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Thursday, February 25, 2016

MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID -- Movie Review by Porfle

After the lightweight fluff of PAGAN LOVE SONG, Esther Williams' MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID (1952) comes as a shock--a genuine period biopic of early 20th-century swimming star Annette Kellerman.

We first see Annette as a little girl growing up in Sydney, Australia with her music teacher father, Frederick (Walter Pidgeon). Barely able to walk and forced to wear leg braces, Annette teaches herself to swim, after which her legs become so strong that she starts winning swimming competitions.

Financial woes force the Kellermans to sail to London, where they meet enterprising carnival showman James Sullivan (Victor Mature) and his sidekick Doc Cronnol (Jesse "Maytag Repairman" White).

With James' help, Annette becomes famous after swimming the length of the Thames River and later, before another long distance attempt in America, getting arrested for indecent exposure for wearing a swimsuit that exposes her bare legs!

As Annette's star rises, eventually leading to a smash engagement at New York's Hippodrome, her romantic relationship with James takes a nosedive and they seperate. He hits bottom just as Annette, at the peak of success, meets with a tragic accident that may end her swimming career.

As a biopic, MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID is a solid effort from director Mervin LeRoy which is consistently entertaining even when the drama starts to get a little sudsy.

Esther is utterly convincing as Annette Kellerman, while Victor Mature does a fine job as the smalltime wheeler-dealer who can't keep up with her rush to fame. Walter Pidgeon is perfect as the stodgy but warm-hearted father, and Jesse White plays the comedy-relief role of Doc Cronnol with his usual hangdog charm.

While the melodramatic elements hold our interest, what really makes the film stand out are the production numbers. Legendary choreographer Busby Berkely has a field day staging some of the most lavish and spectacular sequences yet seen in an Esther Williams vehicle--exquisitely kitschy and colossal in scope, these colorful flights of fantasy are both jaw-dropping and delightfully strange.

I can't even begin to describe them, except to say that they're like a Technicolor acid trip. In addition to these, the smaller-scale aquatic vignettes are equally enchanting due to Esther's ethereal grace and beauty underwater.

Although not the sort of light comedy-romance she's usually associated with, this remains a quintessential Esther Williams film and a top-notch production in every respect, with the usual MGM gloss.

More than some of her other films, MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID gives Neptune's daughter a chance to fully display her talents both in and out of the water.



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