Miranda: An absolutely charming fish-out-of-water tale

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Miranda directed by Ken Annakin fantasy film reviewsMirandaMiranda directed by Ken Annakin

Back in the early ’60s, when I was a very young lad, there were two television programs that held a great fascination for my young mind. One was the part live/part animated kiddie show Diver Dan, which featured the undersea adventures of the titular hero, and showcased one very beautiful blonde mermaid, called Miss Minerva. The other program was one that I have a feeling not too many remember, for the simple reason that it only lasted 13 episodes in the fall of ’63. That show was simply called Glynis, and featured the exploits of its star, Welsh actress Glynis Johns, playing a kooky mystery writer. As a child, I was fascinated by this lovely heroine, with her cracked and husky voice (Glynis’ voice has always been as distinctive, in its own way, as that of Jean Arthur, Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn), and my liking of her only increased over the decades, as I got to see her in such films as Mary Poppins, The Court Jester, The Cabinet of Caligari, The Vault of Horror and others. Thus, it was perhaps inevitable that I was predisposed to enjoy Glynis’ 1948 film Miranda, a British fantasy in which she not only appears in the full flush of her beauty, but plays the titular blonde mermaid as well! As charming and delightful a film as could be imagined, Miranda was indeed a big hit with the public back when, leading to a belated but equally charming sequel, Mad About Men, six years later.

In the film, one Dr. Paul Martin (Griffith Jones) decides to take a little fishing vacation in Cornwall, while his wife Clare (the great British actress Googie Withers, who had appeared three years earlier in one of this viewer’s favorite films, Dead of Night) stays at home in London. Martin casts out his line and winds up with the biggest catch of his life: Miranda the mermaid, who drags him over the side of his boat and brings him down to her underwater cave. Miranda proceeds to turn the poor doctor’s life upside down (indeed, when we first see her, she is seen upside down, from the doctor’s supine POV). She tells him that he is a prisoner there but that she will let him go if he brings her to London with him for a few weeks, so that she can have some fun and look around. Thus, Miranda is brought to the doctor’s home, ensconced in a wheelchair with her fin wrapped in a blanket, and Clare is told that the beautiful creature is a convalescent case who needs looking after.

Miranda & Mad About Men - Mermaid Double Feature DVD

Double Feature!

Miranda wastes little time enchanting all the men around her, including the Martins’ chauffeur Charles (David Tomlinson), much to the chagrin of his fiancée Betty (Yvonne Owen), as well as painter/artist Nigel (John McCallum), who is engaged to the Martins’ neighbor, Isobel (Sonia Holm). Dr. Martin also brings in a very eccentric personage to look after her, Nurse Carey (the great Margaret Rutherford, who had starred in another great British fantasy, Blithe Spirit, three years earlier), while Miranda engages in all kinds of hijinks, including catching fish at the zoo, eating a trayful of cockles being sold by a street vendor, singing her siren song at Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House, and, as mentioned, coming close to busting up no less than three relationships…

Miranda was adapted for the screen by Peter Blackmore, from his play, and he has just peppered his clever script with an abundance of witty lines. (Thus, “Did you catch any big ones?” Clare asks her husband on his return. And later, as Miranda’s behavior becomes increasingly suspicious, Googie mutters “There’s something very fishy about this case.”) Director Ken Annakin, who would go on to direct such films as Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and The Battle of the Bulge, helms his film marvelously, keeping it to a compact 80 minutes. The film is in the best tradition of British cinematic class and quality, and is a fully adult and sophisticated fantasy. (Interestingly, Clare becomes suspicious of Miranda by dint of the fact that there are no panties in her drawer, and the word “panties” is mentioned several times; this, 11 years before the American film Anatomy of a Murder mentioned the same word and caused something of a scandal here in the benighted States!)

But if there is any one element of the film that can be pointed to as its principal triumph, it is Glynis herself, who is absolutely charming (sorry, can’t get away from that word) in the title role. “She’s the ultimate catch,” proclaimed the film’s poster, and very few male viewers would be inclined to disagree. “She’s incredibly pretty,” proclaims Isobel, to which Clare responds “She’s pretty incredible,” and again, few would give the two beleaguered ladies any argument. Glynis makes the film one very sweet and enjoyable fantasy, indeed; a film that remains entertaining and winning all the way up to that truly surprising final shot, and the last word that appears on the screen; not “THE END,” as might ordinarily be expected, but rather, and hilariously, FIN.


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough’s finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a “misspent youth” of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship — although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century — and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror… but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle “ferbs54.” Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club….

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3 comments

  1. It sounds like they hooked you, Sandy! And they didn’t have to cast the net too widely, just to mix metaphors. (And yes, I am baiting you.)

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