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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir: Review

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is an unbelievably romantic and touching tale of the relationship between a Victorian widow and the ghost of a rather salty and deceased sea captain. A difficult tale to put over well by any means, so it’s all the more impressive that the famed Joseph Mankiewicz was just beginning to gain recognition as a director when he helmed this endearing tear-jerker while he was still in his 30s.

Mankiewicz (All About Eve) was any extremely multitalented man who had earned a reputation as a producer (The Philadelphia Story) and writer (The Keys of the Kingdom) before adding the title of director to his resume. Among his many achievements in the film industry Mankiewicz directed twenty films within a 26-year period, and proved to be very successful at the craft regardless of the genre. From Shakespeare to Westerns, dramas to musicals, epics to two-character pictures, Mankiewicz was known for his clever approach to dialogue, his skillful use of flashback, and for being, as they say, an actors' director.

Among his many films Ghost is considered to be one of Mankiewicz’ more intimate (as opposed to Cleopatra). It is generally regarded as a major artistic achievement, which is easy to see why upon viewing even the smallest clip of the film. Set in England at the turn of the century the opening scenes pull you right into the world of a spirited young widow who due to financial circumstances moves into an isolated seashore house that is rumored to be haunted. The sweeping luster of the black and white cinematography (for which Charles Lang was Oscar nominated) is well supported by the wonderfully orchestrated Bernard Herrmann score that can only be described as hauntingly beautiful.

The strong-willed Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) rejects the stories of a ghost and falls in love with the rustic cottage on sight. Even though everyone, including the realtor does his or her best to dissuade her, she cannot resist the low asking price. Even when she finally meets the specter of the crusty former owner, Captain Gregg (a very manly Rex Harrison), she still refuses to be scared off. In time the Captain comes to like Mrs. Muir and they become dear friends and even confidants as he helps her to write a book that will ensure her financial stability. Eventually a real live man in the form of a debonair, albeit a suspicious behaving George Sanders comes between them, and the Captain gallantly recedes to the background where he waits for his Lucia (as he calls her) to come to him. And she does in one of the most romantic and achingly beautiful endings to any movie ever. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.

The lovely Tierney is at her best as the demure young widow who musters the spunk to resist the attempts to scare her away. For once Tierney is given a role where she does not rely upon her good looks to see her through. She is quietly obstinate, yet steadfast in a manner befitting the Victorian era, and is so realistic in her betrayal it is easy to forget that this is the same woman who time and again simply played a pretty face to be admired in such films as The Razor’s Edge and Laura. Likewise, Harrison (My Fair Lady) was never as ruggedly handsome before or since this poignant love story. His shear animal magnetism in this spectacularly bravado performance simply simmers on the screen. The credit for both fine performances must be given to Mankiewicz and his ability to draw the best from actors.

Whether you’re a fan of ghost stories or romantic movies you’re sure to be satisfied with The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. It’s the only film I can think of that sufficiently fulfills the needs of both without forsaking one for the other. A lot like Mankiewicz’s handling of the relationship between Lucy and Captain Gregg. After seeing this film you’re going to want to see a lot more of the famed director’s work, and I highly recommend that you do.

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