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. The set could very well help reel in some younger viewers as the films in this volume have a surprisingly modern feel to them all. This one maybe good, but it might still qualify as “for collectors only”.
Thrill of a Romance (1945)
Directed by Richard Thorpe and written by Richard Connell and Gladys Lehman.
Co-starring Van Johnson and Henry Travers.
Summary: 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. The writing is nice and witty and mirrors quite a few films of the time thanks to its celebration of soldiers in the final years of World War II. Esther Williams and Van Johnson make for a decent onscreen couple and, as fans of this era of filmmaking know, they recouple again.
Directed by Richard Thorpe and written by George Bruce and Lester Cole.
Co-starring Akim Tamiroff, Ricardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse.
Summary: 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. When a movie names a brother and sister Mario and Maria, respectively, the film has a little bit of cutesy writing going on. These days the plot seems somewhat clichéd and trite, but back then it actually qualified as relatively good material. It manages to muster up its share of laughs in all the dialogue that comes from people talking to Maria incognito as they say things that are slightly inappropriate for their exchanges.
This Time For Keeps (1947)
Directed by Richard Thorpe and written by Lorraine Fielding & Erwin S. Gelsey.
Co-starring Jimmy Durante, Lauritz Melchior and Johnny Johnston.
Summary: 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). Nowadays the focus would have stayed on Johnston as he attempted to recontextualize himself into the working world, but considering the intent of levity that cinema had back in the day, it’s really no mystery that This Time For Keeps would make a b-line for the romantic comedy themes.
Pagan Love Song (1950)
Directed by Robert Alton and written by Jerry Davis & Robert Nathan.
Co-starring Howard Keel, Minna Gombell and Rita Moreno.
Summary: 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 drab – and impressive feat considering it should have a very fun in the sun sort of feel.
Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy and written by Everett Freeman.
Co-starring Victor Mature, Walter Pidgeon and David Brian.
Summary: 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.
Easy to Love (1953)
Directed by Charles Walters and written by William Roberts and Laszlo Vadnay.
Co-starring Van Johnson and Tony Martin.
Summary: 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.
DVD Bonus Features
Each of the discs sports a classic short and a cartoon to boot. A few of the discs offer a rarity like a radio show clip (audio only) starring Williams and Walter Pidgeon or outtakes of musical sequences from the disc’s respective film. I gravitated towards some of the famous cartoons but the shorts are also fantastic representations of their time.
"TCM Spotlight: Esther Williams, Volume 2" is on sale October 6, 2009 and is rated NR. Drama, Romance. Directed by Richard Thorpe, Robert Alton, Mervyn LeRoy, Charles Walters. Starring Ricardo Montalban, Esther Williams, Van Johnson, Lauritz Melchior, Howard Keel.