Esther Williams, Howard Keel
(USDVD release date: 21 Jun 2013)
This especially bizarre Esther Williams vehicle is a burlesque of Ancient Rome as it’s about to be invaded by Hannibal (Howard Keel) and his elephants. Williams plays a bored society woman betrothed to ruler Fabius Maximus (George Sanders). She goes to spy on Hannibal’s army, gets captured, and charms the leader as she herself is tamed by his manly barbarian ways.
The absurd, meaningless and frankly dull plot gets in the way of such setpieces as the early highlight, an underwater fantasy with statues coming to life to suggest that our heroine isn’t getting the physical satisfaction she craves from Fabius, whom she keeps putting off. There’s also the married team of dancing dazzlers, Marge and Gower Champion, who play genial slaves. Gower is exuberant on the auction block, catching Marge’s eye as she frankly assesses the merchandise. They have a surreal dance number with the elephants, which made me consider that the trained pachyderms probably weren’t much enjoying themselves.
This Cinemascope product is the perfect example of the type of film best enjoyed via excerpted highlights in anthologies of clips, because sitting through the entire thing isn’t as rewarding. Now available on demand from Warner Archive, there’s a surprising bonus of a deleted scene where Sanders briefly sings—a moment the movie was fine without.