This was not from the Freed unit at MGM but instead from the corner where people like Joe Pasternak and Charles Walters, the director of this picture, lurked. From a distance, this just seems a wildly improbable scenario: a musical when the only real singer in the cast is Barbara Whiting, who plays the younger sister of the real star, Esther Williams. The only real dancer is Charlotte Greenwood – an eccentric dancer in the manner of Ray Bolger- who plays her mother. Esther Williams is engaging but not much of a singer or dancer. Fernando Lamas can croon a bit but has the screen personality of a cod. And then round out the cast with Jack Carson and William Demarest….and this is a musical. And then add a story that has a family of Arkansas farmers setting out to swim the English Channel to win enough money to buy a prize bull. It is maybe far-fetched.
During the film, Esther Williams falls in love with and marries Fernando Lamas – a French(!) champagne magnate. No film with Jack Carson and William Demarest can ever be totally boring or worthless but here the odds are stacked against them. The songs are by Schwartz and Mercer. You wonder how they felt about the assignment! They contributed some engaging material but nothing that became a standard – although Joyce Breach has recorded “I got out of bed on the right side”. The music director for the film was Georgie Stoll, which makes you wonder whether his protégé Andre Previn was involved in this.
The highpoint of the film is an interlude where Esther Williams swims with Tom and Jerry. She has to fight off an amorous octopus – who sings in the voice of Fernando Lamas – gets chased by a swordfish and ends up amidst a herd of seahorses. In truth, the astonishing thing about this film is that it was a box office triumph. It is surprisingly watchable but that might just be because you cannot conceive where the plot is going next. It is not held together by any normal logic or dramatic necessity and nor is it studded with great songs or dances. You watch it in a state of disbelief: is this really happening in front of my eyes?