The silent film Neptune’s Daughter is an 'eight-reel spectacular pictorial triumph' made by Hollywood's Universal Studio. In it, Annette Kellerman plays a mermaid who swears vengeance on the fishermen who trapped and killed her little sister in their nets.
Transforming into a human, she seeks the King with the intention of killing him as his laws were responsible for the death. After being discovered, Annette makes her escape and is thrown back into the sea where she realises that she is in love with the King.
Kellerman was internationally famous for long-distance swimming and became a life-long advocate for women’s fitness. It was claimed she had the exact physical measurements of the Venus de Milo statue.
Neptune’s Daughter showcases Kellerman’s aquatic skills as well as her 'perfect' figure, which was shown, 'in the nude – beautifully, chastely in the nude', as Australian Theatre Magazine commented.
Filming for Neptune’s Daughter took place in Bermuda with a cast of 200, all transported from the US. Both Kellerman and director Herbert Brenon were injured during production, unfortunate incidents which nevertheless made good publicity.
The two-and-a-half-hour film opened in Australia during March 1915 under the auspices of Canadian Ernest Shipman. This was his first venture into motion pictures. He was a well-known manager of world tours by high-profile singers but, in the wartime context, German contralto Madame Schumann Heink’s Australian appearances had been cancelled.
An odd wartime piece of doggerel in a publicity brochure compared Kellerman’s mythical mermaid to submarines, being used with deadly force at the time by the Germans. (The sinking of the liner Lusitania happened not long after the film’s Australian opening.)
Naming the Submarine
'A submarine can swim and dart
So fast', said Captain Carter,
'That if I named the craft' (he laughed),
'I’d call it Neptune’s Darter.'
'The submarine that swims and dives
Has such a knack of taking lives,
That by your nomenclature plan
I’d call it Annette Kill-a-man!'
Notes by Beth Taylor