Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"It's No Crime to Be Alive."

Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison
A 'Romantic Fantasy,' 1947's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, based on the novel by R.A. Dick, tells the story of widower Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) who moves in to an English seaside cottage which is haunted by the ghost of it's former owner, Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison). Lucy's daughter Anna (Natalie Wood) and maid Martha (Edna Best) join her, though Gregg only appears to Lucy, agreeing that Anna is "...too young for ghosts." When Lucy's investments fail, Gregg helps her out by dictating his memoirs to her. The resulting book, 'Blood and Swash' proves to be a best-seller and Lucy earns enough to keep the cottage. Of course, during the writing of the book, Lucy and Daniel fall in love. Knowing their romance is hopeless, Daniel advises Lucy to find a "real" (i.e. living) man. 

Lucy eventually goes to London to publish her book, and meets charismatic children's author Miles Fairly (George Sanders). Fairly follows Lucy to Gull Cottage and begins to woo her. Knowing he doesn't stand a chance against a living person, Captain Gregg agrees to leave Mrs. Muir alone to pursue her happiness. Lucy is later devastated to learn that Fairly is not only married with a family of his own, but has behaved similarly with other women. She soon shuts herself away at Gull Cottage with Martha. Years later, a grown Anna (Vanessa Brown) returns to Gull Cottage with her Navy Lieutenant fiance, telling her mother she knew all along about Gregg and Fairly and that Fairly has grown fat and bald and has been abandoned by his wife.  Lucy and Martha grow old together and on her death bed, Gregg appears to Lucy, lifting her youthful spirit up and the two of them disappear into the mist. The movie's original trailer can be seen here. I've embedded a fan-made homage below:

24 years later, the movie inspired a 1968 TV sitcom starring Hope Lange as 'Carolyn' Muir; Edward Mulhaire as Daniel Gregg; character actress Reta Shaw (Mary Poppins) as Martha and gay icon Charles Nelson Reilly as the Captain's wimpy descendant, Claymore. The series ran for two full seasons and was my youthful  introduction to the story.

The original film, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is just about as atmospheric and romantic as they come. Harrison is superb as the externally gruff Captain Gregg, whose heart is captured after death, while Tierney (best known for her Oscar nominated performance in Otto Preminger's Laura) is simply lovely. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir may not be a scary ghost movie by any means, but it is certainly worth a look for film students and lovers of old-fashioned love stories.

More, anon.

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