Neptune’s Daughter (1949)
Here’s another of my favorite Esther Williams’ movies: Neptune’s Daughter (1949).
Neptune’s Daughter follows the escapades of the Barrett sisters, Eve (Esther Williams) and Betty (Betty Garrett). Rounding out the cast, and the obligatory romantic couples, are Ricardo Montalban and Red Skelton.
Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban, a dashing Mexican actor, had starred in two films together before this one: Fiesta (1947) and On An Island with You (1948). Neptune’s Daughter is the strongest of the three, in my opinion. I’m rather fond of Betty Garrett, and I like the bathing-suit company subplot. Plus, in Fiesta Esther Williams pretends to be a bullfighter, and that’s a stretch even for me.
Williams had also worked with Red Skelton before. He was her leading man in her first big movie, Bathing Beauty (1944). (And he would make a cameo in Duchess of Idaho, and star with Williams in Texas Carnival (1951).) Williams had also just filmed a movie with Betty Garrett, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, which came out two months before Neptune’s Daughter. Just a bunch of old pals makin’ a movie.
I enjoy the titles of this film with their Bratz doll drawings:
The movie is sort of about a swimsuit design company called “Neptune’s Daughter,” hence the bathing-suit clad cartoons. Fun fact: “Neptune’s Daughter” was also the name of a 1914 film starring Annette Kellerman, the swimmer whom Esther Williams portrayed in the biopic Million Dollar Mermaid! There’s even a scene in Million Dollar Mermaid depicting the filming of Neptune’s Daughter! How’s that for intertextual references!
After the titles, Joe (Keenan Wynn, who also appeared in Texas Carnival and Easy to Wed with Williams) speaks these immortal words directly to the camera:
And we’re off! Wynn narrates to give us some backstory as we watch Esther Williams smoke her swimming competition. We learn that Eve is a champion swimmer (surprise!), and that Betty is her adorable, ditzy little sister who cheers her on and carries her trophies.
Betty is boy crazy, but so far no luck. As Joe explains, “Betty had a lot to offer, but couldn’t seem to find anyone to take it.” Ouch.
Joe tells us how he repeatedly asked Eve to go into business with him designing swimsuits, and finally succeeded. Fortunately for everyone, Eve has a real knack for it, as demonstrated by her savvy, stylish use of gingham.
Their company grows from that one room studio to a glossy office building/factory complete with swimming pool/mountain/grotto for fashion shows.
Fun fact: Before making this movie, Esther Williams made a deal with swimsuit designer Cole of California to be their spokesperson. Cole designed the bathing suits in this movie, and Williams appeared in their ads. Later she would design her own swimsuits (I’ve got one!), so this movie turned out to be rather prophetic.
Everything’s going great, and Eve has made the transition from swimmer to businesswoman quite neatly (you can tell by her smartly tailored suit and business-like spectacles.)
Joe brings in some exciting news about the visit of a South American polo team. He thinks they should do a fashion show during the match festivities. But I’m distracted wondering if Eve always makes Betty match her accent wall?
Eve is excited about the business opportunities the polo match will bring, but Betty is excited about the romantic opportunities…she says that she’s always wanted a polo player! And Big Sister tries to step in:
Fun fact: The bathing suit ad of Esther Williams in a red suit (behind Eve in the image on the right) is version of a real Cole of California ad. Observe:
Product placement is nothing new.
After this conversation, Betty sets off for the polo field to find herself a real-life, South American player. She asks for directions from Mel Blanc, a South American groom. It’s a very minor scene, but I mention it because Blanc was the voice of Speedy Gonzales, and he uses the voice for this character, four years before its first appearance in the cartoon.
Anyway, she makes her way to the stables and accidentally knocks Jack Spratt (Red Skelton), a masseur, unconscious. She’d been told that Jose O’Rourke, the captain of the polo team, was in Jack Spratt’s office, so she rather stupidly assumes that the red-headed man in her arms is Jose…
I’m not sure what to say about the name “Jose O’Rourke.” Really?
Regardless of his real name or identity, they make a date. Jack is pretty excited that a girl is interested in him, and Betty is over the moon about dinner with a polo player!
Jack shows up in full “South American” regalia, and speaks with a ridiculous accent. He brings a “Spanish for Beginners” record and puts it on as he snuggles with Betty. The lesson is about food vocabulary, so the record drones on about forks, salad, and salt in Spanish, as Betty swoons at the romance of it all! Comedy! You can watch it here.
Then it’s off to Casa Cugat, where Xavier Cugat‘s band delights the crowd. (Cugat was a very famous bandleader who appeared in loads of MGM musicals in the 1940s, including Bathing Beauty, and he led the Waldorf-Astoria band in New York for sixteen years.)
Betty gets on stage, too, dragging Jack with her. I love her green and white dress. The polka dot skirt is covered in sequins, and her pumps match! The costumes were designed by Irene.
Betty and Jack’s date is just swell, and the evening ends with Betty still convinced that Jack is Jose. Mother Hen Eve is less enthused when Betty finally gets home, with some souvenirs.
Eve is deeply concerned, as she’s fairly certain that an international polo star won’t have honorable intentions towards her sister. Plus, Betty wore Eve’s white fur coat without asking…sisters!
The next day, Eve summons Jose O’Rourke (Ricardo Montalban) to her office. When he arrives she’s leading a tour of buyers through her factory, so he joins up, and is immediately taken with the beautiful businesswoman in her mustard shirt, dangerously sharp collar, and glasses.
She’s not impressed by his suave good looks and charm, though, or his inappropriate leering. She’s all business.
After the tour, the buyers are treated to a fashion show of the company’s suits. (Check out my post on vintage fashion to learn more about these bathing suits.)
They are bowled over by the pretty bathing suits, and they gasp and applaud when Eve appears atop the fake mountain at the end of the fashion show…
Eve executes a beautiful dive into the pool, and struts her stuff explaining how the suit doesn’t sag or stretch. She nails the presentation.
After a movie-magic return to dry perfection, Eve meets with Jose in her office. She tells him in no uncertain terms to stay away from her sister. He’s a little confused, as he’s never met Betty Barrett, but he turns it to his advantage. He tells Eve that he will stop seeing her sister on one condition: that Eve go out with him tonight.
She agrees, but she’s pretty disgusted. She takes out some of her anger by smashing the bud vase that Jose had gotten stuck on his finger when he first arrived…
That night she’s determined to show him a very dull evening. Mixed signals, though, because look at her! Usually one doesn’t bring out the practically backless, gorgeous black and red sequined gown, or adorn oneself in diamonds when one is trying to discourage a fella, but whatever, Eve.
Jose arranges to stop by the stables to “check on a sick horse,” but really he’s got a whole routine planned. His personal band strikes up his signature song, “My Heart Beats Faster,” and he goes into seduction-dance mode.
There’s lots of twirling to show off the ombre hem, so it makes me grin. I love a good twirl.
It appears that Eve is succumbing to Jose’s famous charm, but don’t underestimate her. She leans in close…closer…then sneaks the car key from his jacket, seductively sits in the driver’s seat, and speeds away, leaving Jose with his horses and his band. Point, Eve!
Things go on like this for a while, with Betty chasing Jack, all the while believing he is Jose, and Jose chasing Eve, who keeps trying to keep Betty away from Jose.
Eve looks upon Jose with (fading) disdain, but that doesn’t stop her from showing up at Jose’s apartment to search for her wayward sister when she hears that Betty is with him. Remember, Jose has never even seen Betty!
After searching his apartment, Eve is forced to admit that Betty is not there. Then Jose turns on his charm yet again, in the really wonderful number “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” I’m not sure how it became a Christmas standard, because in this original iteration it’s all about romance. You can read more about that in the article I wrote for the Toronto International Film Festival’s newsletter “The Review.”
I adore how they did this song! It begins with Jose being the aggressor, the “wolf,” and begging Eve, the “mouse,” to stay. Then it switches to Betty and Jack, and this time Betty is the ferocious Don Juan making it very difficult for Jack to go…
You can watch it below, and you definitely should. The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year.
Unlike Jose’s first attempt at seduction, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” seems to work on Eve. They strike out for Casa Cugat, where they witness this jungle-themed extravaganza:
Eve softens enough to dance with Jose. She hardens again, though, once Cugat plays “My Heart Beats Faster,” and two separate women dance alongside Jose to tell him how wonderful it is that Cugat is playing “their song!”
Eve’s out of there! But Jose has weaseled his way into her heart, and into her brain:
I’ve also hankered after a polo-themed bathing suit, complete with helmet…but hasn’t every girl?
Eventually Joe jumps in the love train and professes his love for Eve, Jose and Eve make up then fall out again, Betty and Jack get engaged, and gangsters hatch a kidnapping plot to throw the polo match.
Jack has to hide from the gangsters by donning a swimsuit and cap for the synchronized swimming rehearsal. Betty sees him and wonders if Jose has a sister…I worry about her, sometimes.
Betty still thinks that Jack is Jose, and she has a devil of a time getting him on a polo pony to win the match! It’s a great scene. Red Skelton was a fantastic clown and physical comedian, and Betty Garrett is hilarious, too.
I showed this scene to my eight-year-old cousin and my dad, and we all laughed and laughed. It’s fun for all ages. That, or my dad and I have an eight-year-old’s comedic sensibility.
Fun fact: in Texas Carnival (1951), Skelton would perform a similar gag when he gets drunk before a chuck wagon race, and Ann Miller and Esther Williams have to get him into the wagon.
After Jack is finally on the horse, he rides off straight into a fence. But he’s okay!
Eve starts to watch the polo match, but turns it off in pain at hearing Jose’s name. This is a minor moment within the movie, but it’s interesting because it is one of the first times that a character watches television in a movie!
I know you’re desperately concerned about whether or not there is a happy ending…Well, everything gets sorted out, surprise!
The movie ends with an elaborate water ballet, complete with yard and yards of cloth, a pretty fake ship, men in tiny hot-pink trunks, and Esther Williams in a gold bathing suit with what appear to be Christmas ornaments in her hair. Go MGM!
First Eve does her thing in a spotlight:
Then dives beneath the water for some posing and flips:
And then it’s go time:
It’s over-the-top and magnificent! We all need more pink ships and leaping swimmers in our lives. Thank you, MGM and Esther Williams! You can watch it here.
Here’s the trailer–enjoy! As always, thanks for reading! For more, follow me on Twitter, tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram at BlondeAtTheFilm, and Facebook. You can buy this fun film here, and if you’d like to know more about Esther Williams, I highly recommend her autobiography!
Awesome recap once again, it was great to learn about the swimsuit ad in the background, for ex. How do you even notice these things?!
The use of Technicolor in this movie is just great, it was a real treat to revisit the shots in your recap. How carefully the sets, costumes, and lighting were designed to compliment each other and please the eye in the MGM musicals.
I forgot that Mel Blanc provided the voice of Speedy Gonzales! One of my favorite cartoon characters, I haven’t seen one of those for years.
When I saw Mel in this scene, I wasn’t thinking about Speedy Gonzales, I was thinking of his routine on the Jack Benny radio (later TV) show…
Thanks for the Mel Blanc clip! And I agree, the use of Technicolor in this movie is beautifully coordinated and over-the-top! Thanks for reading and commenting, Dave!
I want see this picture. I thing is one of Esther’s best. The number in the end is not great but the story and the beautiful song are formidable. I really like Red and Betty is so funny. Of course Million Dollar Mermaid has the best aqua shows but, for me, the ballet in Bathing Beauty is great (my fav)
Hope you get a chance to watch it! I agree, the water ballets in Million Dollar Mermaid and Bathing Beauty are more spectacular, but this movie is a lot of fun, too.
For some reason, the director shoots the high dive shot in such a way that you cannot possibly tell if it’s really Esther doing the dive. It goes Medium Close Up (getting read to dive), a Long Shot for dive itself, then a Medium Close Up of her swimming to the edge of the pool. This is exactly how directors shoot a scene when they use a stunt-double. If were Esther, I would have given that director a strong piece of my mind for making it look like a stunt-girl did the dive!
Good catch! As far as I know, she did do the dive for this scene, but stunt divers were used for some dives later on in her career, so it’s not out of the question. Thanks for this comment!