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Bathing Beauty—starring Esther Williams and Red Skelton

movie review of Bathing Beauty (1944) starring Red Skelton, Esther Williams, Basil Rathbone

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Synopsis of Bathing Beauty

Swim instructor Caroline Brooks (Esther Williams) angrily returns to her teaching job at a New Jersey girls school when her brand new marriage to songwriter Steve Elliott (Red Skelton) is disrupted by scheming show producer George Adams (Basil Rathbone). In order to speak with his estranged bride, Steve forces admission to the college, which has never been legally declared ‘all female.’ To rid the campus of him, Dean Clinton places Steve on two weeks’ probation, during which time she plans to hit him with 100 demerits and mandatory expulsion. Steve also encounters heavy resistance from faculty, students and a distant Caroline, who wants their marriage annulled.

movie review of Bathing Beauty

Publicity photo of Red Skelton from Bathing Beauty as Mr. Co-edBathing Beauty is an MGM musical that lives up to its’ name, with a great many musical numbers, featuring the talents of Harry James and his Music Makers, Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra, Ethel Smith “formerly the Hit Parade Organist”, Carlos Ramirez, etc.  The musical numbers are (for the most part) short and enjoyable, and don’t detract from the plot of the movie—although there are one or two exceptions.  At its’ core, however, Bathing Beauty is a screwball romantic comedy, starring one of my favorite screwballs, Red Skelton.  Red plays the part of of Steve Elliot, a songwriter who has fallen in love with Caroline Brooks (played by the lovely Esther Williams), a swimming instructor at an all-girl’s college.  Steve intends to forgo writing popular music numbers, and devote himself to writing “serious” music—which displeases his friend, George Adams (played by Basil Rathbone) enough that George intends to break up the marriage before it starts.  With the help of a Latin actress, George succeeds, thinking that Steve will now throw himself into his work; instead, however, he pursues Caroline, trying to prove his fidelity.  In the course of this, Steve enrolls in the all-girl’s college, giving Red Skelton plenty of time to do his comedy, and he has quite a few excellent moments, including:

  • Red Skelton playing music on glasses, only to have a drunk “help” him get the glasses in tune.
  • Red Skelton doing a very funny pantomime of what a woman goes through when waking up
  • A very funny musical comedy routine performing You Take the High Note
  • An excellent routine where Red is trapped in Esther Williams’ room by a barking Great Dane, and Red has to find a way out in 5 minutes
  • A well-known routine where “Madame Zarka” is teaching Red Skelton how to dance … in a tutu.
  • The “sticky paper” routine, part of the ballet dancing, where Red has to lose a sticky piece of paper before the dance ends … or be expelled.  It’s a very funny bit, as the various students pass the paper round-robin.
  • A screwball moment as nearly everyone is hiding, from everyone else, in Red’s room at the college

I truly enjoyed Bathing Beauty—it did have too many extraneous musical numbers, but they’re short (typically less than 2 minutes) and not distracting from the movie as a whole.

Music from Bathing Beauty

Editorial review of Bathing Beauty, starring Red Skelton, Esther Williams, Basil Rathbone, courtesy of Amazon.com

Red Skelton and Esther Williams (as the reconciled newlyweds) in Bathing Beauty

Red Skelton and Esther Williams (as the reconciled newlyweds) in Bathing Beauty

Hoping to win back his estranged swimming-coach wife (Esther Williams), a love-struck songwriter (Red Skelton) enrolls in a women’s college, and graduates “summa cum laude” in Comedy! Red’s in rare form and Esther’s in form-fitting swimsuit in this delightfully dizzy musical farce. BATHING BEAUTY begins with a splash: Xavier Cugat plays, Red clowns and Esther plunges into a pool. From there, things go, well… swimmingly. The college is loaded with pretty MGM starlets. Cugie shakes up more hot South American rhythms. A fine cast, including Basil Rathbone, Donald Meek, Janis Paige, and Groucho Marx’s favorite foil, Margaret Dumont, gives expert support. The finale is a wowser of a water ballet featuring the movies’ favoring bathing beauty swimming gracefully along alternating jets of water and flame. But Esther isn’t the only artistic lovely. Red dons a pink tutu for a college ballet class and reduces Tchaikovsky to chopped liver. Dive in!

Funny movie quotes from Bathing Beauty

Red Skelton in a musical number ("You take the high road") in Bathing Beauty

Red Skelton in a musical number (“You take the high road”) in Bathing Beauty

Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Hey Carlos, did you learn this song I wrote for Miss Brooks?
Carlos Ramirez: Si, si.
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Oh, now she’ll be here in a couple of minutes, and when you sing, put your heart and soul into it, don’t let her get away from you.
Carlos Ramirez: Don’t worry, when I sing they never get away.
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Good.  Well, on second thought maybe you better put my heart and soul into it, huh?

Caroline Brooks (Esther Williams): Darling …
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Yes, dear?
Caroline Brooks (Esther Williams): I have a surprise for you.
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): What?
Caroline Brooks (Esther Williams): I can cook!
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Sweetheart, I have a surprise for you … I can’t eat.

George Adams (Basil Rathbone): But he doesn’t like pools!
Xavier Cugat: Wait till you see what’s in it!
George Adams (Basil Rathbone): Don’t tell me it’s a woman – he’d never fall for a bathing suit.
Xavier Cugat: Wait till you see what’s in it!

George Adams (Basil Rathbone): [learning that Steve Elliot plans to retire] No, no, no, no, no.
Xavier Cugat: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
George Adams (Basil Rathbone): But what am I going to do with Harry James? What am I going to do with my water pageant? What am I going to do with these pipes and props and paucets?
Xavier Cugat: I don’t know … have you seen a plumber?

Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): We’re still getting married tomorrow?
Caroline Brooks (Esther Williams): Yes, dear, of course, providing my grandfather wires his consent … and my dowry.
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Your dowry? You mean I get money too?

George Adams (Basil Rathbone): He can’t do this to me! I’m his best friend!  I’ll get those songs even if I have to stop this marriage!

Maria Dorango (Jacqueline Dalya):: Stop!
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): What’s the meaning of this?
Maria Dorango (Jacqueline Dalya):: This man is my husband!
Caroline Brooks (Esther Williams): What?
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): What?
George Adams (Basil Rathbone): What? What proof have you?
Maria Dorango (Jacqueline Dalya):: [summons Pedro, Pablo & Pancho, “her” three red-headed sons]

George Adams (Basil Rathbone): Believe me, in times of stress, work is the only solution!  Pack up, old boy, while I go downstairs and pay the bill.  You must bury yourself in your music!
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): I’d as soon bury myself.

Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Do you remember where she was going?
Carlos Ramirez: I don’t remember … something like a cow.
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Not to Mos-cow?
Carlos Ramirez: No.
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Istan-bull?
Carlos Ramirez: No, no.  Is there some place such as Jersey?

Gate guard: We don’t allow men in this school; and especially we don’t allow men with red hair!
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Well, I didn’t know … [spies someone within the gates] oh, you don’t allow men, huh? What’s that guy, a tomboy?
Gate guard: That’s Professor Evans, professors don’t count.
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): I bet that guy can’t read, either.

Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): At least tell her to call me at the Town & Country Club; it’s a matter of life and death—mine.

Donald Meek: It’s that darn charter.  If I don’t change the charter, I’ll lose my job; I lose my job, and I’ll lose my girl; I lose my girl, and I’m lost.

Student: Professor Hendricks won’t be here for 10 minutes – we set his clock back!
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Oh, good.  His music sets me back about 10 years.
Professor Hendricks: Are we keeping you awake, Mr. Elliot?
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Barely.

Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Isn’t that red-headed fellow wonderful? Hey, that’s me!

[Willis’ Great Dane dog, Duke, is trapping Red inside a closet]
Caroline Brooks (Esther Williams):He probably just smells a rat.
Willis: Don’t you mean a mouse?
Caroline Brooks (Esther Williams): No, I mean a rat.  A big rat.

Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Oops, I’m in the wrong room!
George Adams (Basil Rathbone): You certainly are, you ought to be in a padded cell!
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): Hello, George.
George Adams (Basil Rathbone): Aren’t you carrying this girls’ school thing a little too far?
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): [dressed in Esther Williams’ clothes] Oh, I’m dressed like a dame to escape a Dane.

George Adams (Basil Rathbone): I’d do anything to get the music for my water pageant.  Schubert’s the only guy who ever got away with an unfinished symphony!

George Adams (Basil Rathbone): I’ll help you with your homework.  You may not know it, but I was expelled from Oxford!

George Adams (Basil Rathbone): [After Red has given him all of his homework to do] You know, Steve, it looks as though I’m working your way through college!

Madame Zarka: We do not waddle like a duck!
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): It’s the only way I know how to waddle.

Carlos Ramirez: The figure is familiar, but I cannot place the voice.

George Adams (Basil Rathbone): [taking about Esther Williams] Wait a minute, Steve – how does she look in a bathing suit?
Steve Elliot (Red Skelton): How does she look in a bathing suit? [to the audience] Is he kidding?

Trivia for Bathing Beauty

  • In one sequence Red Skelton’s character appears in a tutu. In a later interview Red said it was uncomfortable because he had to have his chest, back and underarms shaved for this costume.
  • At the time of its release, this was MGM’s third-highest grossing film, after Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) and Gone with the Wind (1939).
  • The movie was initially to be titled “The Co-Ed” with Red Skelton having top billing. However, once MGM execs watched the first cut of the film, they realized that Esther Williams’ role should be showcased more, and so changed the title to “Bathing Beauty”, giving her top billing and featuring her bathing-suit clad figure on the posters.
  • In one sequence Red Skelton’s character is trapped inside a house by a large dog. He escapes by removing the hinge pins from the door, picking up the door and, as the dog comes inside he holds the door between them and goes out. Red said that they had written themselves into a corner and could not come up with a way for him to get out. They were going to scrap the scene when the comedian Buster Keaton visited the set, took one look and told them how to do it.
  • Janis Paige’s film debut.

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