Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Classic Films in Focus: MIRANDA (1948)

Mermaids must have been a hot topic in 1948 because that year saw not one but two mermaid movies, Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid and Miranda. The 1947 debut of live mermaid shows at Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida had something to do with it, although the Cornish setting of Miranda is far less tropical than that of its Hollywood counterpart. Directed by Ken Annakin, Miranda is very much a British picture, both very polished and very naughty and shot through with eccentric humor that benefits greatly from the unique charms of its lovely star, Glynis Johns.

Johns stars as the eponymous heroine, a love crazed mermaid who hooks a married doctor, Paul Martin (Griffith Jones), off the coast of Cornwall and persuades him to take her to London so that she can see the sights. Paul falls for Miranda, much to the dismay of his wife (Googie Withers), but Miranda falls for every man she sees, including the Martins' chauffeur (David Tomlinson) and a handsome young painter (John McCallum). Cared for by an eccentric nurse (Margaret Rutherford) who knows her secret, Miranda has a fine time, but her odd behavior and mysterious inability to walk eventually convince Clare Martin that something fishy is going on with her seductive house guest.

Plucky comic performances make this film thoroughly amusing, especially Johns as the winsome heroine. Most film fans will recognize her as the suffragist mother in Mary Poppins (1964), although she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work in The Sundowners (1960). As the star of Miranda she gets more opportunity to flex her comedic talent, and she makes the most of her fey beauty and kittenish voice. The supporting players mostly react to her, although zany Margaret Rutherford threatens to steal several scenes. Rutherford would be the only cast member aside from Johns to return for the 1954 sequel, Mad About Men, which says something about the importance of her character to the original picture's appeal. She would go on to enjoy a long run as Miss Marple in a number of films adapted from the works of Agatha Christie, although her only Oscar win, for Best Supporting Actress, came with her work in The V.I.P.s (1963).

For more of Glynis Johns, see 49th Parallel (1941), An Ideal Husband (1947), and The Court Jester (1955). You'll find Margaret Rutherford cutting up as usual in Blithe Spirit (1945) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1952). Look for Googie Withers in the delightful English comedy, On Approval (1944). David Tomlinson can be found as Glynis Johns' stuffy husband in Mary Poppins and as the unorthodox Emelius Browne in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). If you enjoy the first film, go on to the sequel, Mad About Men, although the original picture is the better of the two.

An earlier version of this review originally appeared on The author retains all rights to this content.

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