setsuled: (Louise Smirk)

It's a cool woman indeed who keeps her poise when her husband brings a mermaid home. Googie Withers manages to carry it off when her husband carries home the beautiful Glynis Johns in 1948's Miranda, a charming comedy that uses a mermaid as a metaphor for the foolish roving eyes of new and soon to be husbands.

A doctor named Paul (Griffith Jones) goes to Cornwall on vacation without his wife, Clare (Withers), and is promptly captured by a mermaid named Miranda (Johns).

She plans on holding him captive in her underwater cave forever until she's taken by the idea of spending some time among humans disguised as a woman paralysed below the waist, one of Paul's patients. She's worried she'll suffer the same fate as her aunt Augusta, who was pickled and exhibited in a sideshow, so she compels Paul to keep her identity a secret from everyone, including his wife.

But when Paul brings a beautiful young woman into the home, who seems delighted to be carried around by men whom she doesn't hesitate to call "beautiful" and shower with other compliments, Clare seems more bemused than angry and she chats knowingly with her best friend, Isobel (Sonia Holm), about Paul's likely ulterior motives.

But Isobel and the servant, Betty (Yvonne Owen), are less amused when both their fiancés--an artist named Nigel (John McCallum) and a butler named Charles (David Tomlinson)--become infatuated with her.

Tomlinson's character might have been comforted to know he and Johns would play husband and wife sixteen years later in Mary Poppins.

The only woman who really likes Miranda is the only woman who knows she's a mermaid--the nurse Paul brings in to care for her played by Margaret Rutherford.

Paul had described Nurse Carey as an eccentric and had apparently decided not to employ her anymore but somehow thinks she's perfect for this job--explained when, upon seeing Miranda naked in the bath, Carey exclaims happily that she's always believed in mermaids.

1948 was a good year for mermaid movies--Miranda was released in Britain the same year Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid was released in the U.S. While Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid is a gentle forerunner of Lolita, lampooning how ridiculous the reality can be when a much older man tries to live out his fantasies with a real young woman, Miranda is more about anthropomorphising those fantasies. Miranda is truly not human, her selfless ease with being a companion to all men, her constant even temper, and her complete inability to fulfil anyone's sexual needs make her very much like a breathing pin-up poster or, to put it in grander terms, like a muse. Indeed, given how much delight Nurse Carey takes in her the latter term might be more appropriate. But just like a pin-up, as much as she freely gives to men she's not troubled at all by her inability to fulfil their ultimate desires. And just like a pin-up, the men look extremely foolish when they want to leave their girlfriends and wives for her.

setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

To-day's my sister's birthday and also Robert Mitchum's 100th birthday so happy birthday to you both. Last night I watched Mitchum in 1960's The Sundowners, a relaxing, almost slice of life story about a family of sheep drovers in early 20th century Australia. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, it has a wonderful quantity of location footage and real sheep shearing that turns out to be gently fascinating.

The Carmodys roll into frame in a covered wagon with little fanfare during the opening credits. The film does a nice job of bringing the viewer in with a fairly normal group of people who happen to have the lovely job of herding sheep. It reminds me of the obsession poets used to have with the idyllic lives of shepherds--there's something just so pleasant about even the arguments between Paddy (Mitchum), Ida (Deborah Kerr), and their son, Sean (Michael Anderson, Jr.).

The actors do a respectable job at Australian accents, refreshing after movies like Sister Kenny where no-one even bothered. I will say, as much as I love Deborah Kerr, she's definitely miscast here. When they're alone in their tent, Paddy compliments her body, telling her she's how women ought to be shaped, unlike the skinny women they'd seen in town--"Broomsticks, nothing to hang onto." She immediately replies with an amusing and lightly chiding, "Did you try?"

The only problem is Kerr is pretty slender herself. Throughout the movie the script comes back to the idea that Ida has looks that show she's worked hard and in poverty all her life but as fun as Kerr is with some of the snappy dialogue in this film she's just too naturally elegant and poised. In one scene, we see her wistfully watching a society woman in a train and in the next scene we see her in the hotel looking like this:

She has a bit of a tan but mainly she looks as crisp and graceful as any lady of refinement--really more so than most. Her and Mitchum are a really sexy couple, though.

More appropriately anachronistic is Peter Ustinov in a supporting role as Rupert Venneker, an English hired hand that takes up with the Carmodys, the strangest and most intriguing character in the film.

He won't say much about his past unless he's forced to defend his dignity and mention the time he spent as a captain on a Chinese ship or the great family he was born into in England. He seems to strike up a romance with the always charming Glynis Johns as the hotel owner but the relationship doesn't go where you might expect and it's not for entirely mercenary reasons Rupert's drawn to the Carmodys. Some might say what we're seeing is repressed homosexuality, which I think is possible, but there are other equally possible explanations for his isolation which is for the most part only incidentally referred to.

There's a conflict running through the film between Paddy and Ida over the idea of continuing as drovers, as he wants, and settling down on a farm, as she wants, but for the most part the film is episodic. We watch the Carmodys take a job shearing, Ida working in the kitchen. A coworker's wife gets pregnant, a fight breaks out in the road after two trucks of workers nearly collide, there's a brush fire the family barely escapes. Rupert convinces Paddy to enter a shearing competition--and Mitchum is clearly doing some actual shearing.

Mitchum, even in these circumstances, is, as usual, magnetic in his zenlike coolness and idle strength.

The movie ends with a nicely unresolved feeling as though the story of the Carmodys and Rupert is still going on somewhere, pretty much as it was most of the movie.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

So you want a better life. Why not go to war? It'll very likely improve both you and your spouse, or at least that's the message in Alexander Korda's 1945 wartime propaganda film Perfect Strangers (Vacation from Marriage in the U.S.), a message all the more insidious for the fact that it's a pretty good movie with amazing performances from Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr.

The two basically play two roles each, and maybe a transitory third role. They start the movie off as a dull, miserable married couple, the Wilsons, Robert and Cathy. Robert is a meek, set in his ways bank employee, at one point contemptuously called an "old maid". Cathy is a stay at home wife who never wears makeup and seems to have a perpetual cold. Then Robert finds himself forced to join the navy and, while he's gone, Cathy joins the Wrens, the women's branch of the Royal Navy at the time.

Gradually, both are transformed and the actors carry it off brilliantly in their performances. Donat's body language becomes more relaxed and expansive--maybe going slightly too far later in the film when he's propped himself up against the fireplace while sitting.

Cathy, under the influence of her worldly new cohort, Dizzy (Glynis Johns), starts smoking and wearing makeup. Both separately start to think they could never go home to their stuffy spouses, each has as close to an extramarital affair as the censors would allow--Robert with a nurse who tells him about how her recently deceased husband went from being a boring clerk to an exciting world traveller whose memory she admires, Cathy with an intellectual in a scene Korda lifts almost wholesale from Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale.

When the Wilsons are rediscovering each other in the third act, both are surprised to find the other can now dance, prompting the reply from both, "One picks these things up." The message isn't terribly subtle--join the navy, get the sexual experience that will make you more appealing to the opposite sex. Yet I did find it charming and kind of insightful that both Robert and Cathy felt that they were suffering before because they thought the other needed them and it was this suffering that made each seem so helpless to the other. And Donat and Kerr sell it so well. Donat's best known roles were behind him at this point and this was near the start of Kerr's career so it's also an interesting overlap of two eras.

But I would rather the film had been about Deborah Kerr and Glynis Johns having adventures. My favourite scene in the movie is just the two of them on an overcrowded train, taking turns resting their heads in each other's laps.


setsuled: (Default)

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