The Esther Williams Collection, Volume 2

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estherAmerica’s Mermaid Esther Williams makes a return appearance in this six disc set just (as of October 6, 2009) released from Warners in partnership with Turner Classic Movies.  Although perhaps somewhat overlooked today, Williams at her height in the 1950s was a major symbol of pure escapism and (for the most part) meaningless entertainment.

And, to be honest, as far as films go, none of the six included in this collection (with release dates from 1945-1953) are examples of classic cinema at its finest.  In fact, at least one is downright bad.  However the beauty of these films isn’t in their plots or character development or the other standard prerequisites for excellence.

Rather, all the usual acoutrements serve only as a vehicle for Ms. Williams.   And when taken from this perspective and coupled with the state of the world in the immediate post war era, these films are masterful visions.  The plots are all rather pedestrian if not ludicrous and, although in all cases she has talented co-stars (Van Johnson, Mary Astor, Howard Keel, Victor Mature, and Walter Pidgeon) they serve only to provide support for her.

These aquamusicals as they were termed in the day were a full-fledged genre that MGM created for their star.  As an accomplished swimmer all the films in this collection feature extensive sequences filmed in the most liquid of elements.

As a deprived Olympian (Williams most certainly would have competed in both the 1940 and 1944 Games had World War II not caused their cancellation.) she was instead discovered by MGM and first appeared in 1942’s Andy Hardy’s Double Life. Her extensively choreographed aquatic routines founded the sport currently known as synchronized swimming.

After the demise of the fabled aquamusical in the early 50s Williams tried her hand at more serious roles but failed miserably.  She’s a swimmer, not an actress.  Given the acquired taste element that the six films included here have, one is thankful that these lesser vehicles haven’t been included.

However, the quality of the film itself aside, Warners has done a superior job in releasing these films to DVD – some of which never appeared on VHS.  To varying degrees all the transfers are crisp and quite good.  And given the niche quality these films hold we are even treated to a fairly deep selection of added features.  One wishes all releases included such.

All six discs (there is one feature per disc and all are nicely executed picture discs) have a good complement of features including the original trailer and vintage shorts and classic cartoons.  The trailers as a means of comparison are a quick and dirty way to see that at least some cleaning and restoration appears to have been done to their feature films.

Of the six, three (Thrill of a Romance, This Time for Keeps, Pagan Love Song) include additional musical outtakes and Million Dollar Mermaid includes a vintage radio program.  Nice of Warners to include these additional features for the fans of these films.

The color and registration is outstanding in almost all cases – remember these films were intended to be visually breathtaking and they still are.  All six films are in glorious technicolor.

In summary it is good to see in these challenging times any classic film releases given their somewhat limited potential (except for the “biggies” like The Wizard of Oz). Kudos to Warners as well for not releasing these titles as part of the BOD Warner Archives  program.  Although we like much with their Archives plan, it is always nice to get pressed discs with scene selections and added features.

This set is recommended for those who are already fans of the genre or want simply to revel in the visual experience of films like this which will never be made again. The six films includeded are Thrill of a Romance, Fiesta, This Time for Keeps, Pagan Love Song, Million Dollar Mermaid, and Easy to Love.

Well, perhaps they could be remade if the water suddenly swelled into a typhoon and Ms. Williams had at some point been featured in a highly successful series of comic books.  Or perhaps if some toilet humor could be worked in.

Maybe “Baby Ruth?” (fans of Caddyshack will get it.)

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