MIRANDA, a cute fantasy-comedy from England in 1948, has the delightful Glynis Johns as a sexy sea siren who “underlands” a fisherman, dragging him to her cave beneath the waves. Enamored of soil-bound chaps—mermen apparently not to her taste, desirous of experiencing life on land, she’s taken by her catch—a doctor—to his home, as a “patient” (her tail hidden), recovering in a wheelchair. Complications ensue (like they wouldn’t?) when Miranda seduces the doctor, his chauffeur, and his best friend, each of them carried away by carrying her around. To his wife and their fiancées all this fishy attention goes down like a herring milkshake.
“You’ve hated me ever since I first set tail in this house.”
Directed by Ken Annakin, the frothy 80-minute lark, both civilized and cheeky, was a big hit in Britain, but barely broke the surface across the Atlantic, angling a lure against a US-caught fishwish, Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. Though Peter Blackmore fashioned the script from his own successful play, the story bears some resemblance to “The Sea Lady”, a fantasy novel H.G.Wells wrote in 1901, its satire partly sprung from what Wells described as a “craving for some lovelier experience than life had yet given me.”
H.G. missed out on one of life’s lovely experiences in the form of Glynis Johns, 24 and glowing (even when sopping), her voice a melodic purr, eyes promising mischief. Along with having the flirting down pat, as to the physical tasks at hand (or tail), Johns commented “I was quite an athlete, my muscles were strong from dancing, so the tail was just fine. I swam like a porpoise.” Who doesn’t love a porpoise? The beguiled chauffeur is David Tomlinson, later ‘Mr.Banks’, Johns flustered husband in Mary Poppins. Adding to the mirth is Margaret Rutherford, an eccentric nurse delighted by the she-creature, sworn to secrecy about what she really is. The final shot is a pearl. *
Made for £170,400, the equivalent in 2021 of £6,355,486, the price of fish & fantasy rising with the tide. The cost included the propelling appendage fashioned for Johns, duly credited “Tail by Dunlop”. With Griffith Jones, Googie Withers, John McCallum, Yvonne Owen, Sonia Holm, Brian Oulton (as a dressmaker so extravagantly fluttery he makes Truman Capote seem like Robert Mitchum), Zena Marshall (future Bond vixen ‘Miss Taro’ in Dr. No), and Maurice Denham.
* Ken Annakin directed seven pictures with the captivating Ms. Johns, and we refer you to his autobio “So You Wanna Be a Director?” for some juicy tidbits about their time making Miranda. As of 2021, Glynis still charms among us, at 98.
Universal threatened to throw a legal net over Miranda because that same year they were using William Powell and Ann Blyth to bait audiences with Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. Deciding the charge was all wet, the law (of the sea?) ruled for Britannia. To add a wriggling minnow to the haul, 1948 also yielded Tarzan and the Mermaids, which other than some women swimming, has nada to do with mermaids beyond a desperate title. Six years later, Johns and Rutherford continued Miranda’s adventures, in color this time, in the charming Mad About Men.