Judge Jim Thomas once rented a cottage haunted by the ghost of a sea otter.
The Spirit…So Willing
Based on a 1945 novel by R. A. Dick, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is an unconventional story in many respects. It's that aspect which makes the movie so enjoyable, continually catching you off guard.
Facts of the Case
In turn-of-the-century England, young widow Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney, Leave Her to Heaven), moves to the seaside village of Whitecliff, where she rents Gull Cottage despite its reputation as a house haunted by its former owner. The night she moves in, she is astonished to meet said ghost, Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady), a salty sea captain who wants nothing to do with the living. Undaunted, Lucy refuses to be bullied by Gregg. Over time, the two develop a friendship despite their existential differences. When Lucy's money begins to dry up, Gregg suggests a solution—he will dictate his memoirs to her, and she'll publish them under her own name. The two become close during the process, but both realize the hopelessness of the situation. The resulting bestseller allows Lucy to buy Gull Cottage outright, but there's a slight hitch. At her publisher's, she meets charming children's author Miles Fairley (George Sanders, The Lady Eve), and they begin a courtship. Will the presence of Captain Gregg prevent Lucy from finding true love?
You know that old saw about "They don't make them like this anymore"? Well, this is the movie they had in mind when that phrase was coined. While it's hardly a perfect movie, it is still that rarity of rarities, a good movie, with everyone working at the top of their game in front of and behind the camera. Harrison's gruff captain is the showier role, but Gene Tierney carries the movie effortlessly. She's strong-willed and determined, catching just about everyone in the film off guard at one point or another with her dogged persistence. At the same time, there's a sweetness to the character that keeps her from becoming overbearing. While her attraction to Gregg is clearly stronger than to Fairley, there's no escaping the simple fact that a life with Gregg is simply impossible. Additional details could only spoil things; suffice it to say that while the developments may catch you off guard, they play out honestly. The proceedings are greatly enhanced by Bernard Herrmann's score—those who associate Herrmann with the strident, atonal scores he composed for Alfred Hitchcock are in for a surprise, as his work here is lushly romantic, though at times it teeters a bit too close to melodrama for its own good.
Trivia I: Natalie Wood plays Lucy's daughter Anna in her younger years.
The restored MPEG-4 AVC-encoded video is free from obvious defects, and in general has strong detail. There's a lot of contrast in the compositions, and they are rendered wonderfully. There are some minor problems with black crush here and there, but that stems from the use of dimming spots to make Gregg appear from the shadows (the problem can be alleviated to an extent by adjusting your display settings). There are two different DTS-HD English tracks: the original mono track and a re-mastered 5.1 track. Both are excellent; the surround mix plays a bit with sound effects, but the main thing it does is allow Bernard Herrmann's score to come alive. Both tracks are clear, with some occasional hiss in quiet moments.
The extras are comprised of the original theatrical trailer, along with two separate commentaries. The first features Greg Kimble, a noted special effects expert, and Christopher Husted, a Bernard Herrmann scholar. The two don't really discuss the film together, but rather tag team with specific insights. The information is, as you'd expect, very focused, but it's still fascinating, particularly when Kimble discusses Charles Lang's cinematography. The second track, with film professor Jeanine Basinger and Kenneth Geist, biographer of director Joseph Mankewicz, is not quite as informative, but does offer a number of anecdotes about the production as well as the cast and crew.
Trivia II: The movie inspired a TV show of the same name starring Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare. The show ran for two seasons, from 1968-1970. A decade earlier, Mulhare replaced Harrison as Professor Higgins in the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The movie is clearly a product of its times, and that might put off some viewers. In addition, there is something melancholy about the ending of the movie; there's a sense that it is a bit rushed, but at the same time, I'm not entirely sure how else they could have structured it.
A music-only track would have been greatly appreciated.
Trivia III: Tierney had a slight overbite, but she refused to let the studio fix it. In an episode of M*A*S*H, the camp is watching Tierney's Leave Her to Heaven, and Hawkeye comments that the overbite makes her even sexier.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a charming, whimsical story told with considerable skill.
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