Blu-ray Review: Million Dollar Mermaid

Perhaps Esther Williams’ best known film, Million Dollar Mermaid tells the highly fictionalized life story of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman. Things begin in Australia, where the young Annette (Donna Corcoran) is confined to leg braces. Her father, Frederick Kellerman (Walter Pidgeon), runs a conservatory of music out of their house, unaware that is daughter is walking to a nearby lake every day to swim. Once he does discover her activities, he eagerly embraces her love for swimming, despite his wish that she pursues music. Soon, Annette (now played by Esther Williams), is winning nearly every swimming competition imaginable. Unfortunately, economic conditions in Australia force the Kellerman’s to move to England, where Frederick has accepted a position to work at a conservatory.

Upon their arrival in London, father and daughter find out the conservatory has closed. With little money, Annette is forced to sell her trophies. Frederick gives music lessons whenever he can to make ends meet.  A huckster-would-be-showman named James Sullivan (Victor Mature) has a plan for the pretty Annette. She will swim the length of the Thames, which causes a sensation. Next, Sullivan convinces the Kellerman’s to try for success in America, with the ultimate goal of becoming a featured performer at New York’s Hippodrome. Forced to start in smaller town sideshows, Kellerman inadvertently creates a firestorm of controversy when her swimwear is deemed too risqué for early 20th century America. The resulting headlines, Kellerman’s development of a one-piece bathing suit that satisfies her critics leads to burgeoning popularity and the call from Hippodrome producer Alfred Harper (David Brian) is everything she dreamed, but it also threatens to ruin her developing romance with Sullivan.

The film itself isn’t all that good. It feels too long, and some of the events to ridiculous to believe—after all, even though Million Dollar Mermaid is theoretically a bio-pic, it’s been very well established that those involved played very fast and loose with the facts. Despite that, Million Dollar Mermaid still has three things going for it that make the film well worth watching: the obvious chemistry between Esther Williams and Victor Mature (according to Williams’ biography, the two had a very intense affair during filming), the tremendous Busby Berkley directed water sequences, and the chance to see Maria Tallchief dance, playing the role of Paplova.

A brand new 4K restoration makes Million Dollar Mermaid look marvelous! The 1080p transfer pops with all the gorgeous hues of Technicolor. Primaries shine, especially reds and yellows during the water ballet sequences. Contrast and clarity is excellent throughout. The image is crisp, highlighting even the smallest details. A natural grain structure preserves the film-like appearance. Flesh tones appear natural and sharp close-ups highlight fine facial features. Any age-related defects have been carefully removed, heightening the impact of the spectacular swimming scenes.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track supplies clear, we’ll modulated sound. Orchestrations provide no hint of distortion, and all dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout. Sonic accents like cracking glass and water effects are crisp and distinct, and age-related issues are never a concern.

English SDH subtitles are included.

The following extras from the 2009 DVD have been ported over:

  • Reducing (8:21) is a vintage one-reeler from the “Pete Smith Specialty” series. Smith applies his wry narration to stage footage of a large woman named “Maggie” who is attempting to lose weight. There are some un-PC fat jokes by today’s standards.
  • Little Quacker (7:07) is a vintage 1950 Technicolor Hanna-Barbera “Tom and Jerry” cartoon. It is incorrectly identified as “The Wise Little Quacker” on the box, which made me wonder if they had originally intended to include the 1952 “Barney Bear” cartoon The Little Wise Quacker, which would have been closer in its original release date to Million Dollar Mermaid. In any case, in this short, Tom steals an egg from a mother duck’s nest and when it unexpectedly hatches, he upgrades his meal plans from “omelette” to “roast duck”. The baby duck finds a friend in Jerry Mouse who tutors him in the finer points of slapstick cat abuse with props including a meat cleaver, an axe, and a sledgehammer.
  • Lux Radio Theater Broadcast with Esther Williams and Walter Pidgeon (41:44) is an abridged radio-play adaptation of Million Dollar Mermaid. The audio is muffled and sped up so that the voices are pitched way too high. The integrated ads are excised which makes for some awkward edits.
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:12) is a brief dialog-free “clip and title” promo for what it bills as “The Miracle of MGM Musicals”.


Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)
Million Dollar Mermaid

Movie title: Million Dollar Mermaid

Country: USA

Duration: 115 min

Director(s): Mervyn LeRoy

Actor(s): Esther Williams, Victor Mature, Walter Pidgeon,, David Brian, Jesse White, Charles Watts

Genre: Biography, Drama, Musical

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3.5