When it comes to fantasy films about mermaids, there really haven't been many to choose from over the years. Aside from the obvious like The Little Mermaid and Splash, only a handful have managed to remain in the public consciousness since their theatrical debuts. Going much further back than those front-runners, 1948 actually saw the release of two mainstream films featuring mermaids: charming British import Miranda and Irving Pichel's Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. This lightweight production toes the the line between fantasy and romance fairly well at first, introducing us to Arthur Peabody (William Powell) and his wife Polly (Irene Hervey), two Bostonians enjoying their winter vacation at a sunny Caribbean villa. Arthur is quickly approaching his 50th birthday and resists middle age accordingly: he simply wants a little adventure in his life, so the lure of beautiful singing across the sea convinces him to sail to a nearby island.
Soon enough, Arthur literally reels in the mysterious singer while fishing nearby: it's a beautiful young mermaid (Ann Blyth) that Mr. Peabody impulsively rescues...first by letting her hide in the bathtub, then the large freshwater pool outside their villa. He's up front about the mermaid---who he's since nicknamed "Lenore"---but his wife is doubtful and, on separate occasions, believes it to be "just a fish" and, eventually, another woman (which she pretty much is, really). Not surprisingly, the bulk of this film involves a series of mix-ups and near-misses: no one believes Mr. Peabody and, despite alternating attempts to reveal the mute Lenore and keep her from being discovered, he's either deemed a lunatic or a womanizer. In hindsight, it's just one of many prototypes for sitcoms like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, although the backdrop of an aging man dealing with his mid-life crisis helps everything go down a little smoother.
Unfortunately, the pleasant but paper-thin plot never really takes advantage of what could be a more satisfying film. Despite clocking in at just 89 minutes (not 99 minutes, as Olive Films' packaging and website advertise), there's a modest amount of dead weight that keeps this production from moving at a better pace. The most obvious is a bookend sequence that establishes their vacation in flashback form, pointlessly setting up the unusual premise and weighing down other scenes with voice-over narration. There are also a handful of unnecessary supporting characters, including fellow American Mike Fitzgerald (Clinton Sundberg) whose odd "ex-smoker" running gag never really pays off. I realize that the appearance of Fitzgerald and other characters like vacationing singer Cathy Livingston (Andrea King) are necessary to complicate Arthur's unusual predicament, but the lack of a satisfying conclusion makes these characters feel more like hollow diversions. Combine this with a third-act string of more serious mix-ups (mostly involving the "disappearance" of Mrs. Peabody) and this once-lightweight production almost collapses under its own weight.
Yet despite these nagging problems, large portions of Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid flow nicely enough, thanks to the able performances of its lead actors and a pleasing tropical atmosphere. In particular, Ann Blyth does a respectable job with a role that could have easily been relegated to mere eye candy and, despite their rather unusually tempered relationship, the Peabodys make a charming enough couple. Olive Films presents this forgotten romantic fantasy as separate DVD and Blu-ray releases; the latter offers a solid A/V presentation and both skimp on the bonus features.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid looks good for the most part. Black levels, shadow detail and textures are strong, although a noticeable amount of dirt and debris can be distracting during more than a handful of scenes. Luckily, a healthy layer of film grain is also present and no major digital imperfections---including excessive noise reduction, contrast boosting, compression artifacts and edge enhancement---could be spotted along the way. This single-layered disc doesn't quite offer a flawless experience from start to finish, but it's nonetheless a pleasing and entirely watchable presentation that long-time fans should really appreciate.
NOTE: This review's still images were taken from promotional outlets and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
The audio comes through cleanly in DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio, preserving the film's original mono mix and faithfully reproducing the dialogue and music cues. There's little depth and this is undoubtedly a "thin" presentation from start to finish, but considering the film's age and budget it's completely understandable. In other words, lifelong fans and newcomers alike won't find much to complain about with this lossless audio mix. For me, the only glaring omission here is a total lack of optional English subtitles and/or Closed Captions, although that's pretty standard for Olive discs.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Not surprisingly, the plain-wrap menu interface includes just two options: "Play Movie" and "Chapter Selection". Loading time is fast with no trailers or advertisements beforehand, aside from the Olive Films logo. This one-disc package arrives with a promotional insert; the haunting cover artwork replicates one of the film's only dark scenes near the end and, like the poster above, envisions our mermaid with golden blonde locks. Unfortunately, no supplements have been included.
Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid is far from a lifeless experience and certainly worth preserving on Blu-ray, but the film's 89-minute running time is nonetheless stretched a little thin by excessive subplots and an unnecessary introduction. Still, there's a definite spark to this romantic fantasy, at least enough to charm anyone with a soft spot for lightweight "destination films" that don't take themselves too seriously. Olive Films' Blu-ray package maintains the studio's tradition of very good (but not flawless) A/V treatments and a complete lack of bonus features, which may rightfully keep new fans from biting. Overall, it's a fun little diversion but only die-hard fans should buy this sight unseen. Rent It first.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.