This August is #AMonthWithoutTheCode2020, PEPS’s third month-long study of un-Code films. Since 2018, we dedicate every August to the exclusive watching and reviewing (for the most part) of movies made outside the American Breen Era (1934-1954). Rather than making us forget the Code, this month gives us a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the Code and its values. Sometimes we have to miss something to truly appreciate it.
As part of #AMonthWithoutTheCode2020, we are publishing a Breening Thursday article every week in August. We replaced this series with Code Concepts articles during July, #CleanMovieMonth2020, which we dedicated exclusively to the American Breen Era. Now, since we are doing the opposite, Breening Thursday articles are very important. In these articles, we take un-Code films, which are movies made outside the American Breen Era, and describe how they would have been different if they had been self-regulated by Joseph I. Breen’s Production Code Administration (PCA), point by point. We call this unique and thorough process of self-regulation breening in honor of PCA head Joseph Breen. The verb was coined by Variety in the 1930s.
Today’s topic is Jupiter’s Darling from 1955. I wanted to start my breening series for this month by breening a movie from the first year of the Shurlock Era. This shows us how quickly things began to change under Geoffrey Shurlock’s leadership. I chose this film so that it could also be an entry in The Esther Williams Blogathon. Howard Keel is one of my favorite musical stars from the 1950s, so I was eager to see another of his films.
A headstrong, bold Roman woman, Amytis (Esther Williams), is engaged to Fabius Maximus (George Sanders), dictator of Rome. Amytis finds Fabius dull and his overbearing mother (Norma Varden) obnoxious, so she has delayed their marriage for years, dreaming of a more bold, viral man. Meanwhile, her slave and confidant, Meta (Marge Champion), is enamored of a handsome Carthaginian soldier (Gower Champion) sold as a slave, so Amytis buys him as a sweetheart for her. Rome is under threat of conquest by Hannibal the Barbarian (Howard Keel), the Carthaginian general who has conquered many lands with his bold men and huge elephants. When Amytis gets captured by the handsome brute, he may be conquered for the first time. That’s the premise of this story. With no further ado, let the breening begin!
Meta’s first costume, a blue tunic, is much too short. It should be lengthened to her knees.
Amytis’s first tunic, a red one, is too short. It must be knee-length.
When she goes to town, Amytis’s beige dress is too close to her skin tone in color, and the neckline is too low. The neckline should be higher and a more contrasting shade in that area.
When Amytis buys Varius from the slave market, he is wearing a very short tunic with slits in the side. It should be slightly longer, and the slits should be eliminated.
After Amytis buys Varius for Meta, he sings “If This Be Slav’ry.” During this song, he dances with Meta. Some of the partnering choreography is suggestive, such as when she puts her legs around his torso, when he pretends to strike her neck and her posterior, and when he stands over her with his legs spread as she lies down. These improper moves should be replaced with more decorous moves.
In this scene, Meta wears a long blue dress, but it has a slit which reveals almost all of her left leg, especially when she is dancing. The slit should end at least half-way down her thigh.
Later, Meta tells Varius that Amytis bought him for her, so she only owns half of him. “Which half?” he asks suggestively. This line should be omitted, although Meta’s line about owning half of him can remain.
In the next scene, Amytis sings a dreamy love song, “I Have a Dream,” to statues in her courtyard. The opening lyrics are, “I have a dream, / One I must follow. / Mine is a dream, a dream of flaming desire. / I see a man whose arms are waiting to hold me, / And once our lips have met, he’ll set me on fire.” The phrases “flaming desire” and “he’ll set me on fire” sound lustful and suggestive. The third phrase should be replaced with something like, “Mine is a dream that’s filled with endless romance.” The fifth line, which must rhyme, could be replaced with, “And I won’t hesitate to give love a chance.”
When Amytis sing this song, particularly the aforementioned questionable lyrics, her manner is much too flirtatious as she gazes at and strokes the barely-clothed statues of godlike men. Her look should be more wistful and girlish than come-hither.
After her song, Amytis takes off her dress, revealing a Roman-themed bathing suit so that she can dive into the pool for an elaborate underwater number. However, rather than simply taking off her dress in front of the camera, she flirtatiously pulls one strap off her shoulder, looking coquettishly at a statue, before slipping behind a pillar and tossing the whole dress onto the statue’s waiting arm. Although at first it might seem more decent for a woman to not undress on camera, this particular approach makes the audience think she might be naked. She should disrobe onscreen without any flirtation.
When the camera finally focuses on her swimming in the pool, we see that she is wearing a bathing suit. However, the fabric is a beige which is so close to her skin color that she looks naked from a distance. The bathing suit should be a color which contrasts with her skin tone.
In this aquatic number, Amytis swims/partners with men painted white and costumed to look like the statues to whom she was previously singing. While the loincloth costumes were fine on the statues, they look a little too small on real men. Their costumes should be a bit longer and not quite as tight.
At a party given by Fabius, Varius wears a purple tunic which is much too short. It should be lengthened at least a few inches.
At that same party, Amytis wears a white dress with a revealingly low neckline. Her neckline must be raised.
Hannibal’s red tunic is very short. Like Varius’s tunics, it should be lengthened to cover more of his upper legs.
When Hannibal is in his tent, Horatio (Richard Haydn), the historian, is documenting his conquering exploits. He reads his documentation of the great Carthaginian general’s preparation to sack Rome, saying, “His unforgettable words upon this momentous occasion were….” He turns to Hannibal, who sniffs the air and remarks, “The wind must be from the elephants’ quarters.” This reference to the bad smell of livestock’s droppings is in poor taste. Perhaps when Horatio waits for his unforgettable statement, an elephant could trumpet. Then, Hannibal could say, “See that those elephants are fed.”
When Amytis and Meta are captured by Hannibal’s men, she is wearing a turquoise dress with a low neckline. It should be raised to a decent level. It also has very large slits in the skirt, which must be removed.
Before being executed as a spy, Amytis tells Hannibal that his maps of Rome are inaccurate. He says, “If you’re lying to me, I’ll have you torn….” She cuts off his threat by saying, “Well, if you don’t believe me, etc.” The italicized word is too gruesome. Instead, he should just say, “I’ll have you….”
Hannibal proceeds to sing his first big song, “I Never Trust a Woman.” This song explains his suspicion toward women’s potential treachery, highlighting the fact that he is a “barbarian” through the way he manhandles Amytis during the number. Some of the lyrics are unacceptably violent, such as, “If someone I desire, / Should prove to be a liar, / I’d slit her lovely throat from ear to ear. / And at my leisure later, / I might decapitate her, / And say, ‘Too bad you lost your head, my dear.'” This whole section is too gory, and it is accompanied by nerve-wracking posturing with a dagger. These lyrics need to be replaced with something less violent. Later, there is the following suggestive lyric, “Though she may be a goddess, / I know beneath her bodice, / There beats a heart that’s probably untrue.” Although this usage of bodice is suggestive, I know it was tempting, since it is the only word that rhymes with goddess. I can only think of one appropriate usage of these two words: “Though she may be a goddess / Who wears a lovely bodice, / I know her heart beneath may be untrue.” Other than this, a new lyric must be written.
During this song, Hannibal brutally pushes Amytis down onto a couch, grabbing her legs and tossing them also onto the settee. As he does this, her skirt falls open, revealing most of her legs. Then, he sits down on the edge of the couch and leans suggestively over her. This whole scenario is not only brutal but indecent. He should instead back her up against the couch, where she could fall back onto it in a sitting position. He could lean toward her, but he must not lean over her. He shouldn’t actually shove her.
When Amytis brings Hannibal to a supposed breach in the walls of Rome, they have to swim across a stream. We again see her dress dropping to her feet. However, this time is not quite as bad, since we see the hem of her white bathing suit at the top of the frame. However, this deceptively modest technique of not showing disrobing is still suggestive. She should be shown matter-of-factly taking off the dress with no tricky photography.
Although Amytis’s white bathing suit is basically decent, it becomes very clingy when wet. The material should be looser so that it won’t become improperly clingy.
After their swim, Amytis wraps her gold cloak around her like a dress. However, it is revealing on the right side of her chest. In the next scene, it is torn and ragged. She should be properly covered in this costume, even when she gets ragged.
Despite her pleading and attempts to soften him, Hannibal points a dagger at Amytis and snarls, “You’re going to die.” “Yes, yes, I’m going to die,” she coos breathily. “But not until tomorrow,” she continues, seductively moving closer to his face before they passionately kiss. After a prolonged and excessive kiss, they break away and stare at each other as the scene fades out. It doesn’t quite fade out on a kiss, but it is still highly suggestive of an illicit affair. Instead of saying, “but not until tomorrow,” Amytis could say, “but at least I got to meet you first.” This tender plea, which should be said emotionally rather than seductively, could soften Hannibal’s heart and make him kiss her. This kiss should not be excessive or lustful. Afterward, they should pull apart and look at each other wonderingly. The camera should not slowly pull back, as this is too suggestive.
The next morning, Hannibal emerges from his tent, drowsy, scratching, and dreamy with pleasure. He then meanders over to the treasure tent, where an equally dreamy Amytis is picking out luxurious attire. However, that does not remove the possibility that they spent the night together in his tent. As the PCA often cautioned about morning after scenes, neither of them should seem to be “licking his lips” about the memory of the previous night. They should just seem wholesomely and completely in love. Also, Hannibal should go to a separate tent and call for Amytis, inquiring whether she is up. That would make it clear that she slept there and not in his quarters.
In this scene and throughout the day, Hannibal wears a blue tunic which is much too short. It should be lengthened.
When Hannibal delays the attack on Rome to spoon with Amytis, Horatio asks his right-hand man, Mago (William Demarest), “What shall I say the mighty Hannibal is doing?” Mago looks baffled and embarrassed. He goes over to the tent where Hannibal and Amytis just disappeared. He peers between the flaps a few times and stammers a great deal before finally saying, “He’s reconnoitering.” Although the reply itself is acceptable, Mago’s extended delay is suggestive and improper. One can’t help wondering just what they are doing within the tent. When asked the question, Mago should simply glance over his shoulder, looking disgusted rather than embarrassed, and reply, “He’s reconnoitering.”
That noon, we see Amytis wearing a white dress with a slit on each side, revealing both of her legs nearly up to the thigh. These slits should be eliminated.
Throughout the day, Hannibal keeps postponing the attack on Rome, much to Mago’s chagrin. When Mago pesters him for an answer about when they will attack, Hannibal replies, “I’ll talk to you later tonight.” Looking after Amytis, he adds, “Tomorrow.” This is very suggestive. He should simply say, “I’ll talk to you later.”
That evening, Varius, who was a Carthaginian prisoner, returns to Hannibal’s camp, having escaped by wearing Roman armor. When he removes his armor, we see that he is wearing a very short red tunic. This should be lengthened.
The next big musical number is “I Train My Elephant,” which is performed by Meta and Varius with the Carthaginian army’s elephants. This elaborate number was obviously included to make full use of circus elephants’ talents. For anything other than “humaniac” standards, the use of trained elements is not a problem. My objection to this number is the theme of the lyrics discussing slave girl Meta being trained like an elephant. The lyrics about training the elephants are fine, but for a man to describe training a woman the same way as a beast is demeaning and suggestive of abuse. That theme must be removed from this song. Perhaps instead he could sing about preferring his elephants to Meta because they love him, which she doesn’t.
During this number, Meta stands with her back toward the camera and pointedly shakes her posterior for several counts. This movement is improper and must be removed from the choreography.
When Amytis inspects the elephants with Hannibal, she is wearing a coral pantsuit. This outfit’s neckline is very low and must be raised. The pants are semi-transparent. The material of this entire outfit must be opaque.
In this same scene, Hannibal wears a green tunic which, like all his other costumes, is too short and must be lengthened.
When Amytis returns to Rome, she wears a green dress. While this is one of her first costumes to feature a refreshingly high neckline, it has a very large slit on the left side of the skirt. There should be no such slit.
When the Carthaginians finally attack Rome, the Romans counter by pouring hot oil on them from the top of the wall. They store the hot oil in pig carcasses. The oil falls on the elephants used for battering down the gates, who trumpet in pain and distress. This sequence is a bit brutal. Firstly, the usage of dead pigs as containers for oil is a bit grotesque. Secondly, showing innocent elephants being burnt by hot oil would likely give offense to many. The oil should be stored in sacks, and it shouldn’t be shown directly falling on any soldiers or elephants.
In this battle scene, Amytis wears a warrior maiden costume which consists of a corset-like gold breastplate, which encircles her entire torso, and a tiny yellow skirt beneath it. Her legs are extremely revealed in this historically inaccurate outfit. Accuracy notwithstanding, the skirt is much too short. It should be lengthened to at least half-way down her upper legs.
When Amytis offers herself to Hannibal in exchange for Rome’s safety, he pompously accepts her. She mutters to him, “I’ll kill you.” He replies, “Yes, I know – but not until tomorrow.” This is an echo of the suggestive line which she said to him at his camp. Since I changed the earlier line to “but at least I got to meet you first,” this line should be changed similarly to echo it.
The ending is morally incorrect, since it suggests that Hannibal and Amytis might be pursuing an illicit affair. While Varius tells Meta that he wants to marry her, marriage is never mentioned between Hannibal and Amytis. Thus, as they ride off into the sunset together back to Carthage, we don’t know if she is to become his wife or his mistress. Some time during the final scene, Hannibal should declare to Amytis that she is going to be the wife of the conqueror of the world, or something like that. However, this should merely be an affirmation of something established in an earlier scene back at the camp. Otherwise, Amytis would seem willing and happy to give herself to Hannibal out of wedlock. During some scene at the camp, perhaps when they are discussing their love as she wears the coral outfit, he should ask her to come back to Carthage with him, saying that he has been lavishing her with the gifts that Hannibal’s wife deserves. This would remove the immoral flavor from their relationship.
That concludes my breening of this film! Many of this film’s biggest problems were costume issues, including as many points of male indecency and female, which is unusual. There also are some strange relationships between the male “barbarians” and their Roman girls. Costumes and occasional suggestive choreography are one thing, but this movie’s most surprisingly un-Codish element is the pretty obvious illicit relationship between Hannibal and Amytis. This movie is a perfect way to begin our Breening Thursday series for #AMonthWithoutTheCode2020. Released only months into the Shurlock Era, it shows how quickly the film industry was deserting the standards it had maintained during the Breen Era’s twenty glorious years.
This is my first entry in The Esther Williams Blogathon, which is being hosted by Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood in honor of what would have been Esther’s 99th birthday on Saturday. Jupiter’s Darling was Esther Williams’s last MGM film as well as her last aquatic spectacle. This truly was her last film in the long line of “splashy” musicals which made her famous. Although she was not a singer, most of her glossy Technicolor films featured her singing, albeit with an overdubbed voice. She showed her unique talent in the pool. No other actress could compete with her watery stardom. In this movie, she performs an elaborate underwater sequence in her Roman pool, accompanied only by statues come to life. This is undoubtedly the longest time I have seen a character of hers remain underwater without surfacing for air, although some special effects are obviously used. Nevertheless, her swimming is graceful and very terpsichorean in this scene. This movie has some goofy moments, and it is certainly not the best work from any of the artists involved. However, if you like Esther Williams, you have to see her dive into ancient Roman history, looking lovelier than ever.
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