The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

Genre: Fantasy and Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: June 18th, 1947 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz Actors: Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders, Edna Best, Vanessa Brown, Anna Lee, Natalie Wood

 


 

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urn-of-the-century London finds Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) leaving her in-laws’ home, realizing that she’s not really a member of the family now that her husband, Edwin, has been dead nearly a year now. The Muirs believe she’s ungrateful and that she’ll come crawling back after a time, but Lucy is determined to start over and live independently. Taking her young daughter Anna (Natalie Wood), as well as her longtime maid Martha Huggins (Edna Best) with her, Lucy finds a quaint seaside cottage in Whitecliff, though the real estate agent (Robert Coote) is incredibly reluctant to show her the property. “I assure you this house will not suit you at all.”

Defiant and obstinate, Lucy examines the dusty, four-years-unoccupied Gull Cottage, unwilling to listen to repeated insistences that there’s something terribly wrong with the premises. While upstairs, toying with a spyglass, a maniacal cackle interrupts the stillness, spooking Lucy momentarily. “Haunted! How perfectly fascinating.” Despite her daughter and the matronly Martha being unaware of this very notable condition, Lucy rents the place, certain that she can handle something as trifling as a bothersome apparition – the ghost of the former owner, Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison), who killed himself.

“I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.” With Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score, this tale could have become bone-chilling very quickly. All sorts of horrendous things could befall a single mother, her child, and her uninformed maid in the dead of night. But Lucy refuses to be intimidated, even as windows open and close on their own, lights go out, long shadows are cast, and a menacing voice shouts instructions from the darkness. Ultimately, the ghost turns out to be a rather bargaining chap, agreeing to some ground rules concerning his spectral behaviors and interactions with the new inhabitants. “Whoever heard of a cowardly ghost?”

“If you think that’s ugly, it’s a good thing you can’t read me thoughts.” Comically, the ghost of Gregg is cheeky, intemperate, sexist, and a peeping tom – oddly realistic for a phantom thrust into the company of the shapely Tierney. And when Lucy’s in-laws make a surprise visit, Gregg cracks jokes and provokes her, making the poor woman appear crazy. “You’re obviously insane!” The captain ends up being a touch jealous and a prankster, though he means well and wants to see the household flourish, eventually brainstorming a way for Lucy to make enough money to afford to stay.

Although there aren’t many rules concerning Daniel’s ghostly capabilities, considering he can physically manipulate his surroundings, including grabbing people, but refrains from handling objects (save for his telescope and pipe), the story is ultimately one of an unlikely romance between woman and spirit. Of course, there’s an unavoidable problem with that relationship coming to a satisfying fruition, which opens the door for insufferably brazen author Miles Fairley (George Sanders) – a “perfumed parlor snake” – to make some advances, creating a love triangle of sorts. “It’s no crime to be alive!”

Lucy must eventually reconcile her love for an incorporeal muse and her desire for real companionship – particularly as her voyeuristic phantom can be so cynical and meddling. And the ghost, too, must make a difficult decision, measuring his own contentedness against the future happiness of his curious mentee. But the film refuses to be so simple as to merely have Daniel guide Lucy in the right direction; his sacrifice leads to a potent revelation – one tragically mature and unexpected for this otherwise mirthful fantasy. And the third act is astounding – a heavy-hitting, emotional, dreamy conclusion on par with epic romances like “Wuthering Heights.” “Find your own way to harbor.”

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10