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Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid

Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid is a 1948 black and white movie about how Mr. Arthur Peabody, a rather gormless and befuddled fellow, falls in love with a mermaid. Arthur and his wife, Polly, are spending their winter holiday in the warmth of St. Hilda's, a British island in the Caribbean. Arthur and Polly's relationship is a little awkward, partially due to Arthur's mid-life crisis and self-consciousness about his 50th birthday. Arthur and Polly play some jealousy games with each other, and this takes a turn for the unique when Arthur snags a real live mermaid while fishing. He secretly takes the mermaid to their holiday home, putting her inside the villa's grand pond.

Although this mermaid can sing beautifully, she doesn't speak at all, so Arthur gives her a name of his choosing: "Lenore". What starts out as a mild fascination becomes a strange love story between these two - Arthur is enamoured with his mysterious mermaid, and Lenore is delighted with Arthur's companionship, kisses and gifts of clothes. Polly twigs to Arthur's having an affair but she understandably thinks it's with a normal lady with legs, so there are some wacky hijinks which eventually culminates with Polly's leaving the villa and Arthur getting accused of killing his wife. It all mostly works out in the end, though Lenore is returned to the sea, leaving Arthur to treasure his memories of her.

This movie and Miranda came out in the same year, and although they have a number of similarities (married man cheating on his wife with a mermaid, plus ambiguous endings) their approaches are quite different. Lenore is a wild mermaid, briefly stuck in a pond as she pursues a love affair that breaches a physical and linguistic divide. She can be coy and sweet, but has a vicious predatory side to her as well, which is a difficult balance to make. Ann Blyth plays Lenore, and she does some amazing things in playing a mermaid who can't communicate through human words. It's all in her facial expressions, and there's a quite an array of them - innocence, curiosity, cheekiness, jealousy and wickedness. And let it be known that among my favourite bits is when Lenore hisses like a cat at Arthur to make her displeasure known.

It's also very much worth noting this film's underwater scenes, which could put some modern movies to shame. Unfortunately I couldn't get any decent screencaps, but there are some surprisingly complicated sequences of Lenore swimming in the pond, which has an aquarium-like "castle" structure big enough for her size. Ann Blyth gets some face acting done underwater, too - we see her grin and cry and bite a rival's leg while she's swimming down there. I'm assuming that these scenes were filmed in a tank or a swimming pool, and they're a delight to behold, especially Lenore's "victory swim" when she hears Arthur confess his love for her.

Thanks out to Shira and Natalie for telling me about this movie!

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