Neptune’s Daughter

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Neptune’s Daughter (1949) is a technicolor musical from MGM starring the inimitable Esther Williams. Neptune’s Daughter re-teamed MGM’s “Million Dollar Mermaid” with leading men Red Skelton and Ricardo Montalban along with maestro Xavier Cugat. This particular film lends itself more easily to Williams’ trademark water-ballet numbers.

Jack Cummings, a producer working in Arthur Freed’s unit at MGM, assigned contract screenwriter Dorothy Kingsley to pen Neptune’s Daughter after having been impressed by her work on Williams’ earlier hit Bathing Beauty (1944). A lot of the humor and character types are imported from the earlier film by Kingsley with the addition of a female foil to Williams’ character. The plot to Neptune’s Daughter involves “a man, a woman and a bathing suit”.

The basic idea is that Keenan Wynn and Esther Williams co-own and manage a profitable firm that designs women’s swimsuits. Williams’ younger sister, Betty Garrett (playing a character named Betty Barrett), is boy crazy for a latin American polo team lead by Ricardo Montalban. However, Garrett mistakes Red Skelton for Montalban whilst Montalban pursues Williams. It’s a familiar farce elevated by Kingsley’s excellent wit and knack for sisterly banter.

Today Neptune’s Daughter is best known as the film that popularized the Frank Loesser song “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. Though this song is seen as controversial today, Kingsley’s script stages the song as bawdy flirtation in one scene with Williams and Montalban while subverting it at the same time via cross-cutting with a scene between Skelton and Garrett. As Montalban pursues Williams in one shot, in the next Garrett pursues Skelton.The juxtaposition is obviously played for laughs, but the equalizing effects of this sequence is also significant.

As far as Esther Williams vehicles go Neptune’s Daughter is one of the superior entries. Edward Buzzell’s direction, honed on a dozen MGM B-movie musicals, is competent and workman like. He brings little of George Sidney’s sweeping camera moves and bombastic style to the ballet numbers, fairing better with the dialogue heavy scenes in which he accentuates the comedic rhythms in Kingsley’s script.