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Annette Kellerman was an Australian swimming star who created a scandal in
1902 by introducing the one-piece bathing suit at a public beach. Her rise
from obscurity is chronicled here, after a bout with a childhood illness
that left her crippled for awhile. America's swimming sweetheart Esther
Williams was the obvious choice to play the champion swimmer and she does a
fine job. She gets solid support from Victor Mature as a cocky promoter with
Walter Pidgeon and David Brian in good supporting roles.
The main ingredients are the swimming numbers--and the highlight is the acquacade spectacular choreographed by none other than Busby Berkeley. With exceptional color photography, good script and more than competent performances, this one is a winner.
Victor Mature has a colorful performance as the cocky promoter.
As for Esther Williams, it's easy to see why she was a top box-office draw at MGM during the '40s and '50s.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In addition to the fictionalization of the previous commenter, it is
also interesting that Annette's mother did not die when she was as
young as the movie depicts. In fact, it was her mother who put her into
swimming lessons to strengthen her legs. And it was her father who
started her in her professional career, including the swim up the
Thames river. She did marry her manager, James Sullivan, though.
Of course, the romance plays much better on film as depicted here. Despite the Hollywood-izing of her life, this is still an enjoyable film and a great showcase for the talented Esther Williams. Nice, light entertainment.
Wonderful film exhibiting the talents of Esther Williams portraying
swimming Annette Kellerman at the turn of the 20th century.
The water sequences were never lovelier and the story of Kellerman, who overcame adversity as a young child, was remarkable.
Victor Mature is in fine form as her promoter and eventual lover, Frank Sullivan. Jesse White brings his comic relief as Sullivan's side-kick and Walter Pidgeon is endearing as her father.
Coming from Australia to star in the Hippidrome and other features, Kellerman exhibited outstanding talent in her swimming career while at the same time trying to maintain her dream of being a ballerina. Ballet star Maria Tallchief brief appears as the legendary Pavlova in the film.
When professional differences end her romance with Sullivan, Kellerman really makes it on her own thanks to the help of David Brian, as the head of the Hippidrome.
While the tragic accident she had while making "Neptune's Daughter" in Hollywood almost cost her her life, it brings on a wonderful moving ending.
This is a highly entertaining film.
While my comment above is hardly a glowing endorsement, I liked this movie far more than I thought I ever wood. The movie is a biography of Annette Kellerman, who was a champion swimmer at the turn of the century and created quite a scandal when she began swimming in comfortable bathing suits--something "decent" women didn't do back in her day! From swimming champ to long distance swimmer to movie star, the film follows her career. Ms. Williams does a fine job as does co-star Victor Mature. I think the reason I liked this movie so much was because since it was a bio-pic, much of the usual over-the-top swimming choreography was missing or at least subdued. A decent movie with plenty to hold your interest.
If any kind of biographical film was to be made about Annette
Kellerman, champion swimmer from the turn of the last century, MGM was
the only studio to do it. They had the only star qualified and the only
studio that gave said star her own set.
If Annette Kellerman hadn't blazed the trail, Esther Williams could not have had a movie career. Kellerman first won many swimming medals in her native Australia and then went to the United Kingdom and then to America where she was the first international female swimming star. The Aquacade, the water ballet, I believe the Australian crawl swimming stroke were named in her honor, all these are due to her. She was crippled as a child and swimming did indeed make her legs grow stronger, as therapeutic to her as it was to a certain crippled president of the United States.
I'm really surprised that the Australians have not done any kind of big screen or small screen film about her, she was such an icon in a newly independent country. Leaving it to America and to MGM, Million Dollar Mermaid is a fine Esther Williams film, but no more than that. I get very little information about the trials and tribulations of the real Annette Kellerman and the people around her.
She did in fact marry her manager James Sullivan played here by Victor Mature who did NOT bring Rin Tin Tin to the silver screen. They do in fact cover her notorious arrest in Boston for wearing a shocking newly designed one piece bathing suit. Boston had many silly laws back in the day, they were known for it. If you remember in John Ford's Donovan's Reef, a gag is used about Elizabeth Allen wearing the typical Gay Nineties bathing attire and then stripping down to what Kellerman popularized.
Most of the plot of Million Dollar Mermaid is fictitious, her romance with Hippodrome impresario David Brian, her accident on the set of Neptune's Daughter. Annette did become an early silent film star as big in the silent days as her male successors Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe became in sound.
Kellerman and Sullivan lived to see Million Dollar Mermaid and it's unknown what they thought about it. The fact they were both still around I'm sure made MGM tread softly. One thing the film didn't answer was why Kellerman did not compete in the Olympics. In that she has something in common with Esther Williams. Esther didn't compete because the 1940 Olympics were called off as were the 1944. She had to turn professional and then became an actress and the rest is history. Why Kellerman didn't is something I'd like to know.
Perhaps an Australian production might answer that question if one is made. Until then we'll have to be satisfied with the beautiful and expensive Million Dollar Mermaid.
as has been stated, this movie definitely is not a good biography, but this is Hollywood. in truth Annette really was put on trial for her scandalous suit, though i wouldn't say she did it to be sexy. she did to be practical. and can you blame her? still, the water ballets are lovely, and they are especially special since the actress was a real synchronized swimmer who did it all herself, like how johnny Weissmuller does all of Tarzan's's water stuff(and everything else). parts are humorous, others not, but if you are looking for a classic this is a classic that most people don't know about. it is worth it to see a new classic, with that old charm. and, as has been said, the swimming scenes were fabulous. and the beginning, when Annette is a little girl, can just make you practically cry. when you come across stories such as these, it can be rather hard to pass them by.
In Australia, little Donna Corcoran (as little Annette Kellerman) swims
to overcome polio. Supported by father Walter Pidgeon (as Frederick),
she becomes a little swimming champion. The cute girl quickly grows up
to be attractive trophy-collecting Esther Williams (as the adult
Annette Kellerman). She meets manly Victor Mature (as James "Jimmy"
Sullivan) and goes to America. Mr. Mature puts her in a shocking
one-piece bathing suit and Ms. Williams is accused of "indecent
exposure." They are mutually attracted, but Williams must listen to
Mature tell her:
"Wet you're terrific, dry you're just a nice girl who ought to settle down and get married."
Understandably, this nervy line puts a cramp in their romance. Williams also attracts "Hippodrome" owner David Brian (as Alfred Harper). While not classically handsome, kangaroo-trainer Jesse White (as Doc Cronnol) gets no action; he's faithful, supportive and funny, but apparently not Williams' type. All this silliness is based on a few facts from the real turn-of-the century celebrity Annette Kellerman's life. The original "Million Dollar Mermaid" was also famous for appearing for the public in only her "birthday suit" - but this biography keeps Williams' Kellerman modestly covered.
Stick around for the sensational aquatic scenes. This is where Williams, choreographer Busby Berkeley, and cinematographer George J. Folsey really shine. They didn't do it alone, of course, as the MGM production team employed hundreds of hard-working helpers. Ballet dancer Maria Tallchief (as Anna Pavlova) and one of the seemingly endless cute Corcoran kids are additionally noteworthy. Young Donna won a "Film Daily" acting nomination in their juvenile category, Mr. Folsey's color photography received "Academy Award" consideration, and Williams drew in the crowds.
****** Million Dollar Mermaid (12/4/52) Mervyn LeRoy ~ Esther Williams, Victor Mature, Walter Pidgeon, David Brian
I've heard that this movie was not a completely accurate story of the
life of Annette Kellerman. Since I don't really know her story, I
cannot say, but I did enjoy this film, as I've enjoyed all of Esther
Williams' films. Esther Williams is the most wonderful, beautiful,
sweetheart of a girl to watch. Even when she gets upset (which is never
that often cause she always has such good spirits), she still seems so
nice and innocent. And her swimming is always a joy to watch. In
"Million dollar mermaid", Esther starts off as a little girl who is
overcoming polio. She still can't walk straight, but she tries to swim.
And she does it pretty well for the first time. Her father is concerned
at first, but then really admires her determination and decides he will
be right there with her.
As she's grown up, we see Esther as a terrific swimmer and diver. One scene in particular, Esther gets in trouble on a NY beach for indecent exposure. She is wearing a one piece bathing suit that shows all of her arms and about 75% of her legs, but nothing else. I know that this film takes place at the turn of the 1900s, but it's still jarring to see a woman making such a scene and getting arrested for that when today you've got topless women all over the beaches of Europe wearing absolutely nothing but the to tiniest g string bikini bottoms.
As the film continues, we see her achievements and her performing at the Hippodrome in New York. She does some dazzling numbers such as flipping around underwater, sitting in a giant clamshell with a pearl, jumping off a 50 foot high platform ( the platform itself is so beautiful, it's like a tall thin vertical waterfall). I heard somewhere that she badly injured herself one time rehearsing that scene when she jumped from that platform. And they had to stall film production while she recovered. Esther's father was the maestro of the orchestra playing during her water shows. One night, there's a tragedy with her father during one of her shows just while she was getting in the clam. Another time, a tragedy happened with Esther while in a water tank and the glass of the tank cracked and broke. Thank God, she recovered. There's also a subplot of a friend of Esther's who's trying to fly his plane around the world. And the very best of all of Esther's water ballets is here. Starting with a lot of her crew and herself jumping from these high flying trapeze bars just swinging out of these pretty clouds, some brilliant overhead shots of Esther and the girls in the water, along with other terrific plays such as Esther and the girls wearing dazzling, sparkling crowns as they're slowly coming out of the water. This was a great film. There has never been anyone else quite like Esther Williams. She was amazing and wonderful. And like Mickey Rooney, she only left us a few years ago (both in 2013), both living into their 90s. There were sadly, the last of the wonderful surviving Golden age celebrities. Esther Williams and Judy Garland were both the most wonderful women ever to grace this earth. They were both angels. Judy, sadly hasn't been with us since 1969, and Esther, now sadly has left us too. Dear God, please take the best care of these two wonderful angels in heaven. And I wish, that someday when it is my time for God to take me, that I will see both Judy and Esther up there.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Million Dollar Mermaid (Mervyn Le Roy, 1952), which gave splashy star Esther Williams the title of her autobiography, is a standard Hollywood biopic lit by several stupefying water ballet set-pieces. Williams is Annette Kellerman, the Australian swim star who became an international celebrity after first tackling the Thames and then outraging American society with her one-piece swimsuit. Victor Mature is the rough diamond of a promoter who takes her close to the top, then bails wanting to prove it's he, not she, who's the architect of that success. Walter Pidgeon plays Kellerman's supportive father, a music teacher who's dreaming of his own conservatory once more, while Jesse White is particularly strong in his sympathetic supporting part. Williams does quite well in a role that demands more than her usual pouting and foot-stomping, though to quote the script: "Wet, she's sensational; dry, she's just a nice girl who should settle down and get married." The main draw, as ever with Williams' work, are the swimming showpieces. The ones here are particularly good, including a gilded number commencing Kellerman's residency at the New York Hippodrome, and Busby Berkeley's 'Fountain and Smoke', which is just spectacular. Berkeley, who pretty much invented the kaleidoscopic musical number in films like 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 - each routine stuffed with surreal overhead shots of dancing girls moving in sync - is here employed as a sort of 'specialty director', contributing just one extraordinary number perhaps because his eye-popping extravaganzas were so expensive to film.
A nice color film of a certain age. The plot is formula melodrama, but so were most dramas of the day. In this world of Meryl Streeps, it was interesting that the filmmakers made absolutely no effort at Australian or English accents in spite of the characters, or the settings. It seems that many liberties were taken with the story of Annette Kellerman, the Aussie swimming phenom, who became the first real international swimming star. Esther Williams, who owned swimming in Hollywood in those days was very good, her acting thoroughly credible, and her theatrical swimming unparalleled. Victor Mature and Walter Pidgeon round out the cast.
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