Watch out! Esther Williams is... Dangerous When Wet (1953)
I'm loving this rush of blogathons I've been able to be a part of! This post will be my contribution to the fun Beach Party Blogathon, and please check out the many other awesome posts! Many of the films are quite new to me, and I'm sure it'll be very enlightening.
From the minute I laid eyes on Dangerous When Wet, I knew it was my favorite Esther Williams flick. It's funny and romantic, with great songs, out-of-this-world chemistry between the leads, and lots of heart. I've made no bones about my love for the marvelous Ms. Williams, but I've yet to write about one of her films. It's certainly time to remedy that, don't you think?
At the demo, Windy tries to work his magic, but Pop's not impressed. As part of his schtick, Windy holds a talent contest of sorts, offering a big supply of Liquapep as the prize. Suzie is grabbed by some guys and they happily go onstage and do the cute number "I Like Men," which you can watch here. Katy sweetly and proudly tells Windy that that's her sister singing, which immediately sends off an alarm in his head. He declares Suzie the winner and tells the Higgins he'll bring her prize by later tonight. Katy is on to him, though. When Suzie tells him they'll leave the porch light on, Katy exclaims "We will not! It attracts bugs!" Ouch.
The crew arrives in England and just as they begin to get excited for the race, they become a little hesitant -- and maybe a little afraid -- to learn that once the current is taken into account, the race is 30 miles long, 10 miles more than they were expecting. Being the stubborn, go-get-'em family they are, though, they start out the next morning to train in the Channel. Their singing of "I Got Out of Bed" turns into yelps once they hit the icy waters, with everyone running out of the Channel except for Katy, and soon we see that Katy may be the only one really cut out for this. From this point on, the audience never sees the rest of the family training in or out of water.
She calls his name and suddenly a hand reaches out and pulls her on to a small rowboat. Katy thinks it's Windy, until she gets a better look and sees the dashing
Andre Lanet (Fernando Lamas) clad in a crisp, white tuxedo jacket and impeccably groomed. She's even more confused when he tells her he lives "here." He's equally perplexed at this girl swimming far out into the ocean at an early hour, wearing weird goggles and shouting "Windy!" Andre rows them to his yacht, the "here" he was referring to. He goes below to change clothes and skeptically look at this stranger he picked up, but he quickly changes his tune (literally) when Katy takes off her goggles and swim cap, revealing
the gorgeous Esther Williams. Andre brings her coffee and a suggestively lacy and transparent robe to wear over her bathing suit ("It's my mother's!" he claims in response to her dubious look). They chat, Katy explaining she's a Channel swimmer and Andre revealing that he's a champagne salesman. He had just left a party where he was making sales, hence the tux.
Andre is less than thrilled when Windy's shouts for Katy interrupt them. In an encounter parallel to Katy and Andre's, Windy had thought he had found Katy when he really happened upon the Channel's French competitor, Gigi. She clearly has a thing for Windy, but the guy would rather keep his eye on the race. The fog is still intense, so Katy and Windy continue to shout at each other to figure out where the other is at. I love when Windy asks where she is and she responds uncouthly, "On a yacht! With a Frenchman!" Andre practically spits out his coffee and Windy panics. "With a Frenchman?!"
The two men immediately start competing for Katy's attention as Andre invites her to dinner to "show her the layout and tricks of the Channel" and Katy brings Windy along. He is her coach, after all. Andre ditches Windy, though, by driving a two-seater and sending him in a cab to the wrong restaurant. Katy sees through it, but she's willing to play along. She even admits she's flattered, and Andre gives her a gift. She opens it to find a skimpy bikini that looks like it would barely cover her and she embarrasses Andre as she chides him. French girls wear them all the time, he reasons! The waitress makes things worse when she says her sister wore one to Brighton, only to be arrested, proving Katy's point.
seeing him until after the race. Andre acts like he gets
it, yet he shows up in France when the Higgins go there
to start the race in a few days.
In one of my favorite moments of the film, Katy talks to Pa to understand why he's so upset -- after all, the rest of the family is actually relieved. Pa reveals that before they left their farm, he put in motion all sorts of repairs and bought new equipment, all on credit. He was so sure one of them would win; he even bought a prize bull! Katy is astounded and very worried, knowing that if they can't pay, they'll lose the whole farm. William Demarest is so endearing in this scene, explaining that he "just wanted things to be nice when we got back." Katy hugs him and tries to remain hopeful that she'll win and everything will be fine.
here, lucky ducks.
However, the alcohol content is much stronger than she was expecting, leaving her very drunk by the time evening comes around. ("How'd it get so dark?" "The sun went down." "Oh. Who drank all my vitamins?") Andre suggests a swim to sober Katy up a little, since she keeps refusing to let him take her home. The butler brings her a black, lacy, rhinestone-studded bathing suit, a callback to "Mama's" robe from earlier. Watch the fun here.
Unable to help her walk (touching her would result in disqualification), Andre yells and encourages Katy to stand up and walk. She finally does, finishing the race in first place and collapsing in Andre's arms. It's a dramatic sequence for sure, but damn, it's effective. The film ends with the family all packed up and ready to leave their hotel to go back home. They're singing "I Got Out of Bed" again as they march to Katy's room, only to be stunned that Andre answers the door. Katy's hand appears on his shoulder and Andre points to her wedding ring, letting them know that nothing scandalous was happening. The Higgins, plus Andre, march out of the hotel as they sing, and they're joined by Windy and his new Liquapep swimmer, Gigi. Such a fun way to end a fun movie.
During filming, Williams and Lamas were equally aware of a growing attraction between them, but Williams was trying to work on her marriage to Ben Gage, although Lamas was certainly willing to give an affair a try. He was living up to his image as a Latin lothario, having affairs with the likes of Lana Turner and others. Esther knew he still wanted to fool around, and for her, that just wasn't going to cut it. Their romance wouldn't really kick in until years later after Esther left MGM and basically moviemaking altogether. She was working on a televised special from Cypress Gardens in Florida and needed a partner when she remembered how well she worked with Lamas. They reconnected, Lamas divorced his wife Arlene Dahl, and the two were married from 1969 until his death in 1982. If you'd like to know more about their relationship, or just Esther in general, I highly recommend Esther's autobiography, The Million Dollar Mermaid. You just cannot be disappointed by it.
there's a book out about him. I've always liked the projects he's picked, whether it's Lili, Summer Stock, or High Society, and he never seems to disappoint me. To make it even better, he had a wonderful friendship with Esther. I mean, he called her a "dear dame" -- how cute is that? Dangerous When Wet was important for Esther because before then, her directors never took her seriously; they figured that her only talent was swimming, an assumption that drove her crazy because she was anxious to learn how to improve her acting and singing so swimming wouldn't be her only talent. Chuck gave her that chance. He worked with her to try and help her be the best she could be, and she was grateful. They worked together again immediately on 1953's Easy to Love, a film that I think is just as good as Dangerous. They had also done Texas Carnival in 1951, but that material isn't as strong as their other two works.
Noticeably, though, Lamas doesn't get a scene all to himself -- he may get 30 seconds in before Esther pops up again. I imagine if a bigger name had been given Andre, he would've gotten some of his own business to do in addition to scenes with Esther. (Think of Red Skelton in Bathing Beauty, the film that made Williams a legitimate star.) It also helps Lamas and Williams' chemistry that he was able to actually swim, almost as beautifully as her. Lamas was a champion swimmer in Argentina, much like Esther was before MGM stepped in. It definitely shows in their swimming routine together -- they're able to play around and flirtatiously compete, whereas with Van Johnson, Howard Keel, and others, Esther had to sneakily hold the guys up underwater so they could pretend like they were keeping up with the million dollar mermaid.
|Esther breaking the fourth wall before she puts on her bikini.|
|The cat and mouse tell Gigi's fish incarnation the wrong way to Dover.|
|Andre playfully grabs Katy after she thinks she's outsmarted him.|
I know my pictures aren't the best (blame my TV for that), but this film is just beautiful to look at. All of Esther's films are -- she looked stunning in Technicolor, and MGM definitely took advantage of that. With a great score by Johnny Mercer and Arthur Schwartz, perfect direction by Walters, great support from secondary characters, and marvelous performances by Williams and Lamas, you just can't go wrong with Dangerous When Wet. If you don't like it, maybe you got out of bed on the wrong side.