Splash (1984)

Splash is a 1984 American fantasy romantic comedy film directed by Ron Howard, written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, and starring Tom HanksDaryl HannahJohn Candy and Eugene Levy. The film involves a young man who falls in love with a mysterious woman who is secretly a mermaid. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

The film is notable for being the first film released by Touchstone Pictures, a film label created by Walt Disney Studios that same year in an effort to release films targeted at adult audiences, with mature content not appropriate for the studio’s flagship Walt Disney Pictures banner. Splash had received a PG-rating for including some profanity and brief nudity.

In 1964, eight-year-old Allen Bauer (David Kreps) is vacationing with his family near Cape Cod. While taking a sight-seeing tour on a small boat, he sees something below the ocean surface that fascinates him, and jumps into the water even though he cannot swim. Underwater, he encounters a mermaid girl (Shayla Mackarvich) and inexplicably finds himself able to breathe under water. However, Allen is pulled back to the surface, and the two are separated. Since no one else has seen the girl, Allen comes to believe the encounter was a near-death hallucination, but his subsequent relationships with women fail as he subconsciously seeks the connection he felt with the mysterious girl.

Twenty years later, Allen (Tom Hanks) is now co-owner of a wholesale fruit and vegetable business in New York City with his womanizing brother Freddie (John Candy). Depressed after his latest breakup, Allen returns to Cape Cod, where he encounters eccentric scientist Dr. Walter Kornbluth (Eugene Levy), who is determined to discover legendary sea creatures. When a motorboat fails, Allen falls into the sea and is knocked out when the boat hits his head. He wakes up with a headache on a beach, where he encounters a beautiful naked woman with long blonde hair and the inability to talk (Daryl Hannah). After kissing him, she dives into the sea, where she transforms into a mermaid. While swimming underwater, she is sighted by Kornbluth.

The mermaid has Allen’s wallet, and uses the charts of a sunken ship to find New York. She comes ashore naked at the Statue of Liberty, where she is arrested for indecent exposure. Using information from Allen’s wallet, the police contact Allen, and the mysterious girl gets released into his care. She learns how to speak English from watching television, and is eager to see a big city for the first time in her life. Unable to say her real name in human language, she selects “Madison” from a Madison Avenue sign. She tells Allen that she will be in New York for “six fun-filled days when the moon is full”, but if she stays longer, she can never go home again (the reason for this is unexplained). Despite Madison’s occasional unusual behavior, she and Allen fall in love. Allen proposes to Madison, but she declines and runs away. After pondering her reason for coming to the city in the first place, Madison returns to Allen and agrees to marry him, with the added promise of telling him the truth about herself at an upcoming dignitary dinner to welcome the President of the United States.

Meanwhile, Kornbluth, realizing that the naked woman at Liberty Island was the mermaid he had encountered, pursues the couple, trying to expose her as a mermaid by splashing her with water. His first attempts are unsuccessful, and Kornbluth ends up with multiple injuries. He finally lies in wait with water tanks at the dignitary dinner, splashing Madison with an attached hose and successfully proving the existence of mermaids. Madison is seized by government agents and taken to a secret lab, headed by Kornbluth’s rival Dr. Ross (Richard B. Shull), for examination. Kornbluth learns that the scientists are planning to dissect Madison, as he just wanted to prove that he was not crazy, not get her killed. He completely regrets his actions.

Allen is shocked by Madison’s secret, but when he voices his disillusionment to his brother, Freddie lashes out at him, telling his brother how unbelievably happy he was with her. Realizing he still loves Madison, Allen tries to make contact with government officials to let him see Madison, but to no avail. He then confronts a guilt-ridden Kornbluth, who agrees to help him rescue her.

Impersonating Swedish scientists, Freddie, Allen, and Kornbluth enter the lab and smuggle Madison outside. Freddie decides to be arrested in Allen’s place, while Kornbluth unsuccessfully tries to stop United States troops from catching the couple. Despite being under hot pursuit, Allen and Madison make it back to the docks at the New York harbor. Madison tells Allen that he can survive under water as long as he is with her, causing Allen to realize she was the young mermaid he had met so long ago. Madison warns him that if he comes to live in the sea, he cannot return. She jumps in the water when the troops close in on them. When other troops attempt to arrest Allen, he jumps into the water after her, forsaking his life on dry land. The troops dive in the water to go after the couple, but they fight them off to escape. The credits roll as the loving couple swims along the ocean floor toward what appears to be an underwater kingdom.

Cast

  • Tom Hanks as Allen Bauer
    • David Kreps as Young Allen
  • Daryl Hannah as Madison
    • Shayla MacKarvich as Young Madison
  • John Candy as Freddie Bauer
    • Jason Late as Young Freddie
  • Eugene Levy as Dr. Walter Kornbluth
  • Jeff Doucette as Junior
  • David Knell as Claude
  • Royce D. Applegate as Buckwalter
  • Dody Goodman as Mrs. Stimler
  • Howard Morris as Dr. Zidell
  • Richard B. Shull as Dr. Ross
  • Shecky Greene as Mr. Buyrite
  • Bobby Di Cicco as Jerry
  • Patrick Cronin as Michaelson
  • Tony Longo as Augie
  • Nora Denney as Mrs. Stein
  • Joe Grifasi as Manny
  • Charles Macaulay as President
  • Lee Delano as Sergeant Leleandowski
  • Migdia Chinea Varela as Wanda
  • Eileen Saki as Dr. Fujimoto
  • Jodi Long as Reporter
  • Patrick O’Rorke as Boy on Pier
  • Bill Smitrovich as Ralph Bauer
  • Than Wyenn as Mr. Ambrose

Cameos

Screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel both make cameo appearances in the film. Ganz plays Stan the Tour Guide in the scene set at the Statue of Liberty. Mandel plays the man in charge of ice skate rentals who tackles Tom Hanks’ character when he tries to run out with his skates still on. Director Ron Howard’s father, actor Rance Howard, can be seen early in the film as Mr. McCullough, an unhappy customer screaming at Allen about his cherries. Howard’s brother Clint Howard can be seen as a wedding guest, identified by Candy’s character as the bride’s brother and yelled at by Hanks.

According to the documentary on the Splash: 20th Anniversary Edition DVD in 2004, producer Brian Grazer had pitched the film to numerous studios but was turned down repeatedly until Walt Disney Productions, then headed by Ron W. Miller, agreed to produce the film. The key to the proposal’s success was that Grazer changed the premise description from the idea of a mermaid adjusting to life in New York City to that about a love story about an ordinary man in New York City meeting a mermaid. An issue at the time of production was the competition between Splash and another announced (but unnamed) mermaid film from Warner Bros. that had lined up Warren Beatty as its star. Director Ron Howard promised the studio that Splash would be filmed more quickly and cheaply than the other film, which eventually fell through. Many big name actors such as Jeff BridgesChevy ChaseRichard GereKevin KlineBill Murray and John Travolta were all considered for the lead role before the producers decided on the then lesser known Tom Hanks. Before Daryl Hannah was cast as Madison, it had already been turned down by Tatum O’Neal, Michelle Pfeiffer, Lynne Frederick, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Genie Francis, Melanie Griffith, Fiona Fullerton, Diane Lane, Kathleen Turner and Sharon Stone.

Principal photography began on March 1, 1983 and completed on June 30, 1983 in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York. The beach where Tom Hanks first encounters the nude Daryl Hannah is on the former Gorda Cay in the Bahamas, which now is known as Castaway Cay, the private island of Disney Cruise Line.

Darryl Hannah’s mermaid tail was designed and created by Academy Award-winning visual effects artist Robert Short. The tail was fully functional. Hannah swam with the mermaid tail so fast that her safety team could not keep pace with her. According to the DVD documentary, Hannah had been swimming “mermaid” style with her legs bound together since she was a child, due to her fascination with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” story. However, the exceptionally detailed film tail was difficult to remove. For the sake of efficiency, Hannah at first kept it on while the cast had lunch. In the documentary contained on the 20th-anniversary Splash! DVD, Tom Hanks recalled how the other cast members would drop French fries over the side of the tank to her as though she were a trained sea mammal, because she couldn’t leave the water while her legs were “shrink-wrapped”.

The film was a huge financial success. It was produced on a US$8 million budget, grossing $6,174,059 in its opening weekend and finished its domestic run with $69,821,334, making it the tenth highest-grossing film of 1984. The movie was also well received by critics and is considered to be one of the best films of 1984. It earned a 90% “Fresh” rating from the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes based on 41 reviews A negative review came from Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times who gave the movie 1.5 stars out of 4 and thought the film’s biggest failing was casting then-unknown Hanks as the lead rather than the established comedy star John Candy: “They should have made Candy the lover, and Hanks the brother. Then we’d be on the side of this big lunk who suddenly has a mermaid drop into his life.”

Splash, Too (directed by Greg Antonacci), was a television film released in 1988 (contradicting the first movie’s finale revelation that if Allen goes to live in the sea, he can never return) starring Todd Waring as Allen Bauer, Amy Yasbeck as Madison, and Donovan Scott as Freddie Bauer. Only one member of the original cast, Dody Goodman, the Bauers’ slightly deranged assistant Mrs. Stimler, reprises her role. A novelization of the film, written by Ian Marter (under the pen name Ian Don), was published by Target Books in the United Kingdom.

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