Million Dollar Mermaid

  • 1952
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Biography, Sports

Esther Williams was truly a one-of-a-kind in the movie business. By her own admission, she couldn't sing, dance, or even act very well, and being a swimmer was hardly enough to make movies about. Still, she did 25 films for MGM, only a few of which justified her diving and swimming. In MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID, Williams plays a real-life heroine of the water,...read more

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Esther Williams was truly a one-of-a-kind in the movie business. By her own admission, she couldn't sing, dance, or even act very well, and being a swimmer was hardly enough to make movies about. Still, she did 25 films for MGM, only a few of which justified her diving and swimming. In

MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID, Williams plays a real-life heroine of the water, Annette Kellerman. Liberties were taken with the true story by writer Freeman, who usually wrote in collaboration but took a solo screen credit on this film. It's the early 1890s in Australia. Corcoran, the 10-year-old

daughter of music teacher Pidgeon, has been born with a leg disorder but she builds her strength by swimming. Years pass, and the character is now played by Williams, a beautiful, self-assured woman who is acknowledged across the world as the best female swimmer. Pidgeon is having some business

problems, so he takes a position in London at a music school, and Williams accompanies him. On the sea voyage from Australia to England, Williams and Pidgeon meet Mature and White, who own a boxing kangaroo which they intend to show off in England. Mature has already heard of Williams' aquatic

abilities and suggests that she needs management in order to make money. Pidgeon is totally against her pursuing this course. Williams, who is planning to study ballet, is not all that interested in professional swimming, but she does find some attraction in Mature. They all arrive in London,

where Pidgeon is nonplussed to discover that the job he thought he had no longer exists. Williams attempts to find dancing work, but it's scarce, so she contacts Mature and agrees to be part of the big ballyhoo for his kangaroo stunt. She swims nearly 30 miles down the Thames and ignites the press

of England, soon becoming a celebrity for what she thought was a minor achievement. Mature figures Williams is capable of a big career, so he goes to New York to see if he can get her a booking at the Hippodrome. Brian, manager of the huge theater, says he can't use her, so to stir up publicity,

Mature brings her to Boston where she will try another long swim. To make sure she's really noticed, he has her wear a revealing (for the time) one-piece suit that leaves little to the imagination. Then he arranges to have her arrested for wearing the shocking swimwear (after first notifying the

press). She is eventually released by a judge who sees through the publicity ploy, but the hoopla is heard across the land, and Mature uses the ink to make Williams a nationwide figure and a draw at the turnstiles. Williams and Mature work closely with each other, which results in a love affair

that ends briefly after a disagreement. Williams is hired by Brian to be the star of a new water ballet at the Hippodrome, and Mature leaves to promote the career of a reckless pilot. Brian and Williams get closer until he proposes marriage, and she accepts. But when pressed to name the day,

Williams continues to postpone matters for one reason or another and eventually agrees to marry Brian when she finishes a movie she's been working on. On the final day of the picture, Williams is badly hurt in an accident and is taken to the hospital to recover. Both Brian and Mature come to visit

her there, and when Brian sees how she responds to Mature's presence, he realizes that she was merely agreeing to marry him on the rebound. He reaches for his hat and departs, leaving the two lovebirds cooing.

The underwater choreography by Brier is topped only by some spectacular above-water work by Busby Berkeley. In one of the best water-ballet sequences ever put on film, Berkeley used more than 100 swimmers, 55-foot-high streams of yellow and red smoke, and ramps upon which the swimmers slid into

the water while carrying lit torches. Then Williams dove from a 50-foot-high swing into the mass of swimmers, who immediately went into one of Berkeley's ferris-wheel effects (shot from an overhead camera), with the finale being several hundred lit sparklers coming out of the water and forming a

backdrop to the ensemble. The small comedic touches were aptly handled by Jesse White. Ballerina Maria Tallchief is seen as Pavlova, but none of the other famed performers of the era are depicted. LeRoy's direction is apparently nonexistent, but what this movie really lacks is a good musical score

with tunes by someone like Harry Warren, Richard Rodgers, or Cole Porter. Williams made three other big movies after this (DANGEROUS WHEN WET; EASY TO LOVE; and JUPITER'S DARLING), but none came close to the panache of MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID. The only tune we hear completely is "Let Me Call You

Sweetheart" (Leo Friedman, Beth Slater Whitson). Oscar nominated for Best Cinematography.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Esther Williams was truly a one-of-a-kind in the movie business. By her own admission, she couldn't sing, dance, or even act very well, and being a swimmer was hardly enough to make movies about. Still, she did 25 films for MGM, only a few of which justifi… (more)

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