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Thursday, December 15, 2016

MR. PEABODY AND THE MERMAID (1948)

A near miss. Nunnally Johnson must have written this Mid-Life crisis fable with William Powell in mind. Hard to imagine anyone else striking his whimsically touching tone just so. Certainly not journeyman director Irving Pichel who misses the vein of fancy in Johnson’s tale of a convalescing husband on a dream Caribbean vacation with his wife. About to turn the big Five-0, and fighting the idea, he notices his wife flirting with a roué while he's paying too much attention to an adventuress. Trifles really, Powell’s real focus is less conventional, a speechless mermaid he’s fished from the ocean (Ann Blyth). You keep expecting this to turn stupid, one of those forced farces with funny explanations and dodgy missed sightings. Instead, the film grows quiet, a little melancholy, and, thanks to Powell’s remarkably subtle playing, invested with real emotional charge. And without much to support him in the way of production. Perhaps Powell, who knew a thing or two about slow recoveries (he’d spent a couple of years off the screen as a successful recipient of experimental radium cancer treatments), found something more personal in here then he’d planned. The film’s no more than a shaggy dog story, but Powell brings it texture & a touch of humanity. BTW, as Powell’s understanding wife, the little remembered Irene Hervey is just great, lovely, too.

DOUBLE-BILL: Nunnally Johnson hit the Mid-Life crisis jackpot (somber, solemn & serious edition) writing & directing THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT/’56 with all his principals suffering.

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