Neptune’s Daughter (1949) starring Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Red Skelton, Betty Garrett, Keenan Wynn
Neptune’s Daughter is a laugh out loud funny romantic musical comedy, which I enjoyed immensely. Although the movie stars the beautiful (and aquatic) Esther Williams and the dashing Ricardo Montalban (one of my favorite actors), the movie comes to life when Red Skelton is onscreen. The movie begins with Keenan Wynn narrating the story of “a guy, a girl and a bathing suit”—telling how his character, Joe Backett, met Esther Williams’ character, Eve Barrett, and how with his business acumen and her face and figure (and swimsuit designs) they created a bathing suit company that soon became “big business.” He has a promotional idea that involves the South American polo team that’s playing nearby.
Ricardo Montalbán plays Joeé O’Rourke, the captain of the polo team. At the polo grounds, Ricardo Montalbán hurts his shoulder, and needs the club’s masseuse. Red Skelton (as masseuse Jack Spratt – love that name) is listening to a radio quiz show that requires no skill at all—just the ability to answer the phone. The camera pans back to reveal that Red has nearly a dozen phones on his desk, waiting to win the $10,000 prize. At that moment, Julio (played by Mel Blanc, voice of Speedy Gonzales and the other Looney Tunes characters) interrupts, to have Red help Ricardo Montalbán, head of the South American polo team, whose arm has been hurt. As Jack Spratt/Red Skelton leaves, of course, the phone rings and the radio announces that they’re calling Jack Spratt. Red desperately tries to get back into the room (a hilarious scene)since he can’t find the key. Once it’s too late, Red Skelton laments to Mel Blanc that something so small cost him a fortune—only to realize that he had the key in his hand the entire time.
Jack Spratt/Red Skelton begins rubbing down Ricardo Montalbán/José O’Rourke, who in return has a very funny exchange with Red, explaining how to romance a woman. Timely advice, since Eve’s sister, Betty Barrett (played by the pretty, and very funny Betty Garrett) is “on the prowl” for a South American polo player as a boyfriend, and after a funny scene where she tries unsuccessfully to get direction from Mel Blanc, she opens the swinging door to the room where she thinks the polo captain is—only to knock Red Skelton/Jack Spratt down, semi-conscious. The shy Jack takes advantage of the situation to get a date with Betty, even though she thinks that he’s José O’Rourke. This sets up the romantic conflict of the movie, as the over-protective Eve thinks that Ricardo Montalbán is trying to her sister Betty; Ricardo Montalbán is using the confusion to ‘blackmail’ (in the nicest way) Eve into going out with him instead. At the same time, Betty thinks that she’s dating José O’Rourke, when she’s actually dating Red Skelton’s character, Jack Spratt.
Oddly enough, even though I’m a huge fan of Ricardo Montalbán, for me the movie drags during the romantic scenes between him and Esther Williams. When Red Skelton is on the screen,however, especially with Betty Garrett, it’s non-stop laughter. For example, when Red (disguised as José) tries to date Betty, with a constantly-slipping oversized belt (in a costume that he’s ‘borrowed’ from the authentic polo team captain), and trying to court her in Spanish (the “language of love”) with a record, it’s very funny. Much funnier still is the scene in a nightclub later, where Xavier Cugat notices his ‘countryman’ and asks him a series of questions, to which the monolingual Red can only answer “Si?” building up to a very funny musical routine with Red, Betty and Xavier Cugat’s band, where Red has to pretend to be able to play every instrument in the band. It’s truly laugh-out-loud funny.
There’s also a romantic love triangle between Keenan Wynn’s character, Eve, and the real José, and much splashing about in the water, and a big musical swimming production at the end—and gangsters who want to kidnap José in order to win a large bet, but I’ll let you watch the film for yourself and enjoy it. I did, and rate it a very solid 4 clowns out of 5.
Soundtracks for Neptune’s Daughter
- Baby It’s Cold Outside
- Written by Frank Loesser, performed by Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams; also performed by Red Skelton and Betty Garrett
- I Love Those Men
- My Heart Beats Faster
- On a Slow Boat to China
- Jungle Rhumba
Editorial Review of Neptune’s Daughter starring Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Red Skelton—courtesy of Amazon.com
According to its opening voiceover, Neptune’s Daughter is “a story about a guy, a girl, and a bathing suit.” Oh, but it’s so much more than that. Esther Williams plays Eve, a (surprise!) swimming champion who gives up her amateur status to design and model swim wear. She also plays chaperone to her boy-crazy sister Betty, who is determined to meet José (Ricardo Montalban), the captain of the visiting South American polo team–only instead she mistakenly meets amiable masseur Red Skelton, who she thinks is Jose, and meanwhile… well, it’s best not to think about the plot. It’ll just make your head hurt and it’s really not the point, is it? The point is a charming romance between Williams and Montalban; the music, including the Oscar-winning “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”; and Xavier Cugat and his orchestra playing the kind of song-and-dance numbers that seem to require a wind machine inside the nightclub. And just when you think the movie is going to end without a hilariously elaborate water ballet number, Esther comes through for you. —Ali Davis
Funny quotes from Neptune’s Daughter starring Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Ricardo Montalban, Betty Garrett
Betty Barrett (Betty Garrett): … and a polo player’s what I’ve always wanted!
Eve Barrett (Esther Williams): And last year it was a football player that you’d always wanted, the year before that it was a cowboy.
Betty Barrett (Betty Garrett): Well, I’m flexible.
Eve Barrett (Esther Williams): Betty, dear, you’ve got to stop throwing yourself at men. You’re only going to get hurt.
Betty Barrett (Betty Garrett): Not if my aim is good!
José O’Rourke (Ricardo Montalban): Hasta la vista.
Jack Spratt (Red Skelton): Huh?
José O’Rourke (Ricardo Montalban): I’m sorry. In your language that means, ‘Adios, amigo.’