July 23, 2006

My Review of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Filed under: My reviews — movie_critic @ 10:22 am

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

The Ghost and Mrs Muir is one of the most romantically enchanting movies I’ve ever seen. I stumbled upon this DVD quite accidentally and was probably more attracted to it by the fact that it featured Rex Harrison. It turned out to be a real delight with unusual, but very compelling story line and really engaging characters.

The story starts at a point in time when Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney), a young widow with a small daughter, declares to her in-laws, the mother and sister of her late husband, that she would like to move out of their house and live on her own somewhere on the sea shore. Suffice it to say that the sister-in-law in particular, who is a rather obnoxious spinster with a bad temper, presents quite an obvious reason for such a fervent desire to part ways with them. Mrs. Muir is going to rely on a small stock of the gold mines shares that her husband left her. That’s not much, so when she arrives to a small town on the seashore with the intent to rent a house, she is looking for the least expensive option available. A wily real estate agent is presenting her with one option after another, but they all are too expensive for her. However, she accidentally sees a description of the cottage that suits all her needs and is extremely cheap at that.

Overcoming a fierce resistance of the real estate agent she insists upon visiting the house, where the reason for such a reasonable price is becoming very clear – the house is haunted. The former owner, Captain Gregg has committed suicide some years earlier, according to the rumors, and is making his presence quite visible to all unwanted guests in his house. Mrs. Muir, however, is not deterred by this small obstacle. She loved the house and intended to live in it. Together with her daughter and her old cook she moves into the house.

Feeling the challenge, Captain Gregg sets about frightening the newcomers out of the house. He starts out lightly, at first just visiting Mrs. Muir during her afternoon nap, which makes her puzzle over open window afterwards. But late that first night, during a huge thunderstorm, Captain Gregg shows himself to Lucy, who had more or less guessed at this presence, and demands that she and her family leave “his” house. As it was clear from the very first scene in the movie that Mrs. Muir is a very strong-willed woman, and she declares to the Captain that she will not be defeated and will remain in the house.

This force of character (and I imagine good looks too!) attracts Captain and he eventually and grudgingly comes to like Mrs. Muir. He even shares with her the secret of his death – it was not a suicide at all, but a rather untimely death by accident with the gas.

In the meantime the in-laws show up on her doorstep to declare that the gold mines had run dry and since Lucy does not have any money to live on anymore she should go back “home”. Lucy insists that she stays in the only place she can call home now, the Captain’s cottage, but her future scares her now.

The Captain senses her distress and suggests to her that there might be a way to provide for her living. He was thinking about writing a book about his life and now is as good time as any. She can sell the book as her own in the end and use the money for the living.

The collaboration on the book brings the Captain and the young widow closer together. He is more and more enchanted by Lucy’s beauty and character and she is more and more engrossed in his adventures. When the book is finished the Captain decides that the romantic feeling between him and Lucy really does not have a future in the real world and encourages her to pursue her own happiness. As it seems at first to Lucy she had found her chance for happiness almost magically right in the office of the book publisher during the book presentation, where Miles (George Sanders), a gallant and charming writer of the children’s books, gives up his scheduled appointment with the publisher in her favor. This meeting allows her to sell the book and secure her future, and afterwards ever-present Miles helps her to get back home in the pouring rain. She is filled with gratitude and sense of possibility of the romance. Captain Gregg decides to give her a chance to find an earthly love and one night, while she is sleeping, he bids her farewell and makes her believe that he was only present in her dreams.

The love affair with Miles, however, did not go so well. For Lucy loving Miles could only mean that there will be a marriage in the end, but when she decides to pay Miles an unexpected visit at his home, she finds out that he is already married, has two children and this is not the first extracurricular love affair in his life.

Wounded by this betrayal Lucy Muir chooses to live her life alone, with the faithful cook by her side. Her daughter soon leaves the house to get on with her own life and Lucy is gradually getting older in her beloved cottage by the sea. When her daughter in one conversation mentions Captain Gregg, who she insists she’d also seen as a child, Lucy dismisses her memories as childish dreams. But one day, after the old cook settled her for the night in her bedroom, Lucy quietly passes away, and as the spirit of young Lucy emerges from her body Captain Gregg appears by her side to take her hand and lead her to the future together. Now they can finally be united.

In addition to the romantic haunting story itself, the great imagery and wonderful music, the real attraction of this movie were the actors playing the lead roles. Rex Harrison was much younger than I’ve known him from “My Fair Lady” and the character he created in the movie was quite fascinating to watch – he was menacing, acidic and extremely charming at the same time. Gene Tierney as Lucy Muir was very engaging in her pursuit of her own happiness. Her strong-headed Lucy could also be very romantic and vulnerable and her progression from verbal fights with Captain Gregg to eventual romantic feelings towards him was played out with the great tact and sense of reality.

If I am not mistaken, George Sanders had a lot of experience playing rogues, so he was very convincing as one in this movie. An additional treat was to see Natalie Wood, no more than 9-10 years old at the time, playing Lucy’s daughter Anna as a child.

1 Comment »

  1. The review by Joseph L. Mankiewicz was right on.

    The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is my all time favorite movie. I really enjoyed the post by Joseph L Mankiewicz. He was right on.

    As a child, (you probably can guess at my age now), I watched The Ghost and Mrs. Muir whenever it would come on. Now TV in those days was not like it was today, especially where I lived. I lived overseas on a military base where TV came on only 4 hours per day. Television where I was was special and rationed. Bujt, I do remember the old movies that would be previewed on our one military base station. Fortunately, the Ghost and Mrs Muir was one of those old movies that they would put on our old lame military channel.

    Since then, I have been a lover of this old movie and all that it represents…love, loss, betrayal, renewed love…happiness in the end.

    Please view this movie, it really touches the heart.

    Darcy Silverman
    Classic Movie Buff

    Comment by Darcy64 — November 19, 2006 @ 11:05 am

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