Mediocre musical comedy with a picture perfect cast. 3 Stars

Richard Thorpe’s Athena offers an innocuous way to pass the time with a musical comedy-romance that’s easy to watch and just as easy to forget.

Athena (1954)
Released: 04 Nov 1954
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 95 min
Director: Richard Thorpe
Genre: Musical, Romance, Comedy, Drama
Cast: Jane Powell, Edmund Purdom, Debbie Reynolds, Vic Damone
Writer(s): William Ludwig, Leonard Spigelgass
Plot: The story about two sisters in love. Everything should be wonderful, but father doesn't approve of his daughters' physically underdeveloped fiancés.
IMDB rating: 6.0
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 36 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 05/25/2021
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 2.5/5

There are dozens of pretty people dotting Richard Thorpe’s 1954 musical comedy Athena, but it’s a great shame that these beautiful people with their lilting singing voices and gorgeous physiques haven’t been given anything consequential to play nor anything of notable melody to sing. It’s very pleasant and picturesque in Eastman color and stereophonic sound, but it’s also instantly forgettable, both in story and song.

The Mulvain family definitely walks to the beat of a different drummer. A family of health addicts and believers in astrology and numerology, grandpa Ulysses Mulvain (Louis Calhern) is seventy-eight years old without an ounce of body fat who can do back flips and whirl on the parallel bars and boasts a shock of wavy silver hair. His oldest daughters Athena (Jane Powell) and Minerva (Debbie Reynolds) are of marriageable age and stake their claims on a lawyer with political ambitions Adam Shaw (Edmund Purdom) and a nightclub, radio, and television star Johnny Nyle (Vic Damone) respectively. Unfortunately, Adam is already engaged to the snooty, superior Beth Hallson (Linda Christian) who sees Athena and her eccentric family as weirdos while Minerva must win Johnny over half of the female population of America who swoon over his crooning and dapper looks.

Screenwriters Leonard Spigelgass and William Ludwig haven’t manufactured a plot with much conflict or in-depth characterizations. Minerva and Johnny hit it off right away, but she won’t marry until her sister does, so everyone’s happiness pivots on the off-and-on romance between Adam and Athena. There’s not much of a spark there on the surface though Athena does have a lovely voice and a pert and perky personality. But she breaks up with Adam not because of anything he does but because his spiteful ex-fiancé makes her feel uncomfortable at a dinner party because she won’t take any meat from the buffet table (the Mulvains are strict vegetarians). That’s the extent of the film’s fairly lame dramatic arc!

Song and dance-wise, the movie is let down by the mediocre score by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane (who rose to fame with Best Foot Forward and who provided the most memorable songs for Meet Me in St. Louis). Jane Powell is introduced with the film’s best new song “Vocalize” which is later taken up by the entire Mulvain family as “Harmonize.” Jane tries a love ballad “Love Can Change the Stars” which goes nowhere, but the film’s best number involves her, Debbie, and the Mulvain family rearranging Adam’s living room to make it more open and breezy in the Hermes Pan choreographed and directed “I Never Felt Better” (the credits make it clear Pan directed the musical numbers, not the otherwise named director Richard Thorpe). The film comes to a dead stop as Jane entertains the stuffy people at that dinner party with an operatic excerpt “Chacun Le Sait” from Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment. A later segment at the Mr. Universe bodybuilding contest likewise goes on for longer than one might expect, but certainly long enough to let Steve Reeves, Mr. Universe of 1950, show his considerable physical assets in his most notable American film (he’d soon be off to Italy to begin his long reign in Italian sword and sandal pictures). Debbie Reynolds gets a blasé duet with Vic Damone “Imagine” while Vic solo gets “The Girl Next Door” (interpolated by Martin and Blane from St. Louis with pronouns changed for a male singer) and the bland nightclub number “Venizia” which he delivers in a cranberry tux.

It’s odd seeing Jane Powell and Vic Damone in the same movie and not being coupled (they’d already appeared together in Rich, Young, and Pretty and in the “Will You Remember?” number in Deep in My Heart and would be reunited as sweethearts in Hit the Deck the following year) since when they do appear together in the same scene, their chemistry together is obvious. Jane is trim and lovely in this movie with her voice as silvery as always, but her character’s impulsiveness is nearly impossible to play convincingly. Vic Damone relies on that melodious croon to get him by, and in that he does well. Debbie Reynolds is rather wasted in the film (and once again playing Powell’s sister though not nearly as memorably as in Two Weeks with Love), and Louis Calhern likewise pops in on only a couple of occasions. MGM was trying mightily to make a star of Edmund Purdom after his big hit in The Student Prince (with Mario Lanza’s singing voice; here he’s dubbed by Victor Marchese), but he’s rather wooden and uninteresting and not a great match with Jane Powell. He pairs better with Linda Christian playing a clichéd superior blueblood who’s unlikeable and smug. Evelyn Varden plays the psychic grandmother with routine nonchalance. Ray Collins, Carl Benton Reid, and Howard Wendell are the naysaying political honchos who don’t want their potential candidate mixed-up with the strange Mulvain family.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec in MGM’s standard house ratio on that era for widescreen, non-Cinemascope movies, 1.75:1. The picture is glorious with excellent sharpness and the pastel-leaning colors rich and true throughout. Flesh tones are likewise natural and appealing (the tanned bodybuilders contrasting with the more normal flesh tones of everyone else). The movie has been divided into 41 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound mix offers wonderful fidelity and expansive sound. George Stoll’s MGM orchestra sounds lush and full throughout the movie, and the singing voices and dialogue emanate strongly from the center channel. There are no instances of hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.

Special Features: 2.5/5

Outtake musical numbers (HD): all of these are compilations of different cuts and camera angles while filming these numbers and have not been composited together into a single song or dance sequence:

“Competition Dance” (3:36) with the Mulvain sisters

“Imagine” – second reprise (4:38) with Debbie Reynolds and Vic Damone

“Love Can Change the Stars” (5:12) with Jane Powell and Edmund Purdom

Theatrical Trailer (3:31, HD)

Overall: 3/5

Richard Thorpe’s Athena offers an innocuous way to pass the time with a musical comedy-romance that’s easy to watch and just as easy to forget. The Warner Archive Blu-ray brings both picture and sound to the viewer in wonderful sound and visuals which fans of the stars or the film will be sure to appreciate.

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Published by

Matt Hough

editor,member

Conrad_SSS

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Thanks for a very fair and astute review of this little blip on the MGM musical radar. I have the old WB DVD, and enjoyed it very much for what it is. What was most impressive at the time I got that disc was the gorgeous stereo audio which was lossy on the DVD, and should sound spectacular here. Interestingly, I don’t believe the film’s theatrical release was originally in stereo, so the DVD was a big surprise in that department. It wasn’t great looking, but this new Blu-ray sounds like another home run from Warner Archive. I had become pre-disposed to the film’s score via the Rhino CD soundtrack released years ago. I recall the liner notes indicated the production was supposed to be produced by Arthur Freed, but he passed on it and Joe Pasternak took over the property. Apparently it was originally intended for Esther Williams. Regardless, while no masterpiece, I enjoy the film for what it is and the review only heightens my looking forward to this new Blu incarnation.
 

JoelA

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Thanks for a very fair and astute review of this little blip on the MGM musical radar. I have the old WB DVD, and enjoyed it very much for what it is. What was most impressive at the time I got that disc was the gorgeous stereo audio which was lossy on the DVD, and should sound spectacular here. Interestingly, I don’t believe the film’s theatrical release was originally in stereo, so the DVD was a big surprise in that department. It wasn’t great looking, but this new Blu-ray sounds like another home run from Warner Archive. I had become pre-disposed to the film’s score via the Rhino CD soundtrack released years ago. I recall the liner notes indicated the production was supposed to be produced by Arthur Freed, but he passed on it and Joe Pasternak took over the property. Apparently it was originally intended for Esther Williams. Regardless, while no masterpiece, I enjoy the film for what it is and the review only heightens my looking forward to this new Blu incarnation.
Thanks for another excellent review Matt. Yes, this was supposed to be Esther Williams' next film following Easy to Love. Esther and director Charles Walters devised the basic plot, but Dore Schary had other ideas. I have the Rhino soundtrack, also, and it's wonderful. Not a great film, but an enjoyable time filler. I will be buying the Blu-ray to support the effort.
 

roxy1927

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I believe Mr. Hough feels the same way about this movie as I do. He's just a nicer person.
 
Last edited:

Mark B

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Gave this a spin yesterday, and am very pleased with the results. The DVD was welcome, but it seemed like a release that ran out of budget and the color correction was not completed as it was very red. Not this time. Perfect colors, and that fun hilltop set looks great.
The narrative is sloppy and feels like there are missing scenes, but something about this whack-a-doodle flick appeals to me.
I did notice a couple of problems in the conversion to stereo. At the end of "Imagine" in the health food store, the orchestral track and Debbie's vocal are not in sync. Also the final shot of the film the sound is out of sync with the visual. Its always something when they mess with soundtracks. I'm still annoyed the missing audio during Dig For Your Dinner from Summer Stock, which was wrong on the DVD, wasnt fixed for the Blu-Ray.
 

roxy1927

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That's a bummer. Didn't hear about that. Dig for your dinner is one of the best parts of the movie. How did they mess that up when it's supposed to be a premium presentation?
 

Mark B

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That's a bummer. Didn't hear about that. Dig for your dinner is one of the best parts of the movie. How did they mess that up when it's supposed to be a premium presentation?
They did a mono remix and left out the bit where Gene and Phil are goofing around and Gene hollers "charge!." All you get is his mouth moving and the music in the background.
 

octobercountry

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I did notice a couple of problems in the conversion to stereo. At the end of "Imagine" in the health food store, the orchestral track and Debbie's vocal are not in sync. Also the final shot of the film the sound is out of sync with the visual. Its always something when they mess with soundtracks.
I haven't seen the blu yet, but will check this out whenever I finally get it. But I don't think there was any "conversion" to stereo, if I understand you right---this film was released to theatres in stereo right from the beginning, far as I know.
 

RolandL

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athena.jpg
 

Rob W

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Now there's some creative programming... Seven Dancing Daughters & 8 Gay Songs combined with Gun Fury and Violence ....
 

Mark B

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I haven't seen the blu yet, but will check this out whenever I finally get it. But I don't think there was any "conversion" to stereo, if I understand you right---this film was released to theatres in stereo right from the beginning, far as I know.
It was Perspecta, which is glorified mono, so it did require a ground up mix of the music stems.