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Sunday, May 27, 2012

BATHING BEAUTY (1944)

George Sidney was still in his 20s when he got tagged to make three of the plushest musicals of the WWII era: THOUSANDS CHEER/’43; BATHING BEAUTY/’44; and ANCHORS AWEIGH/’45, one right after the other. Each one plots a light romantic course as an excuse for a series of specialty numbers, but this middle one has advantages over its brethren: it’s two reels shorter than THOUSANDS; five reels shorter than ANCHORS; and it swaps out Kathryn Grayson’s screechy coloratura for Esther Williams’ breast strokes. The plot, such as it is (7 credited writers!), is that old standby, the Runaway Bride. That’d be Esther, who runs back to her job at an all-girls college, closely followed by Red Skelton’s disappointed groom. Red’s quite the charmer here, but when she refuses to see him, he enrolls. Yuck, yuck. Of course, we’re really here for the music & comedy routines, and they’re both better & a good deal lighter than in the other two pics. Xavier Cugat & his Latin gang set a beat; trumpeter Harry James floats around his band; there’s some decidedly odd organ stylings from Ethel Smith*; a bit of clowning & a comic ballet ‘numbo’ for Red in a tutu; and (finally) Esther’s eye-popping water ballet. Poor George Sidney got stuck helming that plot, but what else? The water ballet is largely the work of B’way vet John Murray Anderson in a rare film outing, but who staged the other good stuff? Dance directors John Alton or Jack Donohue? Sidney? It’s well above the norm and worth a nod.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Her delectable billing card reads ‘Ethel Smith - Formerly the Hit Parade Organist.’

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY II: You can spot some gags Buster Keaton worked up for Skelton. Watch for Buster’s signature ‘two legs up’ fall. Scary when a big guy like Skelton does it! And just maybe you can also spot Buster’s wonderful wife Eleanor swimming with Esther.

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