Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) Movie Review

Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler


Starring: Esther Williams, Victor Mature, Walter Pidgeon, David Brian, Jesse White
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Release Date: 4 December 1952
Language: English
Length: 115 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: 3/5 stars


“A strong swimmer who longs to dance ballet, Annette Kellerman (Esther Williams) moves with her father (Walter Pidgeon) from Australia to England. After running into financial trouble, she reluctantly works with two showbiz promoters who lead her to fame, fortune, romance and scandal. Featuring beautiful water ballet sequences choreographed by Busby Berkeley, this classic biopic received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography.” —


I remember watching this movie on TV when I was a kid, but I did not remember the whole middle section of the movie at all.  I remembered the beginning and the end, but I did not remember the part about fighting for women to be able to wear one-piece bathing suits like the men.  It is always interesting to watch period pieces, especially as a woman, as you realize that, along with the beautiful costumes, dresses & hats that these women got to wear, they also did not get to wear a lot of things.  Can you imagine swimming in a corset and 10 yards of fabric?!  I mean, seriously.  The fact that Annette Kellerman was trying to be a competitive swimmer, but was expected to wear a traditional bathing costume of the time was just inconceivable to me.  This movie shows that women really have come such a long way since this time period and I think it is good to be reminded of the great freedoms that we now enjoy.  It is true that we also lost quite a bit, as men don’t treat women the same way and I think that some women go to far with the whole skin-baring thing, but we have also gained so much.

Anyway, this movie feels a bit long and I did not care for the love triangle, but there is a lot to enjoy here.  The characters are definitely larger than life and have so many unique adventures!  To go from swimming in Australia to swimming up the River Thames to a sideshow act in a carnival to hitting the big time at the Hippodrome to starring in a Hollywood movie is just inconceivable.  This world was so alien to me as I did not live during this time periods so I was quite fascinated to see where the story was going to go next.  The spectacular water ballets that I remembered from so long ago are all at the end of the movie when Annette Kellerman becomes a famous performer.  It is too bad that there was really no good way to incorporate some of these into the beginning & middle of the movie as they were the best part of the film, in my opinion.  The music is all orchestral and so there are no song-and-dance numbers, but there were a few spectacular moments of the ballet, especially at the Hippodrome where Maria Tallchief played Pavlova.

The acting was pretty good.  I don’t know how closely they related to the characters in real life, but I felt like they rang true.  I must confess that I would have married the other guy if I was Annette (Esther Williams), though, as the guy she chose, brash promoter James Sullivan (Victor Mature), was just not that appealing to me.  That is one thing that I get frustrated with in the old classic movies.  Why is there always a really nice guy who falls in love with the girl, but cannot ever have her?  Instead, the girls always choose the cocky jerk who did something to hurt her feelings so they break up temporarily, blah, blah, blah.  Whatever.  Don’t go around leading guys on and accepting engagements if you aren’t going to follow through.

So, anyway, this movie is interesting and fairly unique as it is loosely based on a true story.  Most of Annette Kellerman’s life is totally foreign to us today and we really don’t have anything to compare it to so it is good just to watch it and remember the bygone days.  There are also some good moral messages contained in between the entertainment so it would be a fun movie to catch on TCM or to rent if you enjoy the old classic movies.


This movie shows a few scenes of smoking and drinking, but is really very clean.  The “scandalous” bathing suits of the day are super modest and do not show anything inappropriate.  Appropriate for viewers of all ages, but recommended for ages 8 and up as I think they will understand the story best.

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Filed under Based on a Real Story Movies, Biopic Movies, Classic Movies, Romance Movies

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