Throwback Thursday: Esther Williams is Jupiter’s Darling

Jupiters Darling

Esther Williams was the queen of MGM’s aquamusicals, but ‘Jupiter’s Darling’ is sorely lacking what the fans expect.


MGM is well-known for being the studio that produced “more stars than there are in the heavens” as well as some of the most popular and beloved all-singing, all-dancing movie musicals of all time. One of MGM’s biggest stars from 1945 to 1956 was Esther Williams, who wasn’t a singer or a dancer, but who appeared in a string of the studio’s most popular musicals at the time. Not just musicals, but “aquamusicals” which showcased Williams’ real talent for swimming (Williams was signed by Louis B. Mayer because he wanted a sports star to compete with Fox’s popular Sonja Henie, an ice skater who made a series of successful ice-musicals).

After such hit films as Million Dollar Mermaid and Dangerous When Wet, Williams took time for maternity leave with the knowledge that she would return to star in the film Athena. But MGM decided to move forward with the film, rewrite it as a singing and dancing musical, and cast Jane Powell in the lead. Williams was then shuffled over to Jupiter’s Darling, starring alongside George Sanders, Howard Keel and Marge & Gower Champion. With Williams’ death in June (2013) at the age of 91, the Warner Archive Collection released (coincidentally?) Jupiter’s Darling as a Manufacture on Demand offering just two weeks later. (Michael Ansara, who passed away on July 31 — also at the age of 91 — appears briefly in the film.) Unfortunately, the film is one of Williams’ lesser efforts.

The story revolves around Willliams’ Amytis, a headstrong Greek woman betrothed to the future Roman dictator Fabius Maximus (Sanders). While he, and his mother, keep pressing her to set a wedding date, she keeps putting him off with “maybe next year.” It should be enough to send anyone running, but he’s smitten … much to the dismay of his mother (even if the marriage was arranged). Amytis would rather drive her chariot recklessly through the countryside or go shopping in town (yes, the female stereotype is on full display), even buying a slave, Varius, for her own slave Meta after she becomes smitten with him. The two, played by the dancing Champions, break into a bizarre song and dance number about the joys of being a slave. It’s okay if you have a pretty woman to slave alongside, I suppose.

But trouble is brewing outside the walls of Rome as Hannibal (Keel) is making his way to sack the city with his army and elephants. Amytis finds herself smitten and captured (along with Meta) by Hannibal, but she uses her feminine charms to make him delay his attack on her home (and there is some surprising suggestion of sexual conduct that probably got past the censors only because the two were shown in separate tents the next morning). But when Hannibal learns that Amytis is actually betrothed to Fabius, his feeling of betrayal leads to all-out war on Rome, forcing Amytis to make a major decision: stay and defend her home while being stuck in a loveless marriage, or “sacrifice” herself to Hannibal to save the city.

While the script for Jupiter’s Darling is a bit weak and very dated, the production value is top notch. The film uses a lot of outdoor locations, but even the interior sets have much more grandeur to them — even the tents — than anything in Land of the Pharaohs. The Archive Collection DVD presents the film in very good condition, preserving the film’s Cinemascope aspect ratio, bold, bright colors and stereophonic sound. What the film lacks, however, is the main selling point: Esther Williams swimming. She gets one big fantasy musical number in an insanely fabulous swimming pool, using her beauty to bring statues to life, but the other two times she’s in water, she’s teaching Hannibal to swim or trying to flee his soldiers. The tunes aren’t very memorable either, but Hermes Pan’s choreography for the Champions is interesting, innovative and beautiful as usual.

Besides the main feature, the DVD include a trailer and a deleted musical number which is certainly an interesting bonus. I don’t believe George Sanders was ever a song and dance man (even though he did sing in Call Me Madam with Ethel Merman, and recorded an album of love songs!), and that may be why the number was cut. Williams didn’t do her own singing, but Sanders must have because no one could have matched his very distinctive voice. It’s not terrible, but hearing him croon a love duet with Williams is just totally unexpected. The song, however, is short as it turns into yet another dance number for the Champions (who seem to be the real stars of the film … and their dance with Hannibal’s elephants would have had PETA in an uproar). Jupiter’s Darling isn’t a bad movie, it’s just bland and suffers from not having enough of the expected Esther Williams swimming spectacle.


Photo Credit: MGM

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