Friday, 3 April 2015

Movie Review: The Ghost And Mrs. Muir (1947)

A fantasy romance set in England, The Ghost And Mrs. Muir is a charming love story between a lively young widow and the crusty ghost of a dead sea captain. The absurd premise works ridiculously well.

It's early in the 1900s, and one year on from the death of her husband Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) is fed up living with her stifling in-laws in London. She packs up her daughter Anna (Natalie Wood) and housekeeper Martha (Edna Best) and heads to the coast. She tangles with real estate agent Mr. Coombe (Robert Coote) and insists on renting Gull Cottage, a long-abandoned estate known to be haunted. Lucy soon encounters the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison), the former owner of the house. He tries to scare her away but she is unmoved, and they soon negotiate a co-existence deal: he will allow her to stay in the house as long as she allows him to peacefully haunt her bedroom (formerly his room) at will, and he stays away from scaring Anna.

Over the following weeks and months the Captain and Lucy get to know each other, he calls her Lucia and she learns about his love of the sea and his eventful, adventurous life. When she hits a financial crisis he inspires her to write a book about his life. But when Lucy meets the attractive Miles Fairley (George Sanders), a successful author of children's books, the relationship between the ghost and Mrs. Muir is further complicated.

Directed with a deft touch by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, The Ghost And Mrs. Muir is a whimsical tale of impossible love serving as inspiration for a life change. An adaptation of the novel by R. A. Dick, the film strikes all the right notes. Instead of slipping into contrived drama or overwrought emotions, the film draws inspiration from the gorgeous yet rugged setting and confidently strides in self assured directions, pushing boundaries wherever it can.

The two central characters offer genuine emotional depth, and elevate the film from romance to an inquisitive exploration of life's opportunities, gained and lost. Lucy Muir is a feisty heroine who stares down the scare tactics of a ghost and pushes back to create a mutually respectful relationship. The presence of a ghost is treated as a matter of fact, and the Captain never compromises his salty language and manly ideals, but still finds the space to graciously accommodate a woman in his estate and his heart.

Of course the prolonged interaction with the ghost may just be a creation of Lucy's mind to focus her courage, as a young woman breaking all the social norms and setting off on her own in a conservative society. Captain Gregg serves as inspiration and motivation, prodding Lucy onwards to confront her fears, define her own life, achieve financial independence and dare to again interact with men. Miles Fairly emerges as the first potential opportunity for Lucy to find a suitable man, and the lessons learned from the Captain will serve her well in dealing with forthcoming emotional upheavals.

Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison allow the film to sparkle, creating a compelling couple and finding the strangest chemistry built on contrast, a combustible mix of stubbornness, honesty and admiration. He is supposed to be gruff, she is supposed to be fragile, but Tierney and Harrison delve into the complexities below the surface to find the independence that binds the characters.

George Sanders arrives relatively late and adds the heartfelt passion of an author who is perhaps too eager to add excitement to a life he perceives as dull. Edna Best is excellent as the housekeeper who is also a lifelong and trusted companion, while Natalie Wood in an early role is amiable as young Anna.

Bernard Herrman conjures up one of his most celebrated music scores to augment the romance, contributing enormous depth to the majestic setting of a seaside house witnessing a poignant love. The Ghost And Mrs. Muir then goes on to offer one of the all-time weepiest and most bittersweet endings, a triumph of the souls that lives on for the ages.

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