sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2015-07-31 11:57 pm
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That's the bathroom. And it's full of fish

So at the end of June I began my introduction to Sam Peckinpah with Ride the High Country (1962) and this month I've continued the project with The Wild Bunch (1969), Straw Dogs (1971), and The Getaway (1972) and I am returning to the Somerville this Wednesday for Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) because I really want to know what kind of movie belongs to that title, but I am not talking about any of these movies tonight because I don't have the time. I am sleeping very little and I miss the sea so much that I'm reading and listening to maritime things to make myself feel better. Hence Miranda (1948).

I don't know what it was about 1948 that produced two mermaid movies within four months of each other, but you can find them on either side of the Atlantic: Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid in the U.S. and Miranda in the UK. Both feature married men whose fishing vacations entangle them with alluring mermaids and suspicious wives, although my memories of the American film suggest that the similarities end there: Ann Blyth's wordless, childlike Lenore is a figure of fantasy in William Powell's midlife crisis, while Glynis Johns as the eponymous Miranda is quite real, outspoken, and decidedly adult. She is a magnificent siren. None of the men in the story stand a chance. Viewers of various genders may feel likewise.

The premise of the film is straightforward: on a fishing holiday in Cornwall, good-looking doctor Paul Martin (Griffith Jones) finds himself the catch instead, pulled overboard into the cave of a mermaid who agrees to let him return to London only if he brings her with him. He disguises her as a wealthy young invalid and installs her in his apartment, explaining away the eccentricities of her behavior and her diet with the necessities of an invented rest cure, but his wife Clare (Googie Withers) is no fool; she doesn't make the leap from metaphorical to literal siren at once, but eventually somebody's going to notice that the ornamental fish are disappearing from the aquarium in the parlor while every heterosexual male within earshot of Miranda falls all over himself to attract her attention. The casual mix of folklore and light comedy is one of the film's delights. We learn quite early on that Miranda's last name is Trewella; half a movie later, it's offhandedly confirmed that her great-grandmother was the Mermaid of Zennor. She's always cool to the touch. She sleeps in a cold salted bath with seaweed for comfort and shells she brought from her native waters. Taken to the zoo for the day, she steals a fish meant for the seal exhibit—the last silvery edge of tail disappearing into Miranda's mouth is a worthy forerunner of Madison biting through the back of the lobster in Splash (1984)—and exchanges a volley of barky insults with the offended pinniped; she delights a cockle vendor by standing the crowd a round of bivalves and then singlehandedly cleaning him out, leaving nothing but a litter of shells. The tail effects are sparing but effective. Out of the water, her fins are always restlessly flickering, curling with contentment in a curious catlike motion; swimming, she has the dolphin-backed curve of a dive down cold; underwater, she moves with an easy sleek ripple and the floating clouds of her hair hide the details of her nudity, not the fact of it. Equally refreshing is her frank nonhumanness, which is not the same thing as naïveté. In her sea-cave in Cornwall, she reads water-wrinkled issues of Vogue and theater magazines that she's stolen from boats and beaches; her trip to London is full of wonders, but she wants more than anything to see an opera at Covent Garden, where the people might sing almost as well as mermaids. She doesn't have the longing of Andersen's mermaid for the land, but she plans to enjoy it while she has the chance.

And otherwise the film behaves very much like a bedroom farce where three men are interested in the same woman and three women have their suspicions without being able to prove anything and the woman at the center of the controversy is cheerfully and unconcernedly sincere in her desire for all three of her lovers, because why shouldn't she be? Paul was the first man she caught and kept, but lovestruck chauffeur Charles (David Tomlinson) blushes so endearingly when Miranda purrs over the size of his ears, while bohemian artist Nigel (John McCallum) irresistibly insists on painting her. The question is which one she'll choose to give her what she wants: a child fathered by the land. True to the folklore of merrows, Miranda finds sea-men unappealing and is set on netting a more handsome mate. Not that any of them imagine that she wants them for so practical and disposable a purpose, of course. Like a spell, she asks them to repeat her name and they fall into her sea-cold arms, murmuring, Miranda, Miranda; they preen like bowerbirds for the right to carry her around in their arms instead of pushing her properly in her bath-chair; each of them fancies himself the only man remarkable enough to attract the attention of such an enchanting creature as Miss Trewella. I appreciate, though, that none of her enchantment is coyness or conventional flirtation; she doesn't need it. Humans are the ones who tangle themselves up with morality and modesty and awkward, indirect, counterproductive courting behaviors. Miranda's approaches are direct and bracing as the slap of a wave and Johns' rough cat's tongue of a voice makes her immediately persuasive without falling back on coquetry. I know less about the British Board of Film Censors than about the Motion Picture Production Code, but I'm fairly certainly the film's ending wouldn't have passed in this country. Good for Miranda.

Having imprinted on Splash as a very young child, I am always looking for good mermaid movies; this is one. Peter Blackmore adapted the script from his own stage play and I keep meaning to track the original down and read it. (He also authored a much later sequel called Mad About Men (1954), but all signs point to it not being as good, so I've decided I don't need to see it.) I should mention before I try to pass out for the night that if you have fond memories of David Lean's Blithe Spirit (1945), the redoubtable Margaret Rutherford very nearly co-stars here as Nurse Carey, who is overjoyed to discover that her new charge is a real mermaid; she and Miranda bond instantly and I would have cheerfully watched the two of them take in the sights of London from a sea-slanted perspective for another hour. Oh, and if you like fish, don't watch this movie without some on hand. At least, 80 minutes of a character who eats nothing but raw oysters and fish sandwiches and seaweed made me want sushi like nothing on earth. This seaside excursion sponsored by my sympathetic backers at Patreon.
kore: (Default)

[personal profile] kore 2015-08-01 05:28 am (UTC)(link)
PECKINPAH

Man, good on ya mate for being able to sit through those. I think I saw like one Peckinpah film once and couldn't finish it because it made me sick. No that's a lie, looking at his filmography I apparently saw his Westerns, because I fucking love Westerns (I did this pseudo-encyclopaedic riff on Westerns once in poor [personal profile] truepenny's LJ once that was....probably hypomanic, now that I think on it). Ballad of Cable Hogue, the Billy the Kid movie, Ride the High Country I think, maybe another one....I think the film of his I noped out on was Straw Dogs. (Hoo boy, you should have heard my dad go on about the glorification of fascism in THAT one.)* "But it's a great American film!" people told me. "I don't want to BARF, it can be a great American film without my help."

THE GETAWAY WAS SAM PECKINPAH? WELL I NEVER. SRSLY? Wha, that's sort of like finding out De Palma directed the French Connection or something. //quickly checks //sees it is still credited to Friedkin //is unaccountably relieved //had my parents take me to To Live and Die in L.A. for my BIRTHDAY because it got good reviews, boy did I never hear the end of that one (one of the few mainstream films I have ever seen with FULL FRONTAL MALE NUDITY, insert joke about Willy Defoe here), altho that was one fine car chase


*that's another thing I think a lot of people don't get about the WWII generation, to them Communism was a LOT less awful than Fascism, Ronald Reagan etc. notwithstanding. IMHO it's one of the things that really got revised by the later right-wing elements in the Republican party, how far to the left a lot of people really were. And not just the cliched infamous Stalin-supporting NYC intellectuals either. And the WWII narrative was completely co-opted into the Cold War bullshit. I think THAT would upset Steve.
and I just made myself a promise I would quit rattling on about my MCU Steve Rogers headcanon in your comments, I apologize
kore: (Default)

[personal profile] kore 2015-08-01 05:32 am (UTC)(link)
Fucking A, the comment I was ORIGINALLY going to post was, is there a mermaid in Local Hero? People disagree with me, but I think there is one, or is she a selkie? I think she is anyway, it's kind of hinted at. -- And I went off on this long fucking riff about God knows what instead. I stayed up way too late in a (VAIN) effort to get my sleep schedule back on track, that always makes my brain fizz, my apologies.
umadoshi: (mermaid 02)

[personal profile] umadoshi 2015-08-02 02:09 am (UTC)(link)
I so want to see this movie!!!
umadoshi: (woman's back)

[personal profile] umadoshi 2015-08-02 02:56 am (UTC)(link)
Oooh! I'll investigate. *^^* Thanks for the link!
umadoshi: (mermaid (roxicons))

[personal profile] umadoshi 2015-08-06 03:00 am (UTC)(link)
Ah! Good to know. ^_^
spatch: (Toonces the Driving Cat)

[personal profile] spatch 2015-08-01 04:17 am (UTC)(link)
Nurse Carey turned out to be my favorite character after delighting in the discovery; I was worried she'd get upset and tell Googie Withers all about what's up. Part of this I'd ascribe to Carey's own imagination and eagerness to see all (nurses have seen all, natch) but I also think that a mermaid's charms can extend beyond romantic pursuit.

[identity profile] nineweaving.livejournal.com 2015-08-01 07:06 am (UTC)(link)
How can I get hold of this wonder?

The tail effects are sparing but effective.

"The Mermaid's Tail by Dunlop"

Nine
Edited 2015-08-01 07:10 (UTC)
ext_104661: (Default)

[identity profile] alexx-kay.livejournal.com 2015-08-01 10:37 pm (UTC)(link)
A direct link for you:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5PKsv0oDrc

[identity profile] nineweaving.livejournal.com 2015-08-02 01:25 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks!

Nine

[identity profile] ashlyme.livejournal.com 2015-08-01 11:50 am (UTC)(link)
Okay, it sounds delightful and it's on YouTube. Right.

*she steals a fish meant for the seal exhibit*

I just saw that clip! It's the "butter wouldn't melt, but fish will" expression that does it for me. And the barks.
Edited 2015-08-01 11:54 (UTC)
gwynnega: (Default)

[personal profile] gwynnega 2015-08-01 05:22 pm (UTC)(link)
Wow, I'd never even heard of this film! It sounds wonderful.

[identity profile] movingfinger.livejournal.com 2015-08-01 05:40 pm (UTC)(link)
Nurse Carey indeed. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_Carey) And her "chickens," hmmm?

[identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com 2015-08-05 11:45 am (UTC)(link)
This is fabulous! Can I get it on Netflix? [Checks: It looks like it streams!]

I love the suggestion of eating this with raw fish on hand. When we at last get a TV capable of streaming movies, that's what we'll have to have, a party with sashimi, and watch Miranda.

Equally refreshing is her frank nonhumanness, which is not the same thing as naïveté. In her sea-cave in Cornwall, she reads water-wrinkled issues of Vogue and theater magazines that she's stolen from boats and beaches; her trip to London is full of wonders, but she wants more than anything to see an opera at Covent Garden, where the people might sing almost as well as mermaids. She doesn't have the longing of Andersen's mermaid for the land, but she plans to enjoy it while she has the chance.

A happy, self-directed mermaid. Wonderful.
aedifica: The ruins of a building at the Asklepieion in Epidauros. (Tholos)

[personal profile] aedifica 2015-08-09 03:13 am (UTC)(link)
I'd never heard of this movie, but I liked your description and I watched it last night with [livejournal.com profile] ckd. Ever since then I've been wondering about mermaid biology--I started by wondering who was the father, and then I began to wonder whether mermaid pregnancies require three fathers. (Maybe only if the fathers are human?)

Nurse Carey was just delightful. I especially enjoyed her first reactions, and "You finish your breakfast, dear."
seajules: (water woman)

[personal profile] seajules 2015-09-10 03:06 pm (UTC)(link)
I just wanted to let you know that, since I'm between terms at the moment, I looked up Miranda on Netflix and watched it this morning. It is utterly marvelous. Once I have my TV and DVD player on the same coast as myself again, I'll be looking for the DVD. I'm positive it must have influenced Splash, though that movie didn't have some of the things I liked best about this one. Like that ending. I wonder, have you seen the Faerie Tale Theatre version of The Little Mermaid? It has issues, but the otherness of the Mermaid herself mostly comes across rather beautifully, particularly in a scene in which she's sunning herself on a rock, spies a child on the shore, and tries to draw him into the sea to keep as a pet.
seajules: (water woman)

[personal profile] seajules 2015-09-11 02:09 am (UTC)(link)
I'm so glad! It seems to be undeservedly obscure, at least in this country, and it's one of the best mermaid movies I've seen. She really isn't human. And she gets exactly what she wants.

That's what I love about her, that real sense of otherness, and that power. And I think I actually had heard of the film before. I'd seen Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid in my late teens/early twenties while looking for more mermaid movies than just Splash and the various animated takes on The Little Mermaid, and not been terribly enthused about it. My mother was aiding me in my search, trying to help me find a movie she'd seen as a teenager from the same era as that one. The one she remembered had a mermaid who spoke and who could sing enchantingly, which she thought she remembered bespelled several men, and the man who found her bought her several very long dresses, and then Mom was positive the mermaid returned to the sea and gave birth to a child, which was so surprising it was possibly the main reason the movie had stuck so clearly in her head. She couldn't remember the name, however, and since this was in the time when we were considered pretty tech-forward for having a computer in the house (that only my dad and I even touched), there was no internet to consult. Now I'm just wondering how on earth Mom ever saw it. I think she said it was when she lived in Alaska.

I don't think I have, but that's a great image. Do you recommend the adaptation otherwise?

Actually, I did a review many years back when I was working my through the DVD set I'd received as a gift. Short version: a qualified recommendation. I think you, in particular, would take much worthwhile from it.

I love Miranda inspecting the cigarette Clare is just about to light, inquiring, "Do you always cook it or can you eat it raw?"

That moment was priceless, not least for Clare's expression. Actually, like Princess Amelia in the FTT version of The Little Mermaid, one of the things I liked best about Miranda was Clare's interactions with her. Clare seemed so bemused by her frank otherness, even when annoyed at and about the men in her thrall. And then Clare really looked at the nature of that fascination, connected it with the oddities in her household, and made the necessary leap of imagination. I think that says some rather enchanting things about her too, things not hinted at by her arch society matron persona.
Edited 2015-09-11 02:11 (UTC)