Million Dollar Mermaid (1952): Esther Williams Best Water Musical

Esther Williams, at the peak of her popularity, stars in this MGM romantic musical, well directed by Melvin LeRoy, and lavishly photographed by George J. Folsey (who was Oscar-nominated).

Williams plays Annette Kellerman, a real-life Australian swimming star who took up the sport as a child to strengthen her legs, weakened by a birth defect. The treatment proves effective, and as she grows to adulthood, Annette becomes a champion swimmer, though she prefers to follow her dream of becoming a ballet dancer.

When Annette’s father Frederick (Walter Pidgeon) accepts a position in London teaching music, Annette joins him, where she meets James Sullivan (Victor Mature) and Doc Cronnol (Jesse White), the joint-owners of boxing kangaroo they intend to exhibit in London.

Aware of Annette’s abilities as a competitive swimmer, James offers to be her manager. At first Annette isn’t interested, but when Frederick’s job falls through and she can’t find work as a dancer, she agrees to work with James. He arranges a publicity stunt in which Annette swims 30 miles along the Thames River, which attracts the British press and wins her work as a dancer.

James then persuades Annette to travel with him to the U.S., where she creates a scandal in Boston by staging another long swim in a one-piece bathing suit, which is considered shockingly-revealing.

The stunt nearly lands Annette in jail, but she escapes and becomes the star of a water ballet revue. Annette had fallen in love with James, but after an argument, he resigns as her manager and Annette takes up with Alfred Harper (David Brian).

Annette and Alfred decide to marry, but James returns on the last day of shooting, determined to win her back

Choreographer Busby Berkeley staged the film’s elaborate water-ballet sequences.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Cinematography: George J. Folsey

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winners were Winton Hoch and Archie Stout for John Ford’s The Quiet Man.

Running time: 115 minutes.

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy

Written by Everett Freeman

DVD:  Jul 22, 1992