It seems that mermaids were all the rage in 1948. America saw William Powell romance young fish-woman Ann Blyth in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (based on the novel by Guy and Constance Jones) that year. The United Kingdom’s answer to the apparent mermaid craze was Miranda (dir. Ken Annakin), a story of a boy-crazy mermaid, based on a play by Peter Blackmore.
Dr. Paul Martin (Griffith Jones) is taking a fishing holiday to the coast of Cornwall. His wife Clare (Googie Withers), who has no interest in fishing at all, decides to skip the trip. But while on holiday, Paul does more than reel in fish. He catches Miranda (Glynis Johns), a mermaid who pulls him into the water.
Miranda, ever love-hungry, keeps Paul prisoner in her cavern under the water, only agreeing to let him go if he’ll bring her back to London.
Paul agrees and takes her home with him for a month-long stay, disguising her as a patient in a wheelchair (and, obviously, covering her fishtail with a blanket).
Clare isn’t so happy about this arrangement and asks Paul to hire someone else to look after their new house guest. Paul hires Nurse Carey (Margaret Rutherford), who (much to his relief) is very excited to be working for a mermaid.
But Miranda’s still on a manhunt, so the trouble doesn’t end just by hiring a nurse. Miranda’s charms cause not only Paul, but just about every other man she comes in contact with to fall in love with her, leading Clare to become even more suspicious.
Though this seems to be the UK’s take on mermaids in competition with Mr. Peabody, the two films are nothing alike. Lenore, the mermaid of Mr. Peabody’s affections, is a very sweet and naive character. Miranda, on the other hand, is a total maneater. She’s looking to lure in a human lover and readily admits to having done so in the past.
Glynis Johns gets to deliver some pretty frisky, often very funny dialogue as the result of her character’s promiscuity. She gives a very good performance, portraying her character the perfect amount of sass. She also does a great job of making sure the audience sees that men are Miranda’s sole focus.
The film as a whole should be funnier than Mr. Peabody as a result of her character, but unfortunately it isn’t. There also isn’t as much conflict here as there is in Mr. Peabody — nearly everyone readily accepts Miranda, and Clare’s objections to the girl’s presence aren’t quite as persistent as those of Peabody’s wife. While Miranda is a good watch, it lacks the charm and silliness that makes Mr. Peabody so lovable.
The film does get better as it moves along. It leaves the viewer with quite a few unanswered questions. How does Miranda survive out of water? How is she so easily able to keep her tail a secret?
The elements all come together to make Miranda a decent fantasy-comedy.
Though Mr. Peabody is without a doubt the best mermaid film of 1948, Miranda must have won audiences over in the UK, because it was followed up with a sequel in 1954. Mad About Men is again written by Peter Blackmore, with Ralph Thomas directing this time around. Glynis Johns and Margaret Rutherford reprise their roles as Miranda and Nurse Carey, respectively.
But Glynis isn’t just a mermaid this time around. The film follows a schoolteacher, Caroline, also played by Johns. Caroline heads off to her family’s home in Cornwall, where she meets Miranda, a distant relative who looks exactly like her.
Miranda is desperate to join the human world again and hook herself a man, so she convinces Caroline to trade places with her. Caroline will head off on a bicycling trip, and Miranda will pretend to be Caroline in Cornwall.
They tell everyone that Caroline had an accident which will keep her wheelchair-bound for a few weeks in order to cover for Miranda’s inability to walk, and Nurse Carey comes to Cornwall to work for her mermaid friend once again.
Caroline is engaged to Ronald Baker, a pretty stuffy man who Miranda doesn’t like at all. So, in typical Miranda fashion, she decides to find Caroline a much better match by flirting with and courting multiple eligible bachelors… right in front of Ronald.
The fantasy element is a bit higher here than it was in the first installment. Not only do mermaids exist, but there’s a mermaid that shares a common ancestor with a human, and they’re able to convince an entire town that the mermaid is the human.
The use of stunning technicolor (rather than black and white, as with the 1948 film) also increases the sense of magic in this film. It’s very aesthetically pleasing, and the use of bright colors brings much more energy to the story, which is already more fun than its predecessor thanks to the “trading places” premise.
Glynis Johns gives a stellar performance, yet again. She plays both of her roles well, giving Miranda all of the pizazz required of such a lively mermaid while underplaying the very human, more reserved Caroline.
It is, again, improbable that Miranda is able to hide her fishtail from so many people. Those questions from the first film still aren’t answered. But here the improbability adds to the sense of fun, rather than seeming tedious.
Overall, Mad About Men is much more entertaining and consistently funny than Miranda. Together, they make a nice series. The scores: Miranda – 3/5 | Mad About Men – 3.8/5 | Series – 3.4/5