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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?
*** 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.
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.
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.
Only for fans of the stars or MGM Musicals completists, like me. I've
gotta collect them all! Of course this one was made during the decline,
as Dore Schary took over the studio and he was *not* a fan of musicals.
So, the songs are weak and there's more emphasis on spectacle & action
- mixed in with comedy & romance. But the mixture doesn't blend very
well. Each genre/character is underdeveloped and unsatisfying. For
instance, if you enjoy action/war movies, you may be disappointed with
a few chases, brief hand to hand combat...no epic battle, unless you
count a little flame-throwing and battering at Rome's gates. Sorry, no
bloodshed! (And I know you were expecting it from a movie with
"Darling" in the title.)
Marge & Gower Champion are kind of wasted. They have one major number where they parade around with trained elephants. It's lame. I mean, they mostly hop around on one foot (yes, the elephants too) and the Champions are definitely limited by their dancing partners. Not their best choreography. Corny bits like mimicking an elephant's trunk, etc.
Esther Williams has one memorable underwater ballet with some statues that come to life, but other than that, her swimming abilities are used in more plot-driven ways than usual. Most unsettling is an extended chase sequence where soldiers chase her off a cliff and swim after her, trying to kill her...with bows and arrows...underwater! Is that even possible? It's *definitely* impossible to hold your breath for that long. (Something we don't normally question when Esther's underwater sequences are more lighthearted.) Why combine an air of "realistic" menace with such a fantastical premise? Let our fantasy be...fun! It was actually disturbing to see Esther menaced this way, in her "natural" habitat. She should always be grinning that big toothy grin at the camera and frolicking in the water happily. Don't mess with the natural laws of Esther Williams movie physics!
Howard Keel plays his usual charming brute, but maybe a bit too brutal this time, since he's a conquering warrior. Uncomfortable watching him manhandle Esther Williams, hold a knife to her throat, etc. Aaah, love! Marge & Gower also have this slave/master subplot that's pretty offensive. I suppose it's some consolation that she refuses to "be" an elephant...like all the "other" elephants he has trained to *obey* him. Uhh, love?
Not much fun to see George Sanders play an ineffectual mama's boy who can't get the girl. He can be suave and charismatic, but not here. I mean, he does what he's meant to...I just don't enjoy seeing him play a buffoonish sort. Would've been better if he was presented as a charmer with wit and intellect to rival Howard Keel's more robust, earthy qualities. A different, but equally attractive choice, to make Esther's decision less obvious. (But I'm not spoiling anything here by revealing Esther & Howard end up together - c'mon, they're the leads, and we know how these movies work!) Sure, Sanders' speech-making ability is acknowledged, but also ridiculed - and Esther doesn't bother to show up for the speech, so we get the message that Sanders is boring... dangit, some women *like* smart, articulate men! They could've created another supporting character who falls for Sanders, proving him a valid love interest who's just not right for *Esther*, since she and Howard are more physical/less intellectual types. Oh well.
Wow, I don't remember how any of the songs go. They really *are* forgettable. So, it's easy to see why this movie failed to please the Box-office Gods and led to the fall of the Great MGM Empire! I'd buy it on DVD anyway, especially if that outtake musical number from the Laserdisc (mentioned by a previous reviewer) is included. Curious to see Marge & Gower's deleted dance...it's got to be better than the Elephant Walk Of Shame.
I don't have many of the great MGM musicals of the 1940s and 50s in my
collection, but my interest in history resulted in my acquiring this
decidedly minor work. I couldn't pass it up. Ancient history in American
cinema tends (heavily) to be biblical history with a handful of glances at
Ancient Egypt and Rome. Seriously, think of the best known titles:
DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS [second version], SAMSON AND DELILAH, KING
KINGS, THE SIGN OF THE CROSS, CLEOPATRA; THE EGYPTIAN; Joe Mankiewicz's
CLEOPATRA; QUO VADIS (with Taylor, Kerr, and Ustinov); THE LAND OF THE
PHAROAHS [with Joan Collins]. Films about ancient Greece are even rarer
than this: THE FOUR HUNDRED SPARTANS (for the events leading to the defeat
of Persia in 480 B.C.); HELEN OF TROY
and ULYSSES (the latter actually an Italian film, but starring Kirk
and Anthony Quinn); JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. There are a few I've missed.
Foreign cinemas have not been much better.
This film is about one of history's great military failures - Hannibal Barca, the Carthagenian tactical genius who is remembered for bringing his army over the alps (including his elephants - a feat of arms that is still marvelled at). He was of Phoenician ancestry, being from the city of Carthage in North Africa (founded by the Phoenicians). He probably was dark skinned, like most North Africans. He probably did not look like Howard Keel, a good actor and singer (KISS ME KATE, CALAMITY JANE - the latter as Wild Bill Hickok, THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS). Since this is a musical comedy the audience will swallow it, but from a historical realistic view the role cried for a singer and actor with a darker skin - someone like Paul Robson. However, for age reasons and political reasons Robson would have been impossible in 1955.
The basis of this film is Robert Sherwood's play, THE ROAD TO ROME, which was a comedy against war. Actually beyond this is the fact that Hannibal, having won five great victories against the Romans (capped by the total routs of Roman arms at Lake Transemene and Cannae) had the "road to Rome" open for his army - had he moved he would have destroyed Rome, and history would have been centered in North Africa for quite awhile. His dawdling lost him his chance, and the tactics of the Roman General Fabius Maximus (to snipe at Hannibal's army over a long period of time, until it was tired and demoralized) won the war after a decade. Fabius was killed in a skirmish, but his place was taken by Scipio Africanus, who delivered the knock-out blow at Zama in 202 B.C. Hannibal fled Carthage, to commit suicide in Macedonia a number of years later when he was about to be handed over to the Romans. Carthage was stripped of it's power and wealth, but nearly sixty years later it was purposely destroyed by the Romans (at the prodding of Cato the Elder, a bigotted Senator) in the pointless Third Punic "War". The population was killed or enslaved, and the town levelled - the site ploughed over with salt so nothing would ever grow there. Hence the bitter term: "Carthagenean Peace". But the memory of Rome's close call at the hands of this genius was a constant nightmare even at the height of their empire. In the AENIAD, Vergil has the doomed North African princess Dido die, praying that her descendant (Hannibal) destroys the Romans. Prior to the collapse of the Empire at the hands of "barbarian" tribes Hannibal was Rome's closest call to destruction.
This play may have been good in 1927, but it dates now. Moreover, Sherwood, despite some stage credits like IDIOT'S DELIGHT, is best remembered for his dual biography (which is still useful) ROOSEVELT AND HOPKINS, about FDR and his advisor Harry Hopkins. Keeping this in mind, my use of the term "minor" is understandable. It is not like a musical based on, say a play by Eugene O'Neill or Tennessee Williams. [Actually O'Neill plays have been turned into musicals: NEW GIRL IN TOWN is based on ANNA CRISTIE, and AH WILDERNESS! was turned into the musical TAKE ME ALONG.]
Williams and Keel are attractive together, but the Burton Lane score is not that good (a number with Marge and Gower Champion about the elephants seems very silly now). George Sanders gives his normally good performance, his Fabius being a mother-dominated type (momma is Norma Varden, who disapproves of his choice of Williams as a wife), but who is an intelligent military leader - witness how he realizes that the best way to fight Hannibal is not to present a pitched battle, but to wear him down. The action of the film is in 217 B.C., when the war was peaking for Hannibal, and Fabius did not die for nearly six years more. Interestingly enough Douglas Dumbrille has a brief part as Scipio, reminding us that the military affairs would remain in highly capable hands at the end. William Demerest is properly flustered a few times, constantly ready to give the signal for the final advance of the Carthageneans on Rome, only to find Hannibal unavailable or unwilling to tell him to do so. One wishes more had been done with Richard Haydn, as a historian named Horatio, but he seems wasted here. A film curiosity - not a great film though.
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