Sunday, March 09, 2014

Making a 'Splash'

Allen (Tom Hanks): Freddie, the woman learned how to speak English in a single afternoon.

Freddie (John Candy): She could probably speak English already. I think she was in shock from bein' arrested, y'know?

Allen: Well, now, what about that, huh? What about a woman showing up naked in a public place, Freddie?

Freddie: Well, I'm for it, of course.

"Splash," which premiered 30 years ago today, was a thoroughly endearing movie.

How could it not be? Its cast — Tom Hanks, John Candy, Daryl Hannah — was young and fresh, at least in most eyes.

So, too, was its director — although "fresh" probably wasn't the best word for Ron Howard, who had been a star of two wildly successful sitcoms in the years before becoming a director. He was young, though. He had just turned 30 a week before the movie's premiere.

Hanks was in his 20s and not yet the huge box–office draw he would shortly become. Since "Splash," he has been nominated for Oscars five times, winning two.

Candy, who played Hanks' brother (and would die almost 10 years to the day after "Splash" hit the theaters), was older than both Hanks and Howard and had appeared in several movies before but wasn't exactly a household word.

Hannah was the youngest and freshest face in the movie. Only 23 years old, Hannah had been in half a dozen movies but had never had the kind of exposure that "Splash" brought her.

Neither Candy nor Hannah have been nominated for Oscars, but Howard certainly has — twice, with one victory to his credit. Neither of his nominations, though, came for his work on "Splash."

As Madison the mermaid, Hannah was the object of Hanks' affection — and of the desires of countless males in the audience.

None of them were recognizable the first time the audience saw them. Hanks' character was only 8 years old and on vacation with his family near Cape Cod. He wound up in the water with a young girl, who, it was later revealed, was actually a mermaid.

Their encounter couldn't have been more than a few seconds, but the young Allen was smitten with the young Madison, and it was something he never forgot.

His story of seeing the young girl was dismissed as a hallucination, and perhaps his character believed that, but it influenced his future relationships.

The movie accelerated to the present day (1984), finding Allen and his brother Freddie (John Candy) running a fresh produce business together.

Despondent over a breakup, Allen departed for Cape Cod and wound up in the sea again — and, again, he encountered Madison, all grown up, who saved him. He managed to lose his wallet, which Madison found and took to a sunken ship at the bottom of the sea, where she pinpointed his location on a map.

(It didn't occur to me when I watched the movie that a sunken 18th– or 19th–century ship wouldn't have a map of modern–day Manhattan ...)

Then she made her way to land, where she strolled onto the Statue of Liberty grounds in what might be the movie's most memorable scene. When she was on dry land, she walked on two legs. When she returned to the sea, she reverted to her half–human, half–fish form.

Madison was arrested for indecent exposure. She was clearly guilty (as you can see from the picture at right, she had nothing to hide), and she was handed over to Allen, whose contact information was found in the wallet she carried.

She learned to speak English by watching TV in Allen's apartment, and she took her name from a New York street sign. She had great taste. She ate lobster — shell, too — when they went out to eat. (That made for some noteworthy dinner conversation, I'm sure.)

I thought it was a delightful movie to watch. Wish I had seen it on the big screen, but I didn't see it when it first came out, only after it was released on home video.

Critic Roger Ebert wasn't quite as impressed as I was. Oh, he liked the comely Hannah just fine as the mermaid, but he thought the casting was off in the male roles. He thought Candy and Hanks should have been reversed.

Hanks, he wrote, was "conventionally handsome and passably appealing, and he would do in a secondary role." Candy, on the other hand, was "the large, shambling, Charles Laughton type who has such a natural charisma that he's funny just standing there."

Maybe Ebert was right. With Candy in the lead role, it might have been funnier. It might have been more slapstick.

But I liked it the way it was. It had a nice blend of comedy with fantasy and romance.

Candy did demonstrate before he died that he was capable of dramatic (or semi–dramatic) acting, too, playing the role of lawyer Dean Andrews in "JFK."

Perhaps he could have kept "Splash" from being a totally slapstick movie, but I think Hanks made sure that it was a movie that could be interpreted on more than one level.

And that, I think, is what it deserved.