Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948)

Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948)

“There’s much to be said for a woman — even an imperfect one — who lives, breathes, and exists only for the man she loves.”

A middle-aged man (William Powell) on vacation in the Caribbean falls in love with a mermaid (Ann Blyth), and finds his marriage (to Irene Hervey) threatened.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ann Blyth Films
  • Fantasy
  • Flashback Films
  • Infidelity
  • Mid-Life Crisis
  • Mermaids
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Vacation
  • William Powell Films

As indicated in the quote cited above, this tepid romantic comedy by director Irving Pichel — based on Guy and Constance Jones’ novel Peabody’s Mermaid — unabashedly explores sex and relationships from a male point of view, specifically that of a 50-year-old married man rapidly embarking upon a mid-life crisis. Structured as a flashback story told to a psychiatrist (Art Smith), Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid is clearly meant to satirize the age-old trope of middle-aged men falling for naive girls half their age; indeed, Peabody makes no excuses for himself when describing — through voiceover — what he’s looking for in an ideal woman (“What I like is a woman who can’t do anything very much”), or telling the nubile, conveniently mute Lenore that in her eyes there exists both eternal wisdom and “the beauty of a child, too: simple, direct, uncomplicated.”

Unfortunately, while it’s clear that Peabody’s lust for Lenore is merely a symptom of his own male insecurity, his growing infatuation remains uncomfortable to watch — yet we’re stuck with nobody else to root for. While Ann Blyth does a nice job playing a character who must communicate exclusively through facial expressions and body language, she never emerges as a three-dimensional character, and Peabody’s wife (Irene Hervey) comes across as little more than a close-minded shrew. Meanwhile, an ongoing comedic riff about a morose investigator (Clinton Sundberg) who has recently given up both alcohol and cigarettes — and must deal with temptation everywhere he goes — is decidedly unfunny:

and Peabody’s biggest crisis — being double-crossed by Sundberg and eventually accused of murder — holds little interest. Ultimately, while Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid maintains a small coterie of devoted fans (click here to read a LOT more about this film’s inception — including the task of outfitting Blyth in her mermaid tail), it’s not must-see viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • William Powell as Mr. Peabody
  • Ann Blyth as Lenore the Mermaid
  • Powell’s humorous attempt to buy sweaters — then simply bikini tops — for Lenore

Must See?
No; while beloved by some, this dated comedy hasn’t aged all that well.


One thought on “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948)

  1. Not a must.

    No doubt seen in its day as harmless/slightly ‘naughty’ piffle, audiences of the time may have been entertained by it but, true, it hasn’t aged well – and the average female ff, in particular, may yawn.

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