MIRANDA - DVD review

...all very light and frothy fun, with none of it very memorable but all of it reasonably pleasant.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

"She's incredibly pretty."
"She's pretty incredible."

You may know a couple of the stars of this 1948 British comedy-fantasy, "Miranda," from their appearance together almost two decades later in "Mary Poppins": Glynis Johns and David Tomlinson. They played the parents in the film, Mr. and Mrs. Banks. Here, they are considerably younger, with Ms. Johns playing a lovely young mermaid. Yes, it's all very light and frothy fun, with none of it very memorable but all of it reasonably pleasant as it unfolds.

Peter Blackmore wrote the screenplay for this J. Arthur Rank production, adapting it from his own stage play; and Ken Annakin ("Third Man on the Mountain," "Swiss Family Robinson," "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines," "Battle of the Bulge") directed it. Jean Sablon sings the Jack Fishman-Peter Hart title tune, and Muir Mathieson leads the London Symphony Orchestra in an original musical score by Temple Abady. So, yes, although it's a small, unassuming film, it's got a passel of talent behind it.

Griffith Jones stars as Paul Martin, a wealthy London doctor who wants to go on a fishing trip to Cornwall with his wife Clare (Googie Withers), a rather snooty type. But Clare refuses and encourages the doctor to go alone for a "bachelor holiday." He does and before he's there a day, he latches onto a beautiful mermaid (Glynis Johns), who carries him down to an undersea, air-filled cave and speaks to him in perfect English. Perhaps she learned to speak from a school of well-educated fish. She says she learned English by reading magazines tossed out at sea. She then tells the doctor she's lonely and persuades him (well, forces him) to take her on land (or she'll keep him in the cavern forever). Her siren song is too much for the poor fellow, and he takes her home with him disguised as an invalid, her tail wrapped in blankets.

Don't expect another "Splash" in "Miranda," though. That much-later Tom Hanks-Daryl Hannah comedy was far more slapstick funny and sentimental than this early, more-gentle mermaid yarn. Here, once the doctor brings Miranda home, he has to explain her to his wife, no easy matter. Then, Miranda casts her spell over every man she meets; thus, not only does the doctor fall in love with her, so do his straightlaced butler-chauffeur Charles (David Tomlinson) and the doctor's artist friend Nigel (John McCallum), much to the distress of their girlfriends, Betty (Yvonne Owen) and Isobel (Sonia Holm).

Stealing the show, however, is Margaret Rutherford as Nurse Carey, the woman the doctor calls in to take care of Miranda. Ms. Rutherford always played eccentric characters, usually dotty old ladies, reaching her zenith in the Miss Marple mysteries of the Sixties. In the present movie, she is the only person besides the doctor who understands that Miranda is a mermaid. "Oh, I've always believed in mermaids!" she exclaims, bubbling over with joy.

As the title character, Ms. Johns makes a wonderful flirt. Her character is also quite honest in her thoughts and open in her speech, making for some awkwardly humorous moments for the doctor. There's an especially funny scene at the zoo that could have gone on longer, but, remember, Blackmore adapted the script from a stage play, so most of the action is stage bound to the doctor's London flat, and most of the plot is dialogue driven. I suppose you could say the film is too talky for its own good, yet it never really feels talky. Perhaps that's director Annakin's contribution, moving the story along at a healthy clip without a lot of things actually happening.

"Miranda" is agreeably entertaining in its way, with only a couple of big laughs but a boatload of mild chuckles and fleeting smiles. Despite the possibilities it opens up for prurient interest, the movie is always the utmost in decorum, the men always gentlemen no matter the circumstance. So, you can say it's good, clean fun. Sometimes soggy fun, to be sure, but fun.

VCI engineers digitally restored the print in 2011, and while the results are not startlingly great, they are more than adequate. There are minor ticks, flecks, and lines here and there, very small, hardly noticeable. More important, the black-and-white contrasts are impressive, with clean whites and solid black levels. Object detailing and delineation are also above average for an older film. With no major blemishes to speak of, the picture quality, in short, looks as good as one could imagine.

The folks at VCI say the sound is Dolby Digital 2.0, but, understand, it's 2.0 monaural. Whatever, it's serviceable, with very little background noise even at high volume. The midrange sounds relatively clear and natural, and, except for being a touch pinched, it's easy on the ear. As we might expect from a film of this vintage, there is no bass of consequence, no extended treble, only a modest degree of dynamic range, and a trace of distortion in the loudest passages.

As usual with an older film on DVD, there aren't many extras a studio can find or can afford to include. With "Miranda" we get a few promos at start-up, an attractive main menu, twelve scene selections, and English as the only language.

Parting Thoughts:
"Miranda" was enough of a success that it encouraged Ms. Johns to make a 1954 sequel called "Mad About Men," in which she played the same mermaid character, this time swapping places with a schoolteacher. Be that as it may, the 1948 "Miranda" is a charming bit of fluff, the material of television sitcoms today but pleasant enough in its own right, thanks to the efforts of an accomplished British cast.

"If you ask me, there's something very fishy about this case."


Film Value