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Jefferson Root Written by Jefferson Root
Apr. 23, 2010 | 12:23 AM

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TCM Classic Film Festival: Day 1: NEPTUNE’S DAUGHTER

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With TCM main host Robert Osborne down the street introducing “A Star Is Born” at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, it was up to weekend host Ben Mankiewicz to preside over a longstanding Hollywood tradition, the poolside screening.  And what better film to screen by the pool than 1949’s Esther Williams vehicle “Neptune’s Daughter”?  Williams made a career out of swimming in movies, and in “Neptune’s Daughter” not only does she get to perform fancy aquatic routines, she’s also a successful swimsuit designer.  Turner Classic Movies is pulling out all the stops for this festival, so it’s no surprise that both Esther Williams and her co-star Betty Garrett both appeared with Mankiewicz at the screening. Although now confined to a wheelchair, Williams is as enthusiastic about swimming as ever.  Initially apologizing that her voice was a little hoarse, she deferred to Garret, and mentioned that Betty could still swim.  “If you can still swim,” Williams said, “it doesn’t matter how you talk. The line got a big laugh, and Williams added, “Everyone sounds better underwater.”

The brief discussion with the two stars was followed by a brief but elegant performance by Aqualillies, a local synchronized swimming troupe.  It was a perfect introduction to the film, and the members of the troupe were even wearing vintage suits from the Esther Williams collection.  They swam to a few carefully chosen songs, including “It’s Cold Outside”, the Oscar winning song from “Neptune’s Daughter.” 

Which only leaves the film, which is an enjoyable piece of fluff.  It features a young Ricardo Montalban, who plays the very improbably named Jose O’Rourke, a champion polo player from South America.  Although it seems that half the film consists of people commenting on the love life of this “Romeo from the Amazon”, Betty Garrett’s character somehow manages to confuse him with Red Skelton. No matter. Add in Mel Blanc doing a modified Speedy Gonzales and some wacky polo shenanigans that arrive just in time to set up the happy ending, and voila, we’re back in the pool watching Esther Williams doing what she did best.



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