Zero Displacement


Two more Esther Williams movies, but they don’t make much of a splash.

ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU is supposed to be about a besotted air force pilot abducting a movie star to a tropical island so he can have a dance with her. The pilot is played by Peter Lawford, who I don’t think is a terrible actor, but he lacks chemistry — with anyone. Chemically, he is inert. Most straight guys, placed in a scene with Es, would be able to muster some excitement, but Lawford remains flat and petulant.


To overcome this considerable problem, the movie tries deferring its plot indefinitely, spending a full 45 minutes mooning around a hotel before the romantic kidnapping gets started. Fortunately, Xavier Cugat is on hand. If you want to stop a storyline from ever getting underway, Xavier Cugat is just the man you need. He assails us with Latin swing music, and keeps pressing chihuahuas onto Jimmy Durante. This business was apparently judged to be a suitable delaying tactic by the suits at MGM, and it does pass the time in a desultory sort of way that is yet not as desultory as watching Peter Lawford drily articulate his yearning.


The main entertainment is actually provided by little Kathryn Beaumont as an English child actor. She was the voice of Alice and Wendy for Disney. She’s supposed to play the young Esther in a movie, but Durante declares she’s too English. “But mother,” asks Kathryn, “How is it possible to be too English?”


If ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU never gets started, the clumsily titled THRILL OF A ROMANCE gets started immediately, then smashes to a halt and expires in Yosemite Park. Esther is wooed and wed by the oddly creepy Carleton G. Young, who is not the same guy who says “Print the legend” in LIBERTY VALANCE. Something has been added — the letter G. Admittedly, this character is a sort of schnook set up to make Van Johnson look more marriagable (the plot ends in bigamy, a surprising recurring feature of Esther vehicles). And admittedly this is wartime, so all the proper leading men are in the army. Some casting director must have cried, “Get me a young Carleton Young!”

This 4F weirdball picks Esther up after seeing her dive, and gets her address from a naked Mexican boy he romances. But when the boy, still undressed, turns up at the wedding, Carleton is displeased. I was seriously expecting this to go in some kind of weird NAKED KISS direction.


Without any narrative momentum among the redwoods, the film reaches not for Xavier Cugat but for opera singer Lauritz Melchior, who satisfies Louis B. Mayer’s demand for classical music to lend class to his pictures, while also allowing a lot of fat guy jokes. I wondered allowed if the Danish tenor was related to Ib Melchior of REPTILICUS! and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES fame. “Not everyone in Denmark is related,” admonished Fiona. “Everyone called Melchior is related,” I admonished back.

And it turns out the ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS guys is indeed the son of the fat singer.

“This opera singer has some comedy chops,” says Fiona, part way through. And then, “Ib Melchior’s dad was really the whole show in that film.”

Yes, I agree, it was all Melchior all the time. It couldn’t BE any Melchior.

7 Responses to “Zero Displacement”

  1. I agree that Lauritz Melchior is the best part of Thrill of a Romance. It’s a pity that he made so few films: he had real potential as a singing rival to S. Z. Sakall.

    Xavier Cugat is less of a distraction in the Astaire-Hayworth musical You Were Never Lovelier. If you haven’t seen that one, I recommend it. I know that you didn’t care for its predecessor, You’ll Never Get Rich, but the later film is better by far in every way.

  2. OK, it’s listed! I thought I had a copy but it seems I have two of the wrong one.

  3. chris schneider Says:

    “He tried to press his chihuahuas on me …”

    ~ Dona Drake on her failed romance with Xavier Cugat.


    That gold bathing-suit makes Williams look like a TEN COMMANDMENTS forbidden idol.

  4. Wet she was a graven image.

  5. I strongly disagree with you about Peter Lawford. He had great chemistry with June Allyson in “Good News” and Judy in “Easter Parade”

  6. Easter Parade I haven’t seen since I was a kid — maybe I’ll rewatch this Easter. We’ve been practically living at MGM these last months, so it’s probably high time.

    Good News I’ll grant you — the writing helps enormously. And I think he’s excellent with Helen Walker in Cluny Brown but that’s a second-lead subsidiary affair, which we don’t have to feel anything serious about. In a way I feel the same way about Good News, even though he and June are nominally the leads. It’s a wonderfully weightless film, he’s not required to suggest an amour fou. In On an Island with You he can only manage the fou part.

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