Breening Thursday: 15. “Miranda” from 1948


Today is January 31, the last day in this month. It is also Thursday, so it is time for another breening article! This article will be not only the last Breening Thursday article of the month but the last article which we will publish in January. Be sure to come back tomorrow for the first entry in a new weekly series which we are beginning on February 1!

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Most of the films which we have breened so far during blogathons and as part of our weekly series have been pre-Code and Shurlock Era films. Since we restarted the Breening Thursday series in November of 2018, we have breened multiple Rating System Era films, an era which we had not hitherto explored. Now that we have breened five post-Code films (1968-present), we are going to begin expanding another underdeveloped category in our breening time chart, foreign films. This is the most deceptive time period. Unlike the other eras, this category contains only films released between 1934-1954, the Breen Era. Many of the movies even have PCA Seals of Approval. However, the movies in question are decidedly un-Codish. That is because the movies in this category are foreign films, primarily from England. There was no Production Code in England; there was just the British Board of Film Censors, which controlled distribution. Since there was no film self-regulation, British films contain elements which would be unacceptable in American films. Foreign films are often like pre-Code or Shurlock Era films with the addition of the national element. There is a certain identity which every country puts in its entertainment, and you can definitely see it in British films. Many foreign films received PCA Seals of Approval for distribution in this country. Sometimes the PCA required cuts, and some films were denied Seals altogether. However, the foreign films which received Seals of Approval were far from Code films. They were like the pre-Code films which received Seals of Approval for re-release. They were allowed to play in this country, but they did not receive the careful self-regulation which made American pictures so wonderful and so decent.

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We have only breened one foreign film so far, Caesar and Cleopatra from 1945, a British film which Rebekah breened for The Second Annual Great Breening Blogathon. Today’s article will be the second entry in the category. I am going to breen Miranda from 1948, a British film from Gainsborough Pictures which received a Seal of Approval for American distribution. However, it is far from deserving of one. This movie contains that sly, witty, intellectual risqueity which is so typical of British films. However, it has an interesting plot and good actors, so it had the potential to have been a good Code film.

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Dr. Paul Martin (Griffith Jones) decides to go on his fishing holiday to Cornwall without his wife one year. While fishing one day, a “whopper” grabs his line and pulls him out of his boat and into the ocean! The giant fish is actually a beautiful, lovesick mermaid named Miranda Trewella (Glynis Johns). She may have a tail, but she is much more woman than fish. She is extremely amorous, but she seems to be attracted to human males more than aquatic ones. She has decided to keep her “catch” with her in her cave. Paul is horrified by the idea of being the flirtatious mermaid’s prisoner, but he can’t swim out of the cave to the surface by himself. Miranda keeps Paul with her for a few days, and he becomes quite friendly with her, despite his desire to eventually leave. She finally decides that he may leave only if he takes her with him on land as his invalid patient. He reluctantly agrees, buys her extra-long dresses from a famous designer, wraps up her tail, gets her a wheelchair, and writes his wife that he is bringing a patient back with him. His wife, Clare (Googie Withers), assumes that the invalid is an old woman until the beautiful young vixen arrives. She loves being carried around by men when she is not in her wheelchair, and she loses no time in seducing the chauffeur (David Tomlinson) and the artist (John McCallum) who is engaged to Clare’s best friend (Sonia Holm). Although women are repulsed by Miranda’s ignorance of good manners, men find her blatant flirtation and wantonness irresistible. Miranda quickly strains the romances of the three men who surround her as she eats fish with the seals at the zoo, poses for portraits, drinks salt water, attends the opera at Covent Garden, and sleeps in a cold bath. She is constantly attended by an eccentric old woman named Nurse Carey (Margaret Rutherford), who is the perfect companion for her, having always believed in mermaids. However, even with the help of Paul and Nurse Carey, it may be only a matter of time before everyone in the flat realizes that there is something fishy about Miss Trewella. With no further ado, let the breening begin!

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In any film about mermaids, the first concern is the clothing and decency of said mermaids. Even when breening an animated Disney film, The Little Mermaid, Rebekah had to give special attention to revising the mermaids’ attire. Unlike in the 1989 cartoon, Miranda’s tail comes up high enough on her torso, properly covering her navel and hips. However, Glynis Johns’s mermaid is much too much like most old paintings and statues of mermaids in the fact that she does not wear a top. This may sound too risqué for even a British film from 1948, but she is not quite as exposed as most paintings. She has very long, curly hair which partially covers her chest. However, after she dives into the water to get a fish, her wet hair provides much less coverage. Even when it is dry, Miranda’s attire, or lack thereof, is extremely suggestive. A defender of the film could argue that Miranda is not a human but a fish, offering this explanation as an excuse for her nudity and completely shameless behavior. I’m afraid that that argument won’t do in this film’s case. She is not a fish; she is merely a woman with conjoined, webbed legs! She speaks in intelligent language with a British accent. She admires clothes. She reads magazines! She acts like a woman and must be treated as one. She should be wearing a sufficiently-covering top in addition to her tail.

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One of the biggest problems with this film is the unacceptable implication that Miranda wants to and actually does have an immoral affair with Paul in her cave before he takes her on land. The situation is highly suggestive and particularly unacceptable because Paul is married. (I advise you not to attempt thinking of logical biological possibilities involving a mermaid. Just think of her as a woman and judge her romantic behavior accordingly.) I am not suggesting the complete removal of her flirtatious behavior, since that would destroy the story. She can act like a siren and even a seductress. However, her flirting must go no farther than flattering, eye-lash fluttering, and restrained kissing. Particular care is needed in the situation with the cave. Miranda may say that she wants to keep Paul in the cave, but it should not be implied that she wants to have an adulterous affair. She should just say that she has been so lonely and that she wants a man to keep her company. The important thing is to emphasize Paul’s disgust at the idea. In the existing film, he initially objects to the idea. However, he gives in much too easily. Since she is a siren, she may eventually bewitch him. However, much less focus should be on their romantic affair. He may seem beguiled, but there should be a lot less kissing and embracing between them. This will make the romance element more logical, as well. The audience really should not be led into thinking about the physical possibilities between a man and a half-fish woman.

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When Paul first revives in Miranda’s cave, he expresses doubt that he could live in the cave. Miranda assures him that other men have lived there quite nicely. “But not with me,” she adds. “You’re my first adventure.” The italicized word is too suggestive of an immoral affair. She should instead say something like, “You’re my first catch,” which is more comical than risqué.

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While Paul is in the cave, he notices that Miranda has some magazines. Referring to an excerpt in one of them, Miranda asks, “Do you know what happens to Amber in Chapter 18?” Paul replies, “The same thing as in Chapter 17, only twice.” This is obviously referring to the controversial novel Forever Amber, which is about a social-climbing woman of very little scruples. Without having read the book, I can infer to what they are referring. Since this book was so scandalous and notorious, the suggestive reference is unacceptable. The situation was not necessary at all. It could be removed or replaced with a reference to an inoffensive book.

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In one scene in the cave, Miranda refers to Paul’s “beautiful knees.” Her discussion of men’s legs is too suggestive. It should be removed. She can admire his handsomeness and refer to her pleasure about his height, but she should not discuss his knees.

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The most suggestive situation in the cave is when Miranda and Paul are seen happily embracing each other. They are sitting, but they look much too familiar. Miranda says, “What would my sisters say if they could see me now?” Paul uneasily replies, “Yes, and what would my wife say if she could see me?” The lines and the dialogue which ensues are acceptable, but their position is not. They must be sitting fairly far away from each other and conversing casually. They should not be embracing each other. Perhaps they could be playing some sort of game, like an aquatic version of checkers with seashells.

One scene in the cave ends with a very passionate kiss between the mermaid and her captive. The scene fades out on the long kiss, which is very suggestive. The kiss should be altogether eliminated. People’s imaginations can discern that Miranda has bewitched Paul without showing kissing of this sort.

When Miranda finally releases Paul from the cave, he calls Manell (Brian Oulton), his wife’s dress designer, from the local inn to order dresses for Miranda. Manell is shown on the other end. He is very effeminate in his manners and way of speaking. Such a clear characterizations of a man as a “pansy” is forbidden under the Code. It also is very obvious and stereo-typical. Every clothes-designer is not a sissy. Manell should be characterized as a sufficiently masculine man.

When they are riding the train to London, Paul and Miranda discuss what might happen to her if she were discovered. Paul says that she would probably be put in a peepshow like a pickled mermaid which he saw once. She says that the unfortunate creature was probably her aunt Augusta. Paul says that the mermaid he saw wasn’t at all like Miranda. “She was very old,” Miranda says. “And very pickled,” Paul adds. The discussion of a pickled mermaid is quite disgusting. Again, mermaids in this film are so human that they seem like people. No one wants to hear about a poor old woman who is pickled! Paul could just say that he once saw a mermaid on display in a peepshow, making no reference to her being pickled.

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Once they arrive in London, Miranda goes on a tour of London with the chauffeur, Charles. While they are driving around alone together, Miranda loses no time in flirting with the somewhat nervous young man. She asks him if he lives at the flat, and he says that he does. She coyly says, “I shall like that.” The line and her manner of saying it are rather suggestive. She should instead say, “I shall like seeing you often.”

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In this part of the film, we now see a lot of two human females, Clare and her best friend, Isobel. Both these women smoke quite a lot. I am not saying that women didn’t smoke in American films, especially by the 1940s. However, they smoked less than they did in other times. Watch some pre-Code films, and you will notice that women light more cigarettes and smoke them longer. The smoking among the women should be lessened.

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Miranda first arrives at the flat in the arms of Charles, who carried her in from the car. His fiancée, Betty (Yvonne Owen), is very surprised to see this attractive woman in her betrothed’s arms. Charles explains that he is going to bring Miranda to the bedroom. The mermaid looks at him shamelessly and says, “Are we going to your bedroom now, Charles?” This line is so suggestive. It is completely unacceptable. It must be removed entirely.

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When Paul first calls Nurse Carey over, he tells her that there is a lot of secrecy in this case. Nurse Carey has not seen the patient yet, but she understands that it is a young woman who is not really sick. She gets up as though to leave, assuming that the patient is an unwed expectant mother. Paul hastily assures her that it is not what she thinks at all. However, the brief inference and misunderstanding are unacceptable and unnecessary. They should be eliminated.

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On the first evening, Paul brings Miranda out to meet Clare. After a brief visit, Paul decides that Miranda has caused enough trouble for one evening. He authoritatively picks her up and says, “That’s enough, Miranda. Bed.” Miranda innocently smiles at him and says, “Won’t Clare mind?” Again, this is a highly suggestive and unacceptable line which must be removed.

In a later scene, Miranda and Nurse Carey are in Miranda’s room, primping the mermaid and discussing men. Nurse Carey asks, “Don’t you find your tail to be a handicap with the gentlemen?” Miranda responds, “No. It provides what you might call an element of surprise.” This exchange is unacceptably suggestive. The scene may remain, but those two lines must be removed.

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When they go to the opera, Claire’s dress has a rather low neckline. The neckline must be raised to make the dress entirely decent.

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Later, Miranda poses for a portrait for Nigel, Isobel’s painter fiancé who is very taken with her. The dress she wears when sitting for the painting is rather low-cut. The neckline should be raised to a decent level.

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Nurse Carey tells Miranda that she once sat for a sculptor when she was young. “Only I wasn’t exactly sitting.” This is suggestive that she was perhaps indecently dressed and in a risqué pose. The line should be removed.

When Miranda is in Nigel’s studio, she refers to a sketch which she says is very like the actual model. The sketch is impressionistic, but it doesn’t seem to be a properly-attired woman. The sketch should be clearly dressed.

While Miranda is at Nigel’s studio, Nurse Carey goes to a museum. While walking amongst the ancient Egyptian art, she sees a statue of a topless woman. She gasps in shock. Her offended reaction is positive, but I think it would be better to not show such a statue at all.

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Naturally, the portrait sitting progresses to more than art. Soon, Miranda grows tired of sitting still, so they take a break. They begin romantically conversing, and it is clear that Miranda is casting her spell on Nigel. They eventually kiss, and the scene fades out. It is unacceptably suggestive to fade out on a kiss. The kiss should be less passionate and should end before the scene is over.

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Soon, Miranda arranges to have a day alone with Charles. He takes her out in the car to see various sites. They start by going to the zoo. While there, they stop by the sea lion pool. It is feeding time, and whole raw fish are flying through the air. One of them goes the wrong direction and ends up in the crowd. Miranda catches it in her mouth, and you actually see the fish’s tail sticking out of her mouth! She is then seen swallowing it! The idea of her eating the fish is rather disgusting, but it could be acceptable if used properly. The fish’s tail should not actually be shown sticking out of her mouth. She could just be shown wiping her mouth with her handkerchief.

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Later that day, Miranda and Charles are sitting outdoors on some grass together. Miranda asks Charles what he is thinking. “Things I shouldn’t be thinking, mostly,” he replies. “About me?” she coyly replies, and he admits it. That line implies that Charles has some sort of immoral intentions toward Miranda. The rest of his behavior is proper and acceptable. I think that that one line should be removed.

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Clare eventually tells Paul that she knows that he bought Miranda’s expensive designer clothes. He defends his behavior by saying that Miranda didn’t have any clothes. Clare sarcastically replies, “I suppose she was running around down there naked.” Paul avoids the issue by defensively retorting, “You know Miranda can’t run.” Clare’s line about Miranda’s state of being dressed in Cornwall is a little too pointed. Instead, she should say, “What was she wearing while running around down there?”

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Later, Betty complains to Nurse Carey about how strange Charles has become due to Miranda’s presence. She says that he keeps saying that she’s too warm; he always complains that she isn’t cold enough. (This is referring to the fact that multiple people note how cold Miranda is.) Nurse Carey replies, “I’ve never before heard that as a complaint.” This response is obviously referring to an unacceptable adjective used in reference to women’s attractiveness, hot. Betty’s line is acceptable, but Nurse Carey’s is not. She should just say something like, “Well, really. I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

One evening, Miranda and Paul go for a nighttime drive. They are supposed to be going to a party, but they drive in the country instead. They drive by a pool, and Miranda begs Paul to stop. They sit by the water’s edge, and she asks him to unzip her dress so that she can swim. They kiss passionately on the bank. Next, we see Miranda in the water, her shoulders obviously bare. Then, Paul jumps in and swims over. We only see the upper part of his torso, which is bare, but we assume that he is naked. This whole scene is unacceptable and has no real purpose aside from being risqué and adding to the already suggestive situation between Miranda and Paul. The entire situation, including their deceiving Clare about going to a party, their subsequent drive, and their return to the flat late that night should be eliminated.

On the final evening of the film, Clare stays home with a headache while Paul and Miranda go to the opera again. Although she only plans to lie down and rest, she puts on a beautiful black dress, fixes her hair, and puts on lovely jewelry. I admire her sense of fashion; one should never be casual and sloppy! However, the neckline of her dress is too low; it must be raised.

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That same evening, Isobel goes over to Nigel’s flat. Inside, she sees his portrait of Miranda. In it, she is wearing a low-cut strapless top. She should be sufficiently covered in the painting.

Back at the flat, a heartbroken Betty tells Clare that her engagement with Charles has been broken because of Miranda. She begins to tell Clare things that are strange about their houseguest. She says, “And there’s another thing that’s not very nice about Miss Trewella. She doesn’t wear any panties.” “No panties?” Clare says in horror. Betty tells her that she has plenty of all the other undergarments but not one pair of those. This statement disregards the fact that she would lack more than that one undergarment. The legless woman also would not possess stockings, a necessary undergarment for well-dressed ladies in 1948. Obviously, they just wanted to mention that intimate item of female apparel because they knew they could get away with it. The word panties should be replaced with stockings. At the time of this film’s making, a lady was definitely not a nice lady if she did not wear stockings. However, it was still acceptable to mention stockings.

Next, we see Clare checking this rumor. She is in Miranda’s room, rifling through her undergarments. We see her pull a flossy little brassiere out of a drawer as she makes a futile search for panties. As she is shown looking through Miss Trewella’s drawer, she should pull out nothing more intimate than a chemise.

Then, the agitated Claire occupies herself by reading a magazine. As she is looking through the publication, she comes upon a full-paged advertisement. The primary image in the cosmetic layout is a mermaid. The illustrated siren is clearly naked. The mermaid should be wearing a decent top.

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Later that evening, Clare is determined to confirm her suspicions about Miranda. She is just starting to think that there is something “fishy” about Miss Trewella, having been pushed toward the truth by the mermaid advertisement. Knowing that Charles is interested in marrying Miranda, she asks him what her legs are like. He is shocked by the question and says that he has never seen them. “I hope I always behave like a gentleman, madam,” he says. She slyly replies, “You’d be surprised by some gentlemen, Charles.” Her reply is rather suggestive. His remarks may remain, since he has a very proper reaction. However, Clare’s remark should be cut.

When Paul and Miranda return from the opera, Clare tricks the latter into confessing that she is a mermaid. She fears for her safety once Clare knows about her, so she decides she must leave. Paul brings her to her room and places her in her bath chair, planning to bring Clare in in a few minutes to see her tail. Before he leaves, Miranda says, “Kiss me, Paul.” They kiss rather passionately, and then she says, “Now go back to Clare.” He doesn’t realize that it was a farewell kiss. The demand for a kiss is largely redeemed by the fact that she sends him back to his wife afterwards. However, I don’t think that he should so willingly kiss her on her lips. Instead, he should kiss her fondly on her cheek.

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When Clare goes to see Miranda’s tail, she finds that she has gone. She and Paul see the fugitive in her bath chair on the street, and they run down to catch her. However, just as they come to the edge of the nearby River Thames, they see her tail flap above the water. Paul says that he will never go on bachelor holidays anymore. Clare is pleased by this but sympathizes with her rival by saying, “Poor Miranda.” Paul muses that she will be happy basking in the sun at Mallorca, where she told them she plans to go so she will be somewhere lovely in May. Clare says, “I wonder why she said she wants to be somewhere lovely in May.” “I wonder,” Paul agrees. In the final shot, we find out. We see Miranda sitting on a sunny rock in the ocean, holding a merbaby on her lap! That is how the picture ends. It is a very odd and completely unacceptable final twist. There is a clear implication that Paul is the father of this merchild. This ending is unacceptable. There must be no end shot of Miranda holding a baby. Also, the lines about her wanting to be somewhere lovely in May should be eliminated. They film could just end with Paul’s describing her basking in the sun at Mallorca.

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This is a very entertaining picture. Artistically, it is very enjoyable. However, it has so many embarrassing and inappropriate moments, all of which were unnecessary. If the film had been breened as I suggested, I think it would be just as entertaining without being indecent. The merbaby at the ending and the adulterous affair which he implies were clearly included as a startling finish. The ironic, mind-boggling ending reminds me of Billy Wilder’s Shurlock Era style. I have no objections to ironic endings as a rule. However, this particular ending gets people thinking in a very vulgar direction. Once, we watched this film with a thirty-three-year old friend of ours. After the picture was over, she couldn’t help musing about how it was anatomically impossible for a mermaid to have a child. Films should not make people think that way! In general, this is a charming picture from our friends “across the pond.” All it needed was the PCA’s help to make it wonderful!

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One thought on “Breening Thursday: 15. “Miranda” from 1948

  1. Pingback: Breening Thursday: 20. “Mad About Men” from 1954 | pure entertainment preservation society

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