Ah, vacation. A time to relax, to enjoy the outdoors, to catch a fish or two… but what do you do when the fish that you catch is half-human? Such is the case for Arthur Peabody, who is on vacation at an island resort with his wife Polly when he hooks a beautiful young mermaid.
Arthur and Polly left snowy Boston for the Caribbean after Arthur finally began to recover from a lengthy flu. Still feeling somewhat under the weather and becoming increasingly depressed about his age with his 50th birthday approaching, Arthur spends his time wandering and wallowing. While out on a solitary fishing trip on his boat, Arthur reels in a mermaid who he quickly names Lenore.
Rather than tossing the lady back into her oceanic home, Arthur brings her back to the resort and puts her in the bathtub. His wife, in dismay, tells him to get ride of the fish girl, and in the process of following those instructions he accidentally releases “Lenore” into the resort’s fish pond.
“Lenore” becomes a bit love-struck with Arthur, who buys her bathing suit tops and teaches her how to kiss. He is flattered by her adoration and the fact that she doesn’t care about his age, so he continues to spend time with her.
But this can only go on for so long before suspicions arise and Polly takes action against her husband’s wacky new obsession.
Irving Pichel directs 1948’s Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. This fantasy/romantic comedy stars William Powell as Mr. Peabody, Ann Blyth as the mermaid, Irene Hervey as Polly Peabody and Andrea King as Mr. Peabody’s other other woman, Cathy Livingston. The script was written by Nunnally Johnson.
Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid is a film that draws the viewer in immediately simply because the situation is so odd. It kicks off with Polly recounting the story of her husband’s mermaid-catching to a doctor, which makes the viewer suspicious of whether there was actually a mermaid at all. When the story is recounted by Arthur through an extended flashback and it appears that there actually was a mermaid, the premise has become so kooky that it’s impossible get bored of it or stop watching.
While highly engrossing, the film is also very lighthearted and a bit fluffy, which makes it a delight to watch. It isn’t absolutely packed with laughs and it isn’t a grand, award-worthy piece of cinema either, but it’s never dull. It contains a lot of great, witty bits of dialogue, especially between Arthur and Polly.
Despite the less-than-realistic nature of the story, Powell gives a fantastic performance as Arthur Peabody which never lapses in believability. He pulls of his character’s age insecurity and obsessive personality very well.
Ann Blyth is also wonderful in her role. She has no dialogue at all – only a few giggles and hums – but she’s still able to carry out all of her character’s emotions perfectly. The bewilderment, sadness and delight that “Lenore” experiences throughout the film are easily readable through Blyth’s great use of slightly exaggerated facial expressions. She also performs some very beautifully choreographed underwater routines.
Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid is a perfect example of a true hidden gem. It isn’t well-remembered or highly regarded, but it’s a top-notch film. Slightly ridiculous, high on charm and thoroughly entertaining, this film is everything that a fantasy-comedy should be. The score: 5/5