'TCM Spotlight: Esther Williams, Vol. 2'
(Esther Williams / 6-Disc DVD / NR / 2009 / Warner Video)
Overview: TCM has put out some great vintage film collections in the last few years. The collections usually have a fair collection of winners and so-so contenders who need the better films to make them palatable and Esther Williams: Volume 2 is no exception. However, to the volume’s credit, it has a better ratio than most sets with 4 good to great films supporting 2 mediocre ones.
DVD Verdict: Taking these films one at a time, 'Thrill of a Romance' (1945) is directed by Richard Thorpe and written by Richard Connell and Gladys Lehman. Co-starring Van Johnson and Henry Travers, two lovebirds get swept up in a whirlwind romance; one a girl looking for love and one a celebrated veteran, the two find their blossoming love full of fun and comedy. Esther Williams and Van Johnson make for a decent onscreen couple and, as fans of this era of filmmaking know, they recouple again.
In 'Fiesta' (1947), directed by Richard Thorpe and written by George Bruce and Lester Cole, it co-stars Akim Tamiroff, Ricardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse. When her brother (Ricardo Montalban) retires from his career as a matador, Maria (Williams) steps in taking on the appearance of just another man in the Matador biz to carry on his legacy. These days the plot seems somewhat clichéd and trite, but back then it actually qualified as relatively good material.
In 'This Time For Keeps' (1947), directed by Richard Thorpe and written by Lorraine Fielding & Erwin S. Gelsey, it co-stars Jimmy Durante, Lauritz Melchior and Johnny Johnston. There’s a cursory examination of a veteran’s struggle to resume the life he left behind when he left for war going on in this one, but it’s quickly overshadowed by the romance between Johnston (the soldier) and Williams (an aquacade showgirl).
In 'Pagan Love Song' (1950), directed by Robert Alton and written by Jerry Davis & Robert Nathan, it co-stars Howard Keel, Minna Gombell and Rita Moreno. Musical numbers and romance take front and center in this love story between an island girl and a former schoolteacher. There’s dancing, a few funny bits as the teacher gets his footing on the island, but otherwise the entire thing feels somewhat uninspired.
In 'Million Dollar Mermaid' (1952), directed by Mervyn LeRoy and written by Everett Freeman, it co-stars Victor Mature, Walter Pidgeon and David Brian. Esther takes her two-dimensional aquacade role from This Time For Keeps and takes it on a biopic-streak as she portrays Annette Kellerman, the star of the Hippodrome Tank. There’s an interesting final number and the whole thing putters about delightfully, but the film just never delivers in the same way that others in the set do.
In 'Easy to Love' (1953), directed by Charles Walters and written by William Roberts and Laszlo Vadnay, it co-stars Van Johnson and Tony Martin. Even if you’ve never seen a single movie starring Esther Williams or even a film from this era, you’re probably familiar from the oft-parodied large ski number which occurs in the tail-end of the film. Again, Esther courts Van Johnson in a frolic versus workaholic story of love. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and come with the Special Features of:
'Thrill of a Romance' - Vintage Passing Parade short The Great American Mug, Classic cartoon Wild and Woolfy, Three outtake musical sequences: Gypsy Mattinata, I Should Care, and Please Don't Say No, Theatrical trailer
'Fiesta' - Vintage Passing Parade short Goodbye Miss Turlock, Classic cartoon Hound Hunters, Theatrical trailer
'This Time for Keeps' - Oscar-nominated Pete Smith Specialty short Now You See It, Oscar-nominated cartoon Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse, Little Big Shot outtake song sequence, Theatrical trailer
'Pagan Love Song' - Vintage Pete Smith Specialty short Curious Contests, Classic cartoon The Chump Champ, Seven outtake musical sequences: The House of Singing Bamboo (unused), Music on the Water, The Sea of the Moon (unused), two versions of Tahiti and Why I Love So Crazy? (unused), Theatrical trailer
'Million Dollar Mermaid' - Vintage Pete Smith Specialty short Reducing, Classic cartoon The Wise Little Quacker, Audio-only bonus: Radio show with Esther Williams and Walter Pidgeon, Theatrical trailer
'Easy to Love' - Vintage FitzPatrick TravelTalk short Romantic Riviera, Classic cartoon Cobs and Robbers, Theatrical trailer