Thrill of a Romance (1945), and Esther Williams

7 Jun

thrill1 estherI have fond memories (though it’s possible they’re semi-fever-based) of being home sick from middle school and watching Thrill of a Romance (which is on TCM late Thursday, June 13, part of a last minute 24 hour Esther-a-thon tribute that begins at 8:00 p.m.).

It was on AMC in the days when its name made sense and there were no commercials, only Bob Dorian (this was pre-Clooney). It’s not the best Esther Williams vehicle – in the sense that there’s precious little water in it, and no Neptune’s Daughter/Million Dollar Mermaid inherent swim-necessity – but you don’t choose the puppy by looking at it’s charts; you just make eye contact with the right one at the right time.

Thrill of a Romance, I’ll remind you (because they’re easy to jumble, except maybe Fiesta), is the one where war hero Van Johnson falls in love with Williams, who has just married this businessman who leaves yet hasn’t even managed to consummate said marriage – one of the least plausible elements in the history of her films, and that’s saying something. “I just married Esther Fah-reaking (it’s a family name) Williams, but actually I’m very busy.”

Also, the surreal elements of Lauritz Melchior, the singing bellboy,Tommy Dorsey, Helene Stanley (later a Disney princess live-action model in the 50s), et alia all meeting up for some reason at a resort (not by the sea – Esther is stuck in a tiny pool) sell it for me in the great tradition of studio system throw-it-at-the-wall vehicles. All that’s missing is Jose Iturbi. These are cultural documents, people!

1944_bathing-beauty_esther-williams-and-carlos-ramc3adrez_1_f30s-3Late last night, after our work was done, The Wife and I put in the Bathing Beauty DVD and talked about something. Within the first couple of minutes, Carlos Ramirez is singing “Magic is the Moonlight” as all up in her face as he can get considering she’s clearly a head taller, and while she was no grand actress, as she was the first to admit (I add here without shame that hers is one of few movie star memoirs I’ve read; Million Dollar Mermaid is fun, honest and incredibly trashy. We Highly Recommend), her silent responses as he sings are very different than the typical being-sung-at starlet’s: she looks not blandly model-smiley but really legitimately annoyed. “I’m trying to get to the diving board, dude, and I don’t want to get this complicated cape I’m wearing wet – If you could just –come on! I don’t even speak Spanish! What are you even singing?” Then, as she finally ascends the ladder to the board, he starts going for his money notes and she gives in at least enough to be appreciative – “Alright, that’s impressive, and kind of sweet. Thank you. Really, I have to dive now, but thank you.”

It’s a little moment in a little film, but it’s illustrative of her whole career – she was never Ethel Barrymore, but she was never dishonest. Which is a lot. Swim on, Esther.

thrill2 esther

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