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Neptune’s Daughter [Esther Williams]

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Neptune's Daughter (1949) starring Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Red Skelton, Betty Garrett, Keenan Wynn
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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.

A guy, a girl, and a bathing suit.

Esther Williams showing off a bathing suit in Neptune's Daughter

The movie begins with Keenan Wynn narrating the story of “a guy, a girl and a bathing suit. He tells how his character, Joe Backett, met Esther Williams’ character, Eve Barrett. 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 Montalban and Esther Williams in Neptune's Daughter
Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams in Neptune’s Daughter

Ricardo Montalban plays Jose O’Rourke, the captain of the polo team. At the polo grounds, Ricardo Montalban 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, the voice of Speedy Gonzales and the other Looney Tunes characters) interrupts.  He needs Red to help Ricardo Montalban, 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.

Massaging the polo team captain

Red Skelton and Betty Garrett as the comedy couple in Neptune's Daughter

Jack Spratt/Red Skelton begins rubbing down Ricardo Montalban/Jose O’Rourke. 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.

Mistaken identities

The shy Jack takes advantage of the situation to get a date with Betty. Even though she thinks that he’s Jose O’Rourke.   This sets up the romantic conflict of the movie. The over-protective Eve thinks that Ricardo Montalban is trying to woo her sister Betty; Ricardo Montalban 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 Jose O’Rourke, when she’s actually dating Red Skelton’s character, Jack Spratt.

Red Skelton impersonating José O'Rourke, courting Betty Garrett
Red Skelton impersonating José O’Rourke, courting Betty Garrett
Neptune's Daughter Ricardo Montalban Esther Williams 1949

Oddly enough, even though I’m a huge fan of Ricardo Montalban, 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, its non-stop laughter.   For example, when Red (disguised as Jose) 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, its 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. Red has to pretend to be able to play every instrument in the band.   It’s truly laugh-out-loud funny.

Love triangle

Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams in Neptune's Daughter

There’s also a romantic love triangle between Keenan Wynn’s character, Eve, and the real Jose, and much splashing about in the water, and a big musical swimming production at the end.  And gangsters who want to kidnap Jose 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

Editorial Review of Neptune’s Daughter starring Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Red Skelton – courtesy of

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 swimwear. She also plays chaperone to her boy-crazy sister Betty, who is determined to meet Jose (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!

Betty Barrett (Betty Garrett): Actually, I have a date with him [referring to Red Skelton] tonight.
Eve Barrett (Esther Williams): Can’t you get in enough trouble here without going below the border?

Jose O’Rourke (Ricardo Montalban): Hasta la vista.
Jack Spratt (Red Skelton): Huh?
Jose O’Rourke (Ricardo Montalban): I’m sorry.   In your language, that means, “Adios, amigo.”

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