“ Genre: Action & Adventure / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: John Lamb / Actors: George Rowe, Diane Webber, Gaby Martone ... / DVD released 2012-01-16 at Odeon Entertainment Ltd / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, Dolby, PAL, Widescreen „
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This Odeon DVD is £8 on amazon. It has no extras at all, and the picture quality is adequate but far from brilliant.
This is basically a really dull fantasy film pepped up with a whole lotta nudity. According to the back of the DVD, it was made in 1962, but then a couple of years later the director went back, filmed a bunch of nude scenes, and edited them into the film. (That's the kind of director's cut I can really get behind. Take note, George Lucas: we wouldn't have minded Greedo firing first if he and Han Solo had been replaced with naked women!) The DVD only contains this 'nude version' of the film.
The inconsequential plot involves a hunky marine biologist, Dr Jamison, who agrees to accompany an elderly German to the mysterious island of Tiburon (somewhere off Mexico, allegedly). There, the German says, they will find enough pearls to make them both rich beyond their wildest dreams. He also hints that the sea life might interest Jamison. Readily agreeing, our hero is dismayed to find the German vanishes under mysterious circumstances. But he heads out to Tiburon anyway, where he finds not just pearls, but mermaids. There's also a villain who is also after the pearls - the kind of man who will stop at nothing, even if some of his villainous antics are profoundly counterintuitive. This bad guy is called 'Sangster', presumably because it rhymes with 'gangster'.
The plot is almost completely by the by. We're never really asked to care about whether the pearls are recovered. The whole point of the film is the mermaids. The original film featured traditional style mermaids, whose lower half is all fish - these demure mermaids are still in certain scenes. They wear dinky little bikini tops made of plastic shells and interact with the main cast, although their swimming never looks less than awkward. There's not much left of them in the film, though, because by and large they've been edited out and replaced by the nude mermaids. These naked mermaids never actually appear in the same shot as the main cast (we see a lot of shots of them interacting with men in wetsuits, but the men aren't identifiable as the original cast members, so probably aren't. To be honest, if you're worried about continuity, you're probably watching the wrong film).
Obviously the only reason to want to see this is the naked mermaids. I'm trying hard to find ways to discuss them without using words like 'jubblies' and 'bristols', but it's a losing battle. They're not fully nude, they wear very skimpy pants made out of what is obviously meant to be seaweed - but that highlights their main weakness, as far as being mermaids goes: they don't have tails. They're just charmingly naked girls with large breasts who are good at swimming. They sort of flirt a bit with Jamison and turn on the bad guy in a sexy, rather ineffectual way. But mostly we're just treated to lengthy scenes of them swimming around, allowing us to watch entranced as their lovely, lovely breasts wobble this way and that underwater.
Normally in old nudity-based exploitation films, I don't find the ladies attractive. Fashions change, and that includes the ways we judge attractiveness. All too often, old nude scenes are off-putting because the ladies' bodies are slightly distorted by uncomfortably corsetry, and their faces make them look like drag queens. This, of course, highlights they ways in which women have been exploited down the years by male ideals of femininity and yadda yadda (no harm in trying to convince you I'm a sensitive new age guy even as I wax lyrical about the charming boobage on display here). Happy to report, though, these mermaid girls are all extremely cute. And I don't know what it is, but watching naked women swimming around underwater has always been one of my personal erotic touchstones.
(Look, sorry and everything, but there's no point bemoaning my shallowness. Straight men like naked ladies. It's a genetic thing. You might just as well blame a penguin for being unable to fly.)
There is, of course, no sexual content in this. It's basically a nudist camp film set underwater - the 15 certificate actually feels a little excessive. There are no obvious mermen, which begs a few questions. The ladies are all of much the same age (early 20s, although I don't know whether mermaids have the same lifespan as us humans), so perhaps they keep their young somewhere else, and possibly ruthlessly euthanize the older mermaids, Logan's Run style.
It can actually be quite distracting watching the ladies holding their breath under water, as you suspect this was not the most comfortable of film shoots. They're all bloody good swimmers, but it looks like they suffered for their art - the water looks very cold (I'm largely basing that on... ah... well, certain visual clues. You could cut glass on some of these mermaids, I'm telling you...).
Anyhoo. Other than the naked ladies, who take up by far the greater part of the film's running time, there's not a lot to tell you. The music is pretty good, an appealing Les Baxter-esque collection of swirly under-the-sea exotica. It's probably the only thing worth watching this for, apart from the naked girls. The film is unbelievably cheap. There are literally four speaking parts. The plot is so basic as to be entirely forgettable, and the dialogue is sparse. Most of the film is narrated by Jamison in voiceover, and we get a few shots of a Sealife park in America, people surfing, and lots and lots of slightly murky undersea footage, which gives the whole thing a travelogue feel (this feels appropriate as most of the lame nudist camp movies would pretend to be educational). Jamison even tries to explain away the mermaids using science, which is completely pointless, although his describing them as 'a cropped branch of the evolutionary tree' is pretty funny given that they're obviously just normal humans who can swim.
The villain travels with a terribly stereotyped Mexican sidekick, who sleeps a lot, plays the guitar and says 'ay chihuahua!' I assume he's meant to provide comic relief, but to a modern eye he just seems racist. (And I realise I'm turning a blind eye to the terrible sexism of the basic premise. Don't judge me. Penguins. Remember the penguins.) There's a thoroughly unexciting fight. The film is too cheap to even show us a boat exploding when the plot clearly calls for it, and the model shark is hilarious (especially since they unwisely intercut it with footage of a real shark a few times).
The film is rubbish if you don't like to watch topless ladies swimming, of course. Total and utter rubbish. But I obviously have a massive soft spot for it. It ends with the hero musing that 'sometimes it's better to believe the heart than all the knowledge in the world.' I'd heartily agree, but would add 'Sometimes it's also better just to turn your brain off and just watch the boobies.'