Mississippi Mermaid (1969) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

MM is a cool movie from nouvelle vogue French director Francois Truffaut. Truffaut was a Hitchcock fan, and once even wrote a coffee table book about the master. In a sense, this film is his homage to the master in that it uses a typical Hitchcock storyline, and was adapted from a Cornell Woolrich novel, following the trail blazed by Hitch with Woolrich's Rear Window. On the other hand, Mississippi Mermaid is actually dedicated not to Hitchcock, but to the French director Jean Renoir, indicating that it's really more about obsessive love than guilt.

It begins with a factory and plantation owner (Jean-Paul Belmondo) on the island of Reunion waiting at the dock for Carole, his classified-ad bride, who is to arrive from France on the ship Mississippi. He knows her appearance from a photograph, but doesn't see her at the pier. Disappointed, he walks back to his car where a stunning woman (Catherine DeNeuve) is waiting, claiming to be Carole. Her appearance does not match the photograph, she tells him, because she had actually sent him a picture of her friend, a less attractive woman, so that he wouldn't decide to marry her for her looks alone. He then admits he also lied by telling her that he was a foreman, so that she wouldn't marry him for his wealth alone.

So they go ahead with the wedding, and everything is blissful for a while. Their marriage goes great, and they put all their liquid assets in joint bank accounts. But then we see her sneak off one day to meet with someone on the island. Who could this be? We don't know. Then something strange happens. Belmondo gets a letter from Carole's sister accusing him of doing something bad to Carole, because she hasn't written or called home in weeks. Belmondo innocently calls home and tells his wife to call her sister, but when he gets home from work that day, an alerted Deneuve has cleaned out their bank accounts and fled the island. Belmondo and the sister figure out that Deneuve was a con artist who killed the real Carole and impersonated her, obviously with the help of an accomplice. The deceived husband and the aggrieved sister jointly hire an expensive detective to track down Deneuve.

The detective has little success at first, but luck intervenes. Belmondo is in Nice recuperating from an illness when he sees a TV ad for a new nightclub, and spies Deneuve dancing at the club as a "dime a dance" girl. He soon confronts her, and she tells the real story of how she ended up with nothing out of the millions of francs she embezzled. Belmondo believes her because she is living in squalor and working hard for poverty wages. He falls in love with her again. Logic tells him he should probably kill her or turn her in, but he sees that she, too, is a victim.

And she is Catherine Deneuve!

There is this little problem, however, in that she's technically a murderess. She and her accomplice tossed the real Carole overboard. And there is also the matter of the detective, who finally catches up with Deneuve, and will not be bribed off the case by Belmondo, because he is also obligated to Carole's sister. So Belmondo kills him and buries him, then goes back to Reunion to liquidate the remaining value of his estate and his business, finally returning to Deneuve to begin life on the run.

This life is not so bad at first, since they have a ton of cash, and nobody knows that the detective is dead, but luck intervenes again. A fluke flood uncovers the detective's buried body, and police begin searching for the fugitive couple in earnest. The police arrive in their room one day while they are out to eat. They realize that they can't go back to the room after dinner, which means they have to leave behind all the cash. In order to remain together, they must thereafter live not only on the run, but penniless as well.

How does it get resolved? You'll have to see the movie to find out, but I think it's fair to say that the ending is not what you expect, and you will probably find it refreshing.

I should now be telling you that you have to own this DVD. The plot is fundamentally an interesting story, written and directed by Truffaut. It stars Deneuve and Belmondo. The breathtakingly beautiful Deneuve takes off her shirt twice. The backdrop includes spectacular locations on the tropical island and in the south of France. And the original 2.35 aspect ratio is now seen for the first time outside of a theater.

Don't get carried away with enthusiasm. The film also has some major negatives:

  • If you have been paying attention to the plot summary, you know that this script has a gigantic plot loophole. We're not talking some minor quibbling point here, but simply a big ol' flub, so big that the entire film makes no sense! You'll recall that Deneuve and her co-conspirator killed the real Carole on the ship, whereupon Deneuve took her place. Unfortunately, this simply could not have happened. They would not have done that because at that time Carole did not know that she would end up married to a rich man. She thought she was going to the island to marry a poor and humble foreman for true love! That means that Deneuve took her place in the hope of conning a poor man. Perhaps the co-conspirators are not the world's smartest criminals, but every criminal realizes that swindling a poor person is not an especially lucrative activity. I haven't read the source novel (Cornell Woolrich's "Waltz into Darkness"), but based on Woolrich's excellent reputation, I don't think such a mammoth error could have been present in the book.
  • Many people have argued that it was not credible for Belmondo to have forgiven Deneuve after she embezzled the money. I actually had no problem with that point, because her explanation was obviously true (she obviously had no money), and because this kind of obsession for a woman is not unknown. I did find the plot's coincidences lacking in credibility: first of all there was the fact that in all of Europe she just happened to end up working in the same city as his sanitorium, and then there was the handy flood.
  • Truffaut did one thing very irritating in his direction. He obviously figured out an excellent method to film the action in a moving convertible. The camera is placed just behind the car, so it can pick up their conversations as well as show the countryside that they traverse. This technique was very effective the first two times he used it in the film, once while driving through city streets, and once through a row of palm trees. Unfortunately, Truffaut just kept doing the same thing over and over again, sometimes for very long stretches. I'll bet 20-30 minutes of this film consists of conversations in moving automobiles.
  • One other thing I found tedious was a very long scene in which Deneuve keeps Belmondo from killing her when they first reunite. She tells her life story up until their meeting at the docks, and essentially the entire scene is done with a "head shot." That was remarkably unimaginative, and the boring, non-visual scene seems to go on forever. If I have to look at a talking head for ten minutes, Deneuve beats the hell out of Jack Black or Clint Howard, but that was a long stretch with no action.
  • The film wasn't well received in the USA in the 70's, but that version had fallen prey to 13 minutes of censorship which made the complex plot and motivations incomprehensible. The DVD (original) version is still complicated, but everything makes more sense now, even if there are a few too many coincidences to be believed.

Those negatives detract from the film's appeal, but they don't keep me from recommending it. No film is perfect, possibly excepting "Shakes the Clown". On balance, Mississippi Mermaid is a worthwhile film, but there is a deal-breaker which forces me to warn you away from this specific DVD. The quality is poor. There are no extras except a trailer. That fact alone would be a major disappointment for a work of one of the masters, but that's not the deal-breaker, which is that the film itself looks bad on this transfer. The source media must have been grainy, faded, and damaged. Apparently, no restoration work was performed to produce the DVD version. That means there is still no decent copy of this Truffaut film! I hope someone finds a pristine print or interneg or something, and creates a properly mastered DVD.


DVD info from Amazon

  • VERY widescreen letterboxed, 2.35:1. Poor image quality.

  • Theatrical trailer in English



Catherine Deneuve appears topless twice, once briefly when changing her clothing indoors, and once outdoors, while standing up in a car, removing her shirt. Both are in good light, but the DVD image quality is poor.

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.1
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film itself is a solid C, but the DVD quality is so poor that you should avoid it until a good print comes along.

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