Neptune’s Daughter

Neptune’s Daughter. Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer 1949.

Before watching the movie:

I’m pretty sure this movie was recommended to me, and that’s why the title sounded familiar, but I don’t really remember what basis the recommendation was made on. It was probably close to the reason it caught my attention now. The stars include Red Skelton and Ricardo Montalban. The leading lady is Esther Williams, who I’m not really familiar with, though apparently MGM never missed an opportunity to put her in circumstances that involve swimsuits.

It looks like a basic romp with a swimming and  polo theme (and perhaps water polo?), and with musical numbers included in a runtime of not much past an hour and a half, not only a light story, but light on story. Just a bit of fun with some Hollywood legends.

After watching the movie:

Some time ago, Joe Backett discovered Eve Barrett in a swimming competition and offered her a partnership in his Neptune swimsuit company, because her athletic and aesthetic abilities are apparently indicators of her design sense and business acumen. She actually is largely responsible for the company’s growth and success, and now Joe has learned that the South American polo team is training in town for a big match, and he and Eve prepare an aquatic ballet publicity event in honor of the visiting team. When Eve’s sister Betty learns of the team’s presence, she decides she wants a South American polo player of her own, the latest in a series of girlish crushes Eve tries to tell her not to indulge. Betty goes to the stables the team is using in order to meet the team captain Jose O’Rourke, but in fact, O’Rourke just left and Betty has found romantically inexperienced Jack Spratt, who does nothing to disabuse her of the notion that he is her new Latin lover. When Eve calls the real Jose for a meeting in order to warn him to leave Betty alone, Jose only agrees to break the date with the woman he’s never heard of if Eve will spend the evening with him instead. Over several days, Betty keeps dating Jack thinking he’s Jose, and Eve keeps going to Jose to demand he stop stringing Betty along, which Jose always tries to turn into a date, and Joe, Eve’s business partner, is getting jealous as he sees the woman he’s gotten so close to in business leaving him in the cold as she goes out with a flighty South American athlete.

One thing about the factory-style approach contract films of the 30s and 40s is that the studio’s big names end up working together again and again, even in relatively small pictures. Apparently Esther Williams did other movies with both Skelton and Montalban. The movies also end up being clearly written for the actors they want to make a picture with. Williams being famous for being a bathing beauty becomes Eve being a successful swimmer, swimsuit model, and swimsuit entrepreneur, all of which has almost nothing to do with the plot, and everything to do with justifying the handful of pool scenes. Jose being a polo player and Jack being the masseur hired to help him with an injury are even more incidental. They explain who they are in relation to the plot, but do not actually inform the plot after the initial time Betty mistakes Jack for Jose. Eve and Betty’s surname is “Barrett”, and it seems unlikely that “Betty Barrett” just happens to be played by Betty Garrett.

I was hoping to see that having a woman as the main writer improves the characterization of the women, and I think that’s so here. They seem like people using the tools they’ve been given t find romantic equals. And while Joe gets pretty possessive of Eve, he comes maybe a little too easily in the end to the idea of leaving her to be happy. The happy end kicks in and overrides his character. Jose seems like he’s in a battle of wits and resolve sometimes, and it’s sometimes difficult to tell if Eve appreciates his attention or not, but then this is the movie that introduced the public to “Baby, it’s Cold Outside”, a song hotly debated around Christmas in recent years. Altogether., a story about em taking their resources and making the best with them. And we have a lot of fun on the way.

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