Million Dollar Mermaid Reviews
This may be the first Esther Williams movie I've ever seen. There's a lengthy list of movie stars of the past who were what I think of as "gimmick stars." You've got your singing cowboys, for example. Esther Williams and her bathing suit. Even Audie Murphy, he of all those decorations in World War II. Heck, this movie features a gimmick star as a character, and not just the historical figure Esther Williams is portraying. Her former manager's road to glory is a dog act, one Rin Tin Tin. (This is part of the "fictionalized" aspect of the story, for the curious.) I don't know what has changed over the years, that this isn't a thing that we do anymore, but it's interesting to consider any way you look at it. There were old standards in film which we don't have anymore; I wonder if they've just all moved to television. Rin Tin Tin did, come to that.
Little Annette Kellerman (Donna Corcoran) suffered some wasting disease. She sneaks away from the music conservatory run by her father, Frederick (Walter Pidgeon), to swim. He discovers this and discovers that it has made her able to walk again, so he encourages it. She grows up to be strong and beautiful and Esther Williams, a champion swimmer. Unfortunately, hard times come to Australia, and her father is forced to close the conservatory. He is sent an offer by a friend to work at the friend's conservatory in London, and he believes that Annette can work in ballet. But the friend is dead, his conservatory is closed, and Annette can't find work. A promoter they met on the boat, James Sullivan (Victor Mature), convinces her to let him manage her, and her swimming career takes off. Only James is kind of a jerk, and they fight, and she ends up going off on her own and becoming a huge success while he sells Indian blankets on the train and so forth. Though everyone knows it will all end happily, because he's got billing.
My understanding is that, for all she plays a woman who essentially invented the field of synchronized swimming, this movie has less of it than any other Esther Williams movie. Which means I feel absolutely no obligation to watch any other Esther Williams movie. She was very good; this much is obvious based on what we see here. However, there's only so much I'm interested in watching. This movie is notable for having the whole "lowering the sparklers into the water and running the film in reverse" trick, which is more impressive if you don't know how it's done, and a sequence during the filming of which Esther Williams broke her neck. She spent six months recovering before going back to filming, and I have to tell you, I still don't find the sequence all that interesting. I admire her dedication to her craft, of course, but I dispute that the craft was really worth the dedication. I spend most of the scenes thinking about how hard it must be to keep smiling like that through the whole thing.
Honestly, the part I found most interesting was the bit about Annette Kellerman's one-piece swimsuit. I hadn't considered it at first, but she was doing all this a hundred years ago. At the time, she should have been wearing neck-to-ankle wool. She got busted on the beach for indecent exposure, and she was wearing more fabric than I sometimes do when I'm going to check the mail. Had she tried some of the long-distance swimming she did in the suits considered proper for women at the time, she quite literally could have drowned. The swimsuit, which was apparently ten pieces, would have gotten hopelessly waterlogged and pulled her under. The human body has a certain amount of buoyancy, but not enough to overcome fifty pounds plus the sponge effect soaking up all that water. Then again, she wasn't expected to go out and be physically active, either; these were still the days of corsetry, and she should have swooned like a lady.
So yeah. Esther Williams swims her way into America's heart once again, this time portraying the first icon of the swimming world. On the way, she is romanced by Victor Mature, and why not, and we get plucky comic relief from Jesse White. (Who reminds me of someone, but I can't think who.) It's pretty bland, middle-of-the-road stuff, and the only reason it's as famous as it is comes from the Esther Williams factor. She of course has some pretty spectacular set pieces, and the costuming is great, but there's really not much left to say about this movie. I think probably you should, if you're really learning about film, acquaint yourself with at least one work by any Gimmick Performer (I used to watch the Rin Tin Tin TV show when I was a kid), and [i]Million Dollar Mermaid[/i] is not a bad way to get in your Esther Williams credit. But unless you're [i]really[/i] interested in synchronized swimming, I doubt there's much need to see any of the rest of her movies. And I'm not.
Esther Williams is an appropriate choice to portray Kellerman in this biopic but the script comes out just too lightweight and inconsequential. When all else fails - include a love triangle to pad out the drama...which just doesn't hold much - sorry - water in this instance. Kellerman's story is certainly interesting and she deserves a better script than what is presented.
Much like a lot of the films from the 1950's - a hot young actress is paired with a much older veteran actor and Esther Williams' love interest here is the aptly named Victor Mature.
Even legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley's aquatic scenes can't save this. He's done a lot better IMO. Esther Williams is just beautiful as always and she wears some pretty outfits here, otherwise not much else to look at.
Williams' high dives from the platform are perfect 10's -
but this flick rates only a 5 from me.