This Time For Keeps (1947) didn’t fare as well with me as the previous two, but it’s always a delight to see Jimmy Durante hamming it up. Disc 3’s main feature brings us the tale of another post-war soldier (this time played by singer Johnnie Johnson) who falls madly in love with a dynamic swimmer (Esther). The son of famous opera legend Richard Herald (Lauritz Melchior again), Dick Johnson (played by, um, Johnson) has dreams of being a jazz singer and marrying famous swimmer/performer Nora Cambaretti (Williams). Unfortunately for him, his father wants him to be an opera star, and he’s engaged to marry another girl: a boring member of society at that. As Dick struggles to leave his old life behind and get in good with Nora, he’s finds himself at odds with Nora’s over-protective friend, Ferdi (Durante). A creepy kid (Sharon McManus) and the always entertaining Xavier Cugat (and orchestra) round out the cast.
Moving on to Disc 4, we find ourselves at 1950’s Pagan Love Song, the shortest (and probably weakest) entry in the collection. This time ’round, it’s not Esther’s swimming talents that take center stage — it’s big-star-on-the-rise Howard Keel and his incredible voice. Actually, if you were to omit all of Keel’s musical numbers, Pagan Love Song would be come out even shorter than its already brief 76 minute runtime. Story-wise, ex-schoolteacher Hazard Endicott (Keel) arrives in Tahiti to take over his late Uncle’s plantation (which he just inherited). There, he falls in love with a half-Tahitian beauty (Williams, in “brownface”) and decides to adopt the “pagan” lifestyle of Tahiti. Rita Moreno co-stars in this song-filled extravaganza.
Disc 5’s Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) is one of Esther’s better-known features to be included in this set, and is a halfway decent (if highly inaccurate) account of the life of Australian swimming star, Annette Kellerman. Confined to leg braces as a child, Annette (Esther) overcomes her handicap and grows to be a star swimmer in Australia. In England, Annette swims the English Channel (ew), prompting a lot of media attention in the UK — which in-turn prompts her manager/love interest James Sullivan (Victor Mature) to pack up and move to New York. There, Annette and James — as well as Annette’s father (Walter Pidgeon) and James’ assistant (Jesse White) — set up shop to make Annette the biggest name in aquatic show business. While the movie provides us some memorable moments, the fantastical Busby Berkeley numbers (which are breathtaking in their own right) really take away the “real life” effect of this biopic.