I don’t remember the first time I saw an Esther Williams movie, but I’m 90% positive I stumbled into one on TCM sometime. I quickly became transfixed by the experience. Those incredible aquatic fantasies that are the hallmark of her movies are simply stunning. There is, quite literally, no other thing like it in the movie universe. Esther Williams had a genre invented for her, that she owned, and to this date, no one else has made the “aqua-musical.” It helps that Esther was signed to the grandest studio of the classic Hollywood era, MGM, who happened to own the trademark in a particular brand of movie musical magic.
Esther Williams’ movies are a delightful escape from reality, one that we could all use a shot of right now. Those amazing, dazzling, synchronized swimming production numbers are lush, colorful, and will warm even the most cynical of hearts. Warner Archive has released the blu-ray debut of Williams’ 1952 film “Million Dollar Mermaid,” the first of her classic catalog to be issued in high-def. The film is a bio-pic on Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman, who had a career that paved the way for Williams during the days of vaudeville and silent film.
Walter Pigeon plays Kellerman’s father with Victor Mature appearing as her love interest. The film was directed by Mervin LeRoy, with stunning aquatic numbers done by Busby Berkeley. The vibrant Technicolor cinematography is by George Fosley, who was nominated for an Oscar for his work. When people think of Esther Williams movies, I imagine this is one that first comes to mind, perhaps alongside “Bathing Beauty.” Williams, after all, did use the title for her 1999 autobiography.
It had been a few years since I had seen the film, and what still stands out is the sequence towards the end of the film, featuring an iconic scene with Esther rising out of the water with lit sparklers going behind her. This new blu-ray from Warner Archive is a 1080p master taken from a 4K scan of the film where each of the individual, original nitrate Technicolor negatives were scanned separately, and then combined (much in the fashion which Technicolor prints were made, one strip for red, one for blue, and one for green).
The results are simply stunning, the color is true Technicolor magnificence the like of which we haven’t seen since. Reds are SO RED, the blues are SO BLUE. This movie doesn’t just shine in HD, it jumps off the screen and bombards you with color. “Million Dollar Mermaid” was released on DVD in 2009, as part of a collection that contained five other Esther Williams movies. The bonus material included on that disc has been ported over here. A fun “Pete Smith Speciality” short on weight loss, the cartoon “The Wise Little Quacker” and a radio show with Williams and Pigeon, plus the original trailer.
I’m here for any Esther Williams on blu-ray, they contain sequences so dazzling they still thrill and delight 70 years later. Even those who think Hollywood special is limited to the modern CGI era would be blown away by the dazzling images within. “Million Dollar Mermaid” is worth adding to your collection, it’s a stunning presentation of a grand MGM movie. You can get a copy by going to www.wbshop.com/warnerarchive. See you next week.