Toronto Film Society presented Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) on Monday, January 23, 2017 in a double bill with Topper as part of the Season 69 Monday Evening Film Buff Series, Programme 5.
Production Company: Nunnally Johnson Productions. Producer: Nunnally Johnson. Director: Irving Pichel. Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel by Guy and Constance Jones. Music: Robert Emmett. Cinematography: Russell Metty. Film Editor: Marjorie Fowler. Art Direction: Bernard Herzburn and Boris Leven. Set Decoration: Russell A. Gausman and Ruby R. Levitt. Costumes: Grace Houston. Release Date: April 16, 1948.
Cast: William Powell (Mr. Arthur Peabody), Ann Blyth (Mermaid), Irene Harvey (Mrs. Peabody), Andrea King (Cathy Livingston), Clinton Sundberg (Mike Fitzgeral), Art Smith (Dr. Harvey), Hugh French (Major Hadley), Lumsden Hare (Col. Mandrake), Frederick Clarke (Basil), James Logan (Lieutenant), Mary Field (Wee Shop Clerk), Beatrice Roberts (Mother), Cynthia Corley (Nurse), Tom Stevenson (Charlie–Waiter), Mary Somerville (Lady Trebshaw).
In an article in “Look” magazine that came out at the time the film was released, Ann Blyth said that the hardest part of making the movie was trying to learn to swim while wearing the mermaid tail. She said that she practiced for more than a week before she felt comfortable with not being able to kick her legs to help her swim.
Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid was shooting near a set where Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) was filming. Tourists were shocked to see Glenn Strange’s Frankenstein Monster having lunch with Ann Blyth in her fishtail costume. Both Strange and “Lon Chaney, Jr.” as the Wolfman were invited to the Mr. Peabody wrap party, where they hammed it up in full make-up.
The underwater scenes were filmed at the Weeki Wachee Springs theme park in Florida. The park, which opened in 1947 and is famous for its live mermaid shows, is still operational.
In this amusing fantasy, unsuspecting fisherman Powell has his life changed drastically when his catch of the day is an amorous mermaid, the lovely Blyth. – Barry Chapman
[This] mild comedy-fantasy by Nunnally Johnson has its moments, with unsuspecting Powell coming across a lovely mermaid while fishing. Powell makes anything look good. – Leonard Maltin
Director Irving Pichel was quite the underrated master. Débuting with the fantastic Most Dangerous Game, only to go on to make films like She and the charming Randolph Scott Western Santa Fe, Pichel has since become almost a forgotten name, but is absolutely the star of this feature. Oddly grounded for this type of fantasy romantic-comedy, the film is relatively muted, save for the few gorgeously-composed closeups here of the husband and wife, and then of the mermaid, played by the effervescent Ann Blyth. However, the film truly comes alive during the various moments shot under water, where Pichel really shows off his directing chops. These moments are dream-like and, when taken along with the film’s lush score, really turn the picture into something far more entrancing than just a standard comedy. The black-and-white photography here is superb and the use of lighting…is truly something special. It’s a gorgeous picture that is also oddly melancholy and intellectually stimulating.
A rather touching meditation on aging and the desperation one feels to cling onto something new and full of vitality as life begins to near its end, the film is penned by Nunnally Johnson based on a novel from Guy and Constance Jones, and is a truly warm and inviting picture. Powell is fantastic here as the titular lead, and there is something slightly sad and desperate under the skin of Powell’s Peabody. Bookended by a discussion with a psychiatrist, almost from the beginning the film’s warm sense of humor is introduced, and throughout the film it never gets too heavy or has the weight lifted too far off of the viewer’s shoulders. Powell is opposite Irene Hervey, taking on the role of Mrs. Peabody, and the two shine when they share the screen together. Their chemistry is superb, and while their arc is relatively telegraphed (particularly near the end of the film), it still has resonance and is enjoyable to watch given both actors being at the top of their game. Rounding out the cast is Blyth who, despite not having a word to her name in the script, is gorgeous and just innocent enough to make the proceedings all the more poignant and entertaining. There is something slightly off about a handful of moments here, particularly something I’ve seen come across various discussions of the film, a kissing lesson between our lead and his mermaid beau, but the tone is never malicious or off-putting; instead, it is just another oddly tender moment in a warm and charming motion picture. – Joshua Brunsting
Notes compiled by David Burgess