If you're cheating on your wife with someone who doesn't have a vagina, does it count as cheating? Nowadays, we'd say yes, but things weren't so clear in 1948's Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. This is a really funny comedy with some sharp insight on human nature and sexuality.
The film is presented with a framing sequence I suspect was added later, demanded by censors. Mr. Peabody (William Powell) and Mrs. Peabody (Irene Harvey) are visiting a psychiatrist in New York. Then the bulk of then movie is told as a flashback with Mr. Peabody's narration being his discussion with the psychiatrist. Scenes where Mr. Peabody is not present are part of the story, several of which he would not have been informed of later, but the biggest argument against the framing scenes being part of the original film is that the end of the "flashback" story is never explained.
The Peabodys are on vacation in the Caribbean. Mrs. Peabody has tricked her husband into believing its his 50th birthday (in a funny, nicely subtle moment, she tells someone else he's actually 46) and he's having a mid-life crisis. When he seems distracted and strange, Mrs. Peabody thinks he's seeing a beautiful singer named Cathy (Andrea King). Mr. Peabody explains how ridiculous this is--he honestly never gave a thought to the singer--and was even caught "leering" at his own wife. But he doesn't mind that his wife has been meeting a British tourist for coffee and for some reason he sees no issue in making out with the mermaid (Ann Blyth) and he doesn't even bother trying to hide her at first.
"In your eyes there's a beauty richer than any human eye could hold," he explains to the mermaid who never speaks and at first doesn't seem to understand English. "Beauty of eternal wisdom. And it's the beauty of a child, too. Simple, direct. Uncomplicated." Sounds like he's telling her he feels more natural with her. One could look at it as a man preferring a woman be a docile pet. But actually hiding a mermaid who eats all the expensive fish and who doesn't always do everything he says is hardly the easy route. I would argue this film is actually a precursor for Let the Right One In in its use of a romance between a human and non-human not simply as an allegory for homosexuality but a way of addressing all natural human desires that may not be approved of by the normal cultural perspective.
Even the subplot about another American tourist (Clinton Sundberg) who finds he actually is a better person when he has alcohol supports this.
William Powell as Arthur Peabody is sharp as always but also has a bare faced innocence about him when dealing with his issues. Ann Blyth is sweet and the underwater sequences are charming. There's even a nice action scene.
Twitter Sonnet #874
The over shoulder coffee can confirm.
The lips we thought were cast too kind retreat.
A slip of steam reversed its hellward turn.
In black, the knots of talking dreams repeat.
Enduring pools of vegetation melt.
A strange reflection pushed the wheel above.
A trail of teeth attained the taint of felt.
A smoth'ring fur collapsed on eggs of dove.
As tickets dropped the waist expands the chain.
Pin stripes, a ruler shower shed the costs.
The blackened edged map has cracked in rain.
A mirrored sky has stacked in lips, red glossed.
The ant's footprints, invisible on shore.
But they always are there, for rich and poor.