Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Miranda (1948)

Before SPLASH (1984) and its mermaid led to a generation of little girls named Madison, there was MIRANDA, a gorgeous mermaid played by Glynis Johns.

MIRANDA is a delightful 80-minute confection about a lonely, lovely mermaid who "snares" a wealthy doctor, Paul (Griffith Jones), when he's fishing off the Cornish coast. She brings Paul to her cave and wants to keep him (it seems there's a shortage of handsome mermen), but agrees to return him to shore if he will help her see London and experience life as a human for a few weeks.

Paul brings Miranda home, telling his wife Clare (Googie Withers) that Miranda is an invalid patient. Miranda has apparently learned a great deal about how humans act from reading magazines; long dresses strategically cover Miranda's tail, but they don't explain her sleeping in a cold bath rather than a bed, or the otherworldly singing members of the household hear late at night...

Miranda has quite an effect on the men she meets, including Charles the chauffeur (David Tomlinson) and Nigel (John McCallum), an artist engaged to the neighbor (Sonia Holm). Charles and Nigel overlook Miranda's penchant for eating raw fish and drinking salt water; they are so taken with her that they are ready to break up with their girlfriends.

Meanwhile the perplexed Clare gradually figures out Miranda's secret; the moment she realizes fish have disappeared from the goldfish bowl is hilarious.

1948 seems to have been a year for mermaids, as Ann Blyth played a mermaid named Lenore in MR. PEABODY AND THE MERMAID the same year MIRANDA was released. Despite the existence of another movie mermaid that year, MIRANDA is a delightfully unique film -- and only a British film could have such a surprising ending in the '40s, which raises more questions than it answers.

Johns, who was recently profiled by Matthew at Movietone News, is absolutely delicious as the man-hungry mermaid. Miranda seems to accept men's admiration as her due, although she also accepts that nothing will come of her flirtations. Johns plays Miranda with just the right combination of innocence and calculation. And what fun to see her onscreen with David Tomlinson so many years before they appeared together as Mr. and Mrs. Banks in MARY POPPINS (1964).

Margaret Rutherford has a fun role as a nurse the doctor engages to look after his "patient." The nurse is rather eccentric, and when she is let in on Miranda's secret her reaction is delightful. Rutherford was the only cast member to appear with Johns in a Technicolor sequel, MAD ABOUT MEN, in 1954.

Griffith Jones's Paul also handles Miranda with remarkable aplomb. The movie does a good job showing his own attraction for Miranda, yet his love for Clare is never in doubt. Similarly, Clare is puzzled and mildly concerned about Miranda's effect on Paul, but she never lapses into the role of peevish "wronged wife." She's very likeable, particularly once she begins to realize that Miranda mesmerizes every single man she meets, not just Paul; at this point Clare takes on the role of amused onlooker as she waits for matters to become untangled.

The movie has a great black and white look, whether it's Miranda's magazine-strewn sea cave or Paul's elegant London flat. Miranda's tail looks remarkably believable, and Johns handles it as if she were truly born a mermaid.

MIRANDA has been shown on Turner Classic Movies. It does not appear to have had either a Region 1 or Region 2 DVD release.

MIRANDA is a very different fantasy which provides most enjoyable viewing.

July 2011 Update: MIRANDA is now available on DVD from VCI.


Blogger Steadfast Nicolle said...

Just watched this tonight! I loved it. Especially the fishy finger smell. hehe

4:56 PM  

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