This time around, we’re here for the 1952 Esther Williams movie Million Dollar Mermaid, co-starring Victor Mature, Walter Pidgeon and David Brian.
Coming Up Shorts! with… Reducing (1952)
(Available as an extra on the Million Dollar Mermaid Blu-ray)
(Length: 8 minutes, 23 seconds)
Another short from the Pete Smith comedy series, this time on someone trying to lose weight. This time around, the short really wasn’t as fun. The “humor” (if you can call it that) about a woman trying to lose weight is, at best, dated, and, at worst, too mean-spirited to be that funny. It’s always worth trying something different, but sometimes you find a stinker, and this is one of them. Doesn’t seem to be restored either, but, as I said, in this case, it doesn’t matter.
Coming Up Shorts! with… Little Quacker (1950)
(Available as an extra on the Million Dollar Mermaid Blu-ray)
(Length: 7 minutes, 8 seconds)
Tom the cat steals a duck egg, only for it to hatch, and the little duckling turns to Jerry the mouse for help. A fun Tom & Jerry cartoon, and apparently the one that introduced the character “Little Quacker” (or whatever the little duckling was called). This was fun, as it’s been some time since I’ve seen any of the Tom & Jerry cartoons, and I enjoyed seeing this one. This one seemed to be in good shape, like it’s been worked on and/or restored. (Either way, I enjoyed seeing it!)
And Now For The Main Feature…
As a child in Australia, young Annette Kellerman (Donna Corcoran) recovers from polio by trying to learn to swim. Her father, Frederick (Walter Pidgeon), who owns and runs a music conservatory, encourages her to keep swimming, since it has helped her to get stronger, while also encouraging her to learn music and ballet. As she gets older, Annette (now played by Esther Williams) becomes a champion swimmer. However, the conservatory cannot sustain itself financially, so her father takes a job in London and brings her along. On the boat ride there, they meet promoter James Sullivan (Victor Mature), who is taking Sydney, a boxing kangaroo, to London with the help of his friend Doc Cronnol (Jesse White). James takes an interest in Annette and her abilities, and offers to manage her, but her father turns him down, since he prefers to keep her swimming as a hobby and not an occupation. When they get to London, they find out that the conservatory where Frederick’s job was supposed to be had closed down when the owner died, leaving them looking for work. James comes to them and offers Annette some money to help him promote Sydney by a 6 mile swim, to which she makes a counteroffer to do a 26 mile swim. At first, nobody is interested, but along the way, many people hear about it and come to cheer her on. Once she completes the swim, James gets an idea to take her to New York City to perform at the Hippodrome. However, once they get there, the Hippodrome manager, Alfred Harper (David Brian), turns them down, saying that Annette is not a big name in the U.S. In response, James and Annette make plans for her to do another big swim, except they run into trouble when she is arrested for indecent exposure because of the swim suit she was wearing. At the trial, the case is dismissed after convincing arguments on her side, plus some slight alterations to her one-piece swimming suit that cover her up more. The resulting publicity helps out when she and James do a show at a carnival. Things are looking up, and James is planning to ask her to marry him, when she is given an offer by a Mr. Aldrich (Howard Freeman) to do a more dignified lecture tour. James and Annette fight over it, and, although Annette ends up turning it down, James leaves, right before she gets a telegram from Alfred saying that she is being hired for a show at the Hippodrome. Her show is a success, and her father is hired as the conductor. James, meanwhile, starts doing a number of stunts and other things on his own, with little success. While she is at the Hippodrome, Frederick passes away, and Alfred falls for her. After a few proposals, she says yes. Before they get married, they head for Hollywood to do a movie. Only problem is, right before they finish, a glass tank full of water that she is swimming in breaks, resulting in her being badly injured. Will she be able to recover, and will she and James end up together again?
Million Dollar Mermaid was very much a passion project for actress Esther Williams. Annette Kellerman inspired Esther Williams in a lot of what she did, and Esther convinced her to let MGM do the biopic. Annette had some say in what they did with the script, as she tried to keep them from making it too Hollywood-ized. Granted, the film, in typical Hollywood fashion, did take liberties with the story, whether by how they characterized James Sullivan, or how they connected him to the famous dog Rin Tin Tin, among other things. But, Annette was happy with the film, and some of its casting (especially actor Walter Pidgeon playing her father).
My own opinion is that Million Dollar Mermaid is about as perfect an Esther Williams film as you can get. You get a few Busby Berkeley-staged swim routines, including the famous “Fountain And Smoke,” which has been shown in a few places, including in the That’s Entertainment film series. You get a movie that doesn’t need the writers to come up with ridiculous ways to get her into the water (although I don’t mind, as I’m generally used to the idea with musicals in general). And, of course, we have one of Esther’s best performances. I can’t even begin to imagine anybody else as Annette Kellerman. Esther’s performance just wows me here, and makes the movie worth watching. Of course, the rest of the cast is no slouch either! Walter Pidgeon, in particular, does very well as her father, being there to support her, even if he disagrees with her at first about swimming as a career. Honestly, this movie is just wonderful, and it’s very easy for me to recommend it!
This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection, utilizing a 4K restoration from the original nitrate Technicolor negatives. As usual for them, it’s a fantastic transfer! How fantastic you ask? Well, I can only claim to have seen a handful of Esther Williams’ films before (including the previously reviewed Take Me Out To The Ball Game), and I’ve generally been indifferent to her. I hadn’t previously seen Million Dollar Mermaid, but this transfer brings out the color so magnificently, especially for the swim routines. If Warner Archive can give the rest of her films fresh transfers that look as good as this one (or better, if possible), then I’m certainly an Esther Williams fan now!!
Film Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
*ranked #8 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2020
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949) – Esther Williams
The Girl Of The Golden West (1938) – Walter Pidgeon – Deep In My Heart (1954)
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