Monday, September 07, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Esther Williams stars as the MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID (1952), recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

Williams plays Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman, who as the movie unfolds makes headlines with long-distance swims, one-piece bathing suits, and a headlining act at the Hippodrome.

Handsome Victor Mature plays Annette's manager and on-again, off-again love, with Walter Pidgeon as her devoted musician father.

Donna Corcoran portrays Annette as a child, who overcame the crippling effects of polio by strengthening her legs through swimming. Corcoran would also work well with Pidgeon the following year in SCANDAL AT SCOURIE (1953).

The MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID plot is pleasant enough to hold the interest, though the love story, with David Brian providing competition for Mature, drags on longer than it should; the movie could have stood to pare a handful of minutes off the 110-minute running time. Mature also disappears from the film for too long in the last section of the film.

But no matter, it's all worth it for some of the most spectacular numbers Esther put on film.  The swimming routines were designed by Busby Berkeley, whose work has turned up regularly in my viewing this summer, and they're simply magnificent.

I think I smiled the entire time Esther was swimming in the big Hippodrome set pieces; along with my current enjoyment, I was nostalgically remembering the first time I saw clips from the film thanks to THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974). It's hard to convey just how amazing those swim numbers appeared to a child of the '70s seeing them for the first time! A few years later I was lucky enough to see MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID on a big screen at the Tiffany Theater in Los Angeles.

My favorite swimming routine is the one with red and yellow smoke: Swimmers sliding into the pool, giant swings, sparklers emerging from underwater...it's all quite jaw-dropping and unforgettable.

At movie's end, when the card read "Made in Hollywood, U.S.A.," my eyes misted; for me that phrase symbolizes a very special time when so many talents came together to create magical moments which will linger in the minds of film fans forever.

MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and filmed in Technicolor by George Folsey.

Helen Rose designed the colorful costumes for the production numbers, with the rest of the wardrobes designed by Walter Plunkett.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is beautiful, with excellent sound. Extras include the trailer, a 1953 Lux Radio Theater production with Williams and Pidgeon, a Barney Bear cartoon, and a Pete Smith short.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop.

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