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Esther Williams became a star in Bathing Beauty (1944), playing her first leading role opposite comedian Red Skelton. They made an unlikely but appealing romantic team, and the film was a huge hit. In 1949, Skelton was the second banana in Williams's starring vehicle, Neptune's Daughter, and when the two co-starred again, in Texas Carnival (1951), it was Skelton who stole the show.
In Texas Carnival, Williams and Skelton play workers in a cheap carnival sideshow who are mistaken for a rich Texas cattle baron and his sister. Howard Keel, who had co-starred with Williams in Pagan Love Song (1950), plays the ranch foreman who falls for Williams even though he knows she's an imposter, and Ann Miller is a sheriff's daughter who pursues Skelton. There's a lot of plot and several musical numbers crammed into a brisk 76 minutes, but director Charles Walters keeps all the wheels spinning smoothly and efficiently.
By the time Texas Carnival went into production in early 1951, MGM was a much different studio than it had been when Bathing Beauty was made. The studio was in the middle of an austerity regime imposed by head of production Dore Schary, who replaced Louis B. Mayer as studio head in June of 1951. Schary's preference was for social issue dramas, and he paid scant attention to the more lightweight fare. Texas Carnival did not have the lavish budgets of earlier musicals, and certainly not that of 1951's big musical, An American in Paris. But in spite of the cheaper production values, Walters, who had directed lavish big-budget musicals such as Ziegfeld Follies (1945), Easter Parade (1948) and The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), did manage a few clever touches. Williams has only one real swimming scene, but it's a wonderfully imaginative one. Keel, in his hotel room, is dreamy-eyed over Williams, and as New York Times critic Bosley Crowther writes, "she swims as a gossamer vision before Mr. Keel's enchanted eyes." Among other good moments in the film are Ann Miller's tap dance number accompanied by a xylophone, and a climactic chuck-wagon race.
But the film really belongs to Skelton, who makes the most of his screen time. Crowther's review complained that Skelton "not only gobbles up entirely every scene that he plays alone but also snatches the white meat from the others in every scene that he plays with them...there are few situations in which the comic doesn't butt." In his memoirs, Howard Keel recalled that a bar scene in the film took forever to shoot, because co-star Keenan Wynn couldn't keep from cracking up over Skelton's antics. Skelton, a former vaudevillian and radio star, was at his peak when he appeared in Texas Carnival. The same year the film was released, he began his television show, which lasted until 1970.
Keel and Williams teamed once more in Jupiter's Darling (1955), her last film at MGM. Walters, who called Williams "a dear dame", went on to direct two more Williams splash-taculars, Dangerous When Wet and Easy to Love, both released in 1953. He was Oscar®-nominated for his direction of the lovely musical fantasy, Lili (1953).
In spite of its limited budget, Texas Carnival performed well at the box office. Keel, Williams, Miller and Walters went on to bigger successes (and bigger budgets) at MGM, but the era of the studio system was drawing to a close. Of all the stars in Texas Carnival, it was Skelton whose career would last the longest, thanks to the medium that helped kill the studio system, television.
Director: Charles Walters
Producer: Jack Cummings
Screenplay: Dorothy Kingsley, story by Kingsley and George Wells
Cinematography: Robert Planck
Editor: Adrienne Fazan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, William Ferrari
Music: songs by Dorothy Fields, June Hershey, Don Swander, Harry Warren
Principal Cast: Esther Williams (Debbie Telford), Red Skelton (Cornie Quinell), Howard Keel (Slim Shelby), Ann Miller (Sunshine Jackson), Paula Raymond (Marilla Sabinas), Keenan Wynn (Dan Sabinas), Tom Tully (Sheriff Jackson), Glenn Strange (Tex Hodgkins), Hans Conried (Hotel Clerk).
C-77m. Closed Captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri