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Splash
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Splash

Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl, but girl is not any ordinary girl. She is a mermaid. Now boy is in real trouble! This premise might seem reminiscent of such stories from Hollywood's past as Neptune’s Daughter (1914) and Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948), but Splash (1984) looks at this familiar fantasy with modern eyes. It took director Ron Howard four years to get this film off the ground. Several studios turned the project down until Howard came across Disney’s new “adult” division, which produced PG-rated films instead of G. They gave Howard the green light, and he started production on his third theatrical feature.

Grand Theft Auto was Howard's first in 1977 followed by Night Shift in 1982. Howard’s collaborations on Night Shift and Splash ran all the way back to his days as Richie Cunningham on the hit TV series Happy Days. While working on the Paramount lot, Howard met producer Brian Grazer and quickly began discussing the premise to what would later become Night Shift. Howard’s producer on the show -- one of Hollywood’s top writer/producers -- Lowell Ganz, co-wrote both films with writing partner Babaloo Mandel. Even Tom Hanks, later to become the star of Splash, met Howard during an appearance on the TV show.

Hanks played the character the Fonz had pushed out of a swing during their childhood. He returned as an adult with a black belt in judo for revenge on the Fonz. Howard particularly enjoyed Hanks’ performance and still remembered it two years later when casting for Splash. Initially, he had Hanks audition for the role of Freddie, which later went to John Candy. But Hanks’ boy-next-door charm impressed Howard and he knew that quality was perfect for the leading man, Allen Bauer, who falls in love with the mermaid. And this was after Howard had gone to many of the day’s big names in Hollywood to play Allen -- including Dudley Moore, Burt Reynolds, Chevy Chase, and Michael Keaton; all had turned the part down. In David Gardner’s Hanks: The Unauthorized Biography, Grazer explained that they were “looking for someone who had leading-man qualities – he could kiss the girl and drive the story. At the same time, we wanted someone who was funny, but not quirky or eccentric in his comedy. And that was really hard to find.”

According to Grazer, “Tom came in wearing these 501 Levi’s and construction boots and a T-shirt. He wasn’t nervous at all – and here’s a guy who had never had a major movie. I thought, why is this guy so calm? But we read him and we liked him and we hired him right away.” Although Hanks seemed a little overconfident at first, he later confessed that his co-stars John Candy and Eugene Levy absolutely awed him. “They’re very, very funny guys. But my job in Splash was not to be particularly funny. That’s what Ron [Howard] kept drilling into me.” Hanks also recalled another valuable lesson Howard taught him on the set. One day he showed up on the set completely unprepared, not knowing the production schedule or his part in a major scene. “It took longer to shoot than it should have, and when we were done with the scene, Ron said, “You know, you should have been a little more prepared.” He didn’t yell at me. He probably knew that if he had yelled, I’d be paste for the rest of the day. He just let me know in no uncertain terms that I was starring in this movie and with that comes huge responsibilities, and one of them is to be ready to go. I’ve never forgotten that.”

One of the most impressive scenes in Splash was the underwater scene, which was actually filmed 50 feet down in the Caribbean waters surrounding the Bahamas. It took months of preparatory training for open water training to insure the crew’s safety. The actors also received special training to dive without standard equipment and to maneuver in their confining costumes. Howard and his crew constructed an underwater pipeline that weaved all throughout the set. This allowed Hanks and Daryl Hannah, playing the mermaid, to swim through the scene and then move off camera to the nearest place on the line for oxygen. Howard had to use hand signals and a slate to communicate, and even staying on the set became difficult in the strong currents. Howard explained, “It was sometimes hard to keep people in the frame when we got caught in currents."

Hannah perhaps had one of the most difficult tasks in the scene. She had to lie still for three hours every day for technicians to put her into the 35 lbs. rubber fin. Hannah described, “At lunch they’d yank me out on a crane and plop me on the deck. I couldn’t eat because I couldn’t go to the bathroom. I just lay there shivering with barnacles in my hair, soaking wet. And underwater it was difficult because I was not able to see since I couldn’t wear a mask. I had to trust the guys to get air to me. It was difficult and we worked long hours, but it seemed more like playing than work. It was real magical down there.”

At first there was no absolute decision as to how much of the underwater work would actually be done by Hannah and how much by stunt doubles. According to Grazer, “It happened that while we were testing Daryl [Hannah] in her tail underwater, we noticed how well she swam. Then we realized that she was as good, if not better, than her stunt doubles. Her endurance was actually better than theirs. We began wondering if Daryl couldn’t do all the scenes herself and she happily agreed, which certainly helped the movie’s credibility.”

In anticipation of scenes like the underwater one, Grazer explained that he “knew the movie was going to have certain problems and obstacles. It was different than doing just any romantic comedy, because the audience has to believe that the mermaid is from an underwater world” – not an easy task. But audiences did believe, making Splash one of the surprise hits of 1984. It received an Academy nomination for Best Original Screenplay, grossed more than $69 million at the U.S. box-office and elevated newcomers Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah to superstar status.

Producer: Brian Grazer
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Bruce Jay Friedman (also story), Brian Grazer (story)
Cinematography: Don Peterman
Film Editing: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill
Art Direction: Jack T. Collis
Music: Lee Holdridge
Cast: Tom Hanks (Allen Bauer), Daryl Hannah (Madison), Eugene Levy (Walter Kornbluth), John Candy (Freddie Bauer), Dody Goodman (Mrs. Stimler), Shecky Greene (Mr. Buyrite), Richard B. Shull (Dr. Ross).
C-110m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by E. Lacey Rice

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