What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… Athena (1954)

Today, we’re here to look into the 1954 film musical Athena, starring Jane Powell, Edmund Purdom, Debbie Reynolds, Vic Damone and Louis Calhern!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Lazy Days (1929)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 (1929-1930) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 20 minutes, 30 seconds)

Farina (Allen Hoskins) is just too lazy and tired to do much of anything, but when Joe (Joe Cobb) reads a paper for a baby contest (with monetary prizes), the whole gang decides to get their younger siblings ready for it (even the “lazy and tired” Farina). This short continues to be an improvement in how natural the kids can act using the then-new sound technology. The short itself has some issues that date it, mostly with making its main black character too lazy to do anything (and making his female friend do everything for him). There are some fun moments, mostly featuring Farina, whether when he is trying to get his younger brother bathed (and has to deal with a frog, a bee and a monkey), or when the pram that Farina puts his younger brother in falls apart (and almost has a life of its own). I still think it’s a fun short overall, and it’s a series I’m now starting to have fond feelings for!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Things are looking good for singer Johnny Nyle (Vic Damone), as he rehearses for his television show. However, after rehearsals end, he is surrounded by some of his fans, one of which is apparently a process server, who serves him with a subpoena. In desperation, he turns to a former Navy colleague, lawyer Adam Shaw (Edmund Purdom), for help. Adam is running for congress and worrying about his campaign with his law partners, but he offers to help Johnny out, just the same. Adam then goes to a nursery, where he talks with the owner about some peach trees he had purchased that weren’t doing very well. While there, he meets Athena Mulvain (Jane Powell), who suggests mulching to help save the trees. He is put off by her beliefs in numerology and declines her offer to help. However, she later shows up at his house anyway, and proceeds to mulch the peach trees. She kisses Adam before leaving, and catches a ride to her family’s store with Johnny (and proceeds to set him up with her sister Minerva, as played by Debbie Reynolds). The next morning, Athena stops by Adam’s home again to mulch the peach trees, much to the dismay of Adam’s fiancée, Beth Hallson (Linda Christian), who pushes him to tell Athena off. However, Athena disappears before he can speak with her, and so he has to try and track her down. It’s only with Johnny’s help that Adam is able to locate the Mulvain home, so he goes there with the intention of telling her off. There, he meets Athena’s Grandpa Ulysses Mulvain (Louis Calhern) and Grandma Salome Mulvain (Evelyn Varden). Grandpa tries to get Adam to join his exercise program (which includes Ed Perkins, as played by Steve Reeves, and Bill Nichols, as played by Richard Sabre, who are training for the Mr. Universe competition), but Adam only wants to tell Athena to leave him alone. Athena has him kiss her goodbye, but it ends up being more like a “hello,” as he discovers that he now loves her, too. He returns home, where he runs into Beth, and the two of them break it off. Meanwhile, Grandma Mulvain has put together a star chart for Adam and Athena, and has declared that trouble will arise because of Adam’s lifestyle. Undeterred, Athena decides to bring her sisters over to Adam’s house the next day and rearrange everything more to their way of doing things. Adam is feeling great, although his partners question him about Athena’s suitability due to his political career (especially after they meet Grandma Mulvain at Adam’s house). Adam is still determined, however, and brings Athena to a political reception. At first, everything goes fine, but then Adam’s ex, Beth, makes trouble for Athena, and she leaves out of frustration. Adam meets up with her later at their home, and declares he still loves her. However, the next day is the Mr. Universe competition. Ed Perkins wins it easily, giving Grandpa Mulvain the chance to extol the virtues of his lifestyle and how it helped Ed. Behind him, Ed tries to push Adam around and get him to stay away from Athena, but Adam uses a judo move to knock him down. In the process, that’s all the news focuses on, resulting in Athena leaving him and his political career going down the drain. Can Adam get back in Athena’s good graces, or will he lose out on everything?

Athena was originally intended as a vehicle for actress and swimmer Esther Williams. Along with director Charles Walters and writer Leo Pogostin, she put together the idea while they were making the film Easy To Love. However, while she was on maternity leave, Dore Schary (the head of MGM at that time) put the film into production, with singer Jane Powell cast in the title role (with her being given more time to sing, as opposed to the swimming numbers that Esther would have gotten). Richard Thorpe (who was given the jop of directing Athena) wasn’t exactly keen about the project, famously tossing pages of the script over his shoulder whenever they finished a scene. The film ended up losing money at the box office (with actress Jane Powell later in life admitting that she thought the film was nearly 20 years too early). However, one good thing came about as a result of this film. Steve Reeves, who played bodybuilder Ed Perkins, ended up being cast in the 1958 film Hercules when the daughter of that film’s director (Pietro Francisci) saw him in this movie and recommended him for the role.

I will admit, I kind of agree with the original audience reaction, as this is not one of MGM’s better musicals. I think Edmund Purdom’s performance is not as strong as it could be, leaving me wishing that more focus had been on Vic Damone’s Johnny (with him romancing Jane Powell’s Athena). The score (with music by Hugh Martin and lyrics by Ralph Blane) is mostly forgettable, with the exceptions of the songs “The Girl Next Door” (which is technically just a gender-swapped version of “The Boy Next Door” from Meet Me In St. Louis, and Vic Damone’s version, good as it is, pales in comparison to Judy Garland’s version in the earlier film) and the song(s) “Vocalize”/”Harmonize” (essentially the same tune, with slightly different lyrics). Both of those songs manage to get stuck in my head. The overall subject matter of this film is slightly off-putting (although it does have a few points I can agree with). This is a movie that I enjoy seeing every now and then, but, when I know that some of the cast members have made better movies together (at least, I think they are better), I would certainly hesitate in recommending this one to others (in spite of my decent rating for it).

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection. The Blu-ray is from a new remaster, which looks quite good (no surprise there, given that it’s from Warner Archive)! The detail is much improved, as are the colors. Seriously, this is probably the best way to see this movie at this point!

Film Length: 1 hour, 36 minutes

My Rating: 7/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) – Jane Powell

Susan Slept Here (1954) – Debbie Reynolds – Hit The Deck (1955)

Vic Damone – Deep In My Heart (1954)

Annie Get Your Gun (1950) – Louis Calhern – High Society (1956)

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