opening line of one song ("Don't Let This Night Get Away") sounded remarkably like the opening line of "A Woman in Love" from "Guys and Dolls", released the same year.
Besides the underwater dance sequence I mentioned, there is another that is worth seeing for its uniqueness. Marge and Gower Champion sing "The Life of an Elephant" while dancing among elephants that perform tricks. Both sequences must have been tedious to film.
One element that that I found superior throughout was the costuming.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film was a hoot! And for a spoof it's humour was subtle (at times)
and generally amusing.
I just loved the opening splash screen - something along the lines of: "the year 216 BC Hannibal marched on Rome. The history of this great march has been confusing. This film will do nothing to clear it up" I giggled then and many more times throughout. Sad that it was a flop. If you want interesting aquatic action with wonderful Esther, then the first one is a cracker. The music, for me was pleasant and completely unmemorable. Loved it, made me smile for its self-indulgent silliness!
The crowd scenes are impressive and the costumes impressive but the scene with the ballet dancing pachyderms was just too much. Damned shame Hannibal didn't appear naked in the river as he was gorgeous.
Even a good cast can't quite put this one over the top--elephants and
all. The choreography is about as original as the score which includes
not a single really memorable tune.
Wasted in this nonsensical romp are Esther Williams and Howard Keel in the leads, both given only a few moments to shine. Esther does some interesting underwater swimming with statues that come to life and dives off a cliff with acrobatic skill. Keel struts around as Hannibal with energy and humor and even lifts his voice in song a few times, although the tunes are hardly worthy of his manly baritone.
George Sanders, Richard Haydn, Norma Varden, William Demarest and Marge and Gower Champion are largely wasted and cannot overcome a script that is unintentionally funny even in serious moments. Uninspired direction from George Sidney is no help.
Summing up: Attempt at originality utterly fails in this unusual Esther Williams film. The Champions have a truly wretched dance number with some elephants that takes up far too much time.
I had wanted to see this film for a long time since I like Esther Williams, Howard Keel and the Champions. I saw it last night on TCM. What a let down. Not one good, memorable song, no real story and even the dance numbers were uninspired. This could have been a real killer of a movie but it just sort of puttered along on two cylinders, not good enough to be enjoyable but not quite bad enough to say the heck with it and give up. Esther's fantasy swimming number with the living statues is the high point. Howard Keel has no song worthy of his talent and the Champion's dance number with the elephants goes on way too long. The other reviewers have pretty much said it all. The fact that this film is not included in ANY of the Esther Williams DVD collections says a bunch.
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