I’m unsure what came first: a desire to watch Gene Tierney in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, or if it was inspired by reading her biography. Either way, you’re getting a double dose of Tierney this week, and 20th Century Fox‘s recent Blu-ray release kicks us off. The bittersweet romance between a widow and a ghostly sea captain would be comfortable alongside the other supernatural hybrids I’ve reviewed, which is good because this on par with the best like Blithe Spirit, although reduced in the comedy department. Coupled with Fox’s continued excellence in transferring their DVDs to Blu-ray, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir should have a home in your collection.
Lucy Muir (Tierney) is a widow who decides to stand on her own two feet. She purchases Gull Cottage on the British seaside as a restorative for her and her young daughter, Anna (Natalie Wood). Unfortunately, Gull Cottage has a reputation for being haunted by the sea captain, Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison). Determined to make it work, Lucy and Captain Gregg establish a shaky truce, eventually turning into a relationship, both personal and professional.
Recently, my reviews have skewed more to old-fashioned demonstrations of classic filmmaking, particularly romances. (My latest review of I’ll Be Seeing You is a perfect example.) The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a hybrid of the supernatural and the romantic, shying away from the humor of something like Blithe Spirit or the fear of The Uninvited. Lucy Muir and Captain Gregg are two lost souls adrift on their own sea who come together; even the name Muir is “sea” in Gaelic, so literally Lucy is the soulmate to Gregg. The movie is about love growing from loss, and the rectification of sins in the afterlife. When Lucy’s grown-up daughter reveals she saw the ghost, there’s an added element of happiness that Gregg found the family he lacked in his real life. Lucy ends up making a fool of herself upon realizing her planned second husband, the lecherous Mr. Fairley played with equal parts charisma and sleaze by George Sanders, has a wife and child and thus spends the movie unwittingly repenting for her lost chance at love with Gregg.
The movie presents the material seriously, removing gimmicks from past ghostly tales such as watching things float or having Mrs. Muir talk to nothing which happens in a few early scenes. Gregg is present throughout the entire movie, whether in the flesh – so to speak – or hearing his voice. Rex Harrison is the perfect salty sea captain for this movie. He says his dialogue as if he’s reciting Shakespeare, which is appropriate considering his classical connection to the ocean. Tierney also has a connection the supernatural, playing the elegant wife of Don Ameche in Heaven Can Wait. Tierney’s characters always came off like spoiled rich girls or unattainable beauties but not so here. Lucy Muir is down-to-Earth, resourceful, and desperate to shrug off a life of solitude and sadness. After a year of being a widow, her relatives are shocked to hear she’s ready to move on with her life; “I’m not leaving him. I’m leaving you!” A rather young Natalie Wood is present as Lucy’s young daughter, but she only has a few sequences. Her older incarnation, played by Vanessa Brown, brings everything full circle in a lovely scene wherein both women realize their love for Gregg.
One can’t discuss this movie without talking the ending, which Titanic recreated fifty years later. An aged Lucy Muir is spending a quiet evening at home when she finally falls asleep. Cut to the return of Captain Gregg who holds out his hand and receives a youthful Lucy. The two walk away, with the audience realizing Lucy Muir has died, and find themselves entering the afterlife together. Everything about the scene, from the shot composition to the Bernard Herrmann score, is wistful and beautifully executed. The catharsis is felt by the audience, and the characters who lived their lives and can finally be together on an equal plane. It’s one of the most memorable elements of the movie.
As with A Letter to Three Wives, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir has perfect audio and video transfer. I can’t say whether it’s an improvement on the DVD version, but the colors are deep and the picture is crisp. The audio is strong and never overpowers. The bonus content is fascinating with not one, but two different feature commentaries. The first is with Greg Kimble and Christopher Husted with the focus on visual effects and score. Those elements are generally out of my wheelhouse, so I found their discussion of music placement and how effects were achieved fascinating; like an insiders seminar with movie accompaniment. The second commentary is with author Jeanine Basinger and Kenneth Geist. Basinger is one of my favorite film commentary authors and her and Geist discuss everything from Tierney’s performance to Joseph Mankiewicz as a director. Each commentary will provide something useful and should be taken in. The theatrical trailer is also included.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a sweeping love story with unforgettable performances by Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison. Tierney proves she’s more than a pampered goddess and humanizes her character, while Harrison is sufficiently crusty as the recently deceased captain. Bring some tissues for the end.
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