Friday 15 June 2007

Miranda (1948) Ken Annakin

Well to do Dr Paul Martin wants to go fishing in Cornwall but his wife doesn't want anything to do with either Cornwall or fishing. He goes anyway, relishing the concept of a bachelor holiday, but doesn't quite end up with what he expects. What seems like ten seconds after he gets there, he catches a mermaid with a huge tail (by Dunlop) called Miranda, played by Glynis Johns. Actually she catches him because she's lonely and headstrong and decides that he's the one for her. She also decides that he's the one who can take her onto land, as she's always wanted to see Buckingham Palace and Billingsgate Market and especially go to the opera.

Glynis Johns is hardly a minor name to play Miranda, and she's a good part of the reason the film succeeds, especially given that it rockets along to a speedy finish after only eighty minutes. Unlike most films that suffer from being too long, this one suffers from not being long enough. She later became immortalised in film by playing the children's mother in Mary Poppins, and in musicals through Stephen Sondheim writing Send in the Clowns especially for her. She won a Tony for that role, in A Little Night Music. She's a joy to watch here, but sh's hardly the only one.

Griffith Jones isn't bad as Dr Martin and he warms up to the role, but he's consistently outshone by all the women in the film: not just by the outrageously flirtatious nymphomaniac mermaid, but also by his haughty wife Clare, played by the highly talented Googie Withers; the eccentric nurse he hires to take care of Miranda, played by the awesome (and surprisingly thin) Margaret Rutherford; and even by the chauffeur's girlfriend Betty, also the maid, played by Yvonne Owen.

In fact the best male part goes not to the lead man but either to a dismissive fashion designer called Manell or to Charles the chauffeur, who is a sad and easily flummoxed character played by David Tomlinson, who also appeared in Mary Poppins married to Glynis Johns! Just to add to such confusion, there are a couple of real life married couples here: Margaret Rutherford's husband Stringer Davis has a bit part as a museum attendant, and John McCallum, who appears as a friend of the Martins, is in real life married to Mrs Martin, Googie Withers. He also reminds very much of Bruce Campbell.

The source of the story is a play by Peter Blackmore, who thankfully turned it into the screenplay, thus preserving the joyous humour. My guess is that the cast had to fight for their roles because it seems that most of them are trying hard and just failing to stop laughing. I get the impression that the set must have been a riot. Splash had humour but it wasn't remotely as funny or as uplifting as this. It's not a perfect film by any means, mostly due to the lack of length and the cheap rear projections, but I haven't laughed out loud so much at a film in a long, long while.

I'm also going to have a guilty pleasure for a long time wondering just how badly this would have been massacred in the Hollywood of 1948 under a Production Code which wouldn't have allowed any of this risque behaviour.

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