Texas Carnival

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Texas Carnival (1951) is another in the cycle of comedy musicals Esther Williams made at MGM. This would be her third film playing opposite of MGM funny man Red Skelton. Their relationship in her films had changed from a romantic one in Bathing Beauty (1944) into one of platonic friendship. One assumes this is due to their lack of chemistry. Williams is tough and no nonsense while Skelton is a wimp who is almost all nonsense.

Veteran MGM director Charles Walters headed up the production under Jack Cummings who produced the smaller musicals while Arthur Freed focused on the larger pictures. Texas Carnival is well crafted enough but Walters brings little of the flair to the proceedings that made Easter Parade (1949) and Lili (1953) so sensational. The real feat of Texas Carnival is that it actually is consistently funny. Screenwriter Dorothy Kingsley, who wrote the film, crams every nook and cranny with one liners and physical gags to keep Skelton busy. The funniest parts of the film are easily Skelton’s scenes with Keenan Wynn in which the veteran character actor is playing drunk.

Anne Miller is the primary focus of the classic MGM dance routines while Howard Keels picks up the slack in the singing department. Though neither get their best showcases in Texas Carnival they both make the most out of what they do. The big cinematic moment that merited a mention in That’s Entertainment III (1994) is the scene where Esther Williams (having been super imposed into the shot) swims around Howard Keel’s hotel room. Her underwater ballet coupled with the dreamy music create a kind of unique siren song that steals Keel’s heart. It’s a breathtaking sequence that lasts less than a minute but it’s one of the most unique in MGM’s pantheon of cinematic fantasias.

I loved Texas Carnival as a kid and I am always surprised how well so much of it holds up to my more mature eye. Overall it may not be the best film any of these artists ever made, but it is entertaining. It’s also bound to leave everyone hankering for a cheese burger, so go into this on a full stomach.