I first saw Dangerous When Wet last year when TCM featured Esther Williams during their annual Summer Under the Stars programming event. The entirety of August 8, 2021 was devoted to Esther in honor of her centennial. This was the first film that I’d seen that featured Fernando Lamas. Lamas is someone who I only knew about from his appearance as himself in an episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, “Lucy Goes to Sun Valley.” I didn’t even know what films Lamas had appeared in and assumed he was just one of those stars who was big at the time (1958). I think that is a fair assessment. Today, if Lamas is known for anything, it’s for being the father of Renegade star Lorenzo Lamas and being married to Esther Williams.
I, however, remember Lamas for being hot hot, especially in his episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and Dangerous When Wet!
While Dangerous When Wet was being cast, numerous leading men were suggested to partner with Esther. One of the qualities an Esther Williams-leading man needed to have was an ability to swim. Many of Esther’s leading men like Howard Keel or Peter Lawford weren’t the strongest of swimmers. To keep them afloat during filming, Esther would have to stealthily prop them up with her hand or foot while they swam. When Fernando Lamas was suggested for Dangerous When Wet, it was different. Lamas, however, was a champion swimmer from South America. Finally, Esther had a co-star who could keep up with her in the pool. She later said that it was a nice change to be paired up with someone who actually possessed real swimming ability. Lamas’ casting allowed for more rigorous swimming scenes to be included in the film. Esther must have enjoyed working with Lamas–the two would eventually marry and be together until Lamas’ passing in 1982.
Dangerous When Wet opens with the Higgins family marching out of their house while singing “I Got Out of the Bed on the Right Side” while they make their way to the nearby swimming hole for their morning ritual of calisthenics and swimming laps. Esther plays Katie, the daughter of “Ma” and “Pa” Higgins (Charlotte Greenwood and William Demarest). I recognized Greenwood from her appearances in two Betty Grable films, “Moon Over Miami” and “Down Argentine Way.” Demarest is probably best known as “Uncle Charlie” from My Three Sons, but to me, I know of him because he’s in every film ever made. Both Greenwood and Demarest have very small roles in this film. This opening number is very charming. We see Katie who is more interested in a book about dairy farming than she is in swimming. However, since it’s Esther Williams, she is swimming by the end of the scene.
One day, traveling salesman Windy Weebe (Jack Carson) comes through town hawking his special elixir, Liquapep. Supposedly, Liquapep is a tonic that is supposed to make someone super peppy and fit. Windy is also instantly smitten with Katie. It also comes out that the Higgins family’s dairy farm is also in trouble. They need a bull to keep the farm running, however they cannot afford it. Because of his fondness for Katie and seeing a chance to promote Liquapep, Windy suggests that the family enter a contest to swim the English Channel. The cash prize would give the family enough money to buy the bull. Swimming the channel isn’t hard, it’s only 20 miles (more like 42 with the currents) across. No problem, right?
The Higgins family decides that Katie is the strongest swimmer in the family (obviously, because it’s Esther Williams) and their best chance to win the prize. Windy offers to coach her. One foggy afternoon, Windy loses sight of Katie during their practice. Katie becomes disoriented in the fog and but soon finds a rowboat, similar to Windy’s. She quickly discovers that the rowboat is not being captained by Windy, but rather by hot Frenchman, Andre Lanet (Fernando Lamas), a French champagne salesman. It seems that Andre is on his way back to his yacht. He also becomes smitten with Katie. Soon he finds herself in a love triangle between Andre and Windy. Gosh, who to pick?
Andre and Katie’s romance heats up as the impending swim across the Channel draws nearer.
Dangerous When Wet features a fantastic animated sequence between Esther Williams and Tom and Jerry. This is the second musical number I’ve seen with Tom and Jerry. Fans of classic movie musicals will remember that Gene Kelly danced with the duo in 1945’s Anchors Aweigh. Fernando Lamas has a funny appearance in the animated sequence as an amorous octopus. Fernando’s octopus performs a reprise of his “In My Wildest Dreams” number that he serenades Esther with earlier in the film. Fernando Lamas sings in this movie. I had no idea he was a singer and he does a great job!
There is a funny scene where Andre gifts Katie a tiny white and red polka dot bikini. She jokes about how small it is before going into her room to try it on. She breaks the fourth wall as she pulls a shade down to shield the audience’s prying eyes. We never do see what Katie looks like in that bikini. I’m sure she looked great. Later, Katie wears a great one-piece bathing suit that is made of black lace. This is the suit she wears during the swimming duet between herself and Andre. The duet takes place after Katie get a little tipsy drinking Liquipep on a picnic with Andre. To sober her up, Andre invites Katie for a nighttime swim.
The swimming duet is really fun to watch as Esther and Fernando are really swimming and going for it. Fernando did not like it when Esther would swim faster than he did, so even in the film, he’s trying to swim faster than her. The duo perform laps and swim the backstroke while flirting with each other and falling more and more in love. Katie and Andre’s love for one another is never more evident than it is in the climactic race scene at the end of the film. The end scene was based on a real-life event that happened when Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller dived into the water to help his student, Florence Chadwick (the first woman to swim across the English Channel), complete her race when she started to falter. Weissmuller was also Esther’s Aquacade swimming partner before she started appearing in films.
I very much enjoyed Dangerous When Wet. It’s one of my favorite Esther Williams films and Fernando Lamas strips to his skivvies at the end and I’m here for that scene. I also just discovered that my DVD has a flaw it in that causes the film to permanently pause right before the Tom and Jerry number. This is unacceptable and I’m shopping for a replacement copy.