When I found out about the 1947 Blogathon on Shadows and Satin and Speakeasy, I knew I had to join in, because both of my parents were born in 1947. That makes 1947 practically my lucky number. And with my affinity for 1947, ghosts, and Rex Harrison, I had to contribute a little article about The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
The lovely Gene Tierney, star of my favorite 40s film Laura, plays the female lead. Her Mrs. Lucy Muir (rhymes with “pure”) is a liberated woman in 1900, when the film is set. This is because after her husband’s death, Mrs. Muir defies her bitchy sister-in-law and passive aggressive mother-in-law, taking her maid (Edna Best) and her daughter (a young Natalie Wood) and moving out of their house of horrors. Then for her next trick, Mrs. Muir battles a prissy male landlord who dares to tell her that the seaside house she favors, Gull Cottage, is not for her. Bullshit, you don’t tell Mrs. Muir where she can go to take naps while her maid brings her hot milk! No one else has wanted the house since the owner, a seafarer named Captain Gregg (Harrison, obvs) committed suicide in the bedroom four years earlier. The bearded bastard keeps laughing really loud, and opening windows! And also being really sexy, for someone without a body.
Mrs. Muir is lucky her late husband doesn’t also show up as a ghost, because soon she and Cap’n Gregg are sharing a bedroom (not like that ya perv he’s a ghost not an incubus) and even writing a blasted sea chanty tell-all of a book on life at sea. The book happens to be one that she can take to London and use to shock a sexist publisher who thinks women only write novels about relationships. And the lady and the ghost live happily ever after for about two more days, until a creepy children’s author named Uncle Neddy (played by George Sanders, the voice of the evil tiger from Jungle Book) stalks her from London to Whitehall and seems to be a good candidate for a boyfriend with a pulse.
Did I mention that The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is adapted from a novel about a relationship, written by a woman? Yes, it is, and the author used the pseudonym R. A. Dick. As in, Uncle Neddy, you R. A. Dick.
I won’t tell you what else happens, as I’ve already said too much to spoil the plot of this 68 year old film. Suffice it to say that when the film ended, happy tears were shed by me because I liked it so much, not because it was over. Today was the second time I’ve watched, and it still has that effect on me. And even though it’s not my usual fare, I’m not ashamed! Part of being a free woman/person with the right to make choices IS the right to go ahead and watch tear-inducing romantic movies about relationships, even if those movies seem to disparage their own genre right in the middle.
Things I learned about The Ghost and Mrs. Muir: when this was made, Gene Tierney was married to the film’s costume designer Oleg Cassini. Also, the portrait of Rex Harrison as Captain Gregg which hangs in Gull Cottage was later used as set dressing in several other films such as All Hands on Deck and Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation. I learned that George Sanders (Uncle Neddy) appears in a 70s horror favorite of mine called Psychomania, which was his final film. The director of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Joseph L. Mankewicz, also directed Harrison in another favorite of mine, wacky 60s murder mystery The Honey Pot.
Lastly, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was nominated for an Oscar for cinematography. It’s no surprise, considering the beauty that shadows are capable of in black and white. The first time Mrs. Muir sees the ghost it takes my breath away, and not just because he’s Rex Harrison; the entire left side of the frame is black with a shadow, and then he is suddenly revealed there in the kitchen when she lights a candle! A gorgeous “special effect,” and miles above my second favorite way for ghosts to appear, which is turning the camera off, and then turning it back on when the ghost moves into the shot. Cinematographer Charles Lang is tied with Leon Shamroy for most cinematography nominations ever at a whopping 18; Lang actually won the Oscar for A Farewell to Arms in 1932, and went on to lens such films as Sabrina, Some Like It Hot, and that other great 40s ghost film, The Uninvited.
I will be the first one to admit that classic films are not my area of expertise. I’ve begun watching more of them in the last five years, since I got old enough to have the patience for subtleties. But I still have so much to learn. Because I have seen so few of the classics, it comforts me to know that there’s no way I’ll ever run out of them. I’m going to be able to spend the rest of my life watching old movies that are new to me. If you’re bummed out when you look at the offerings at the multiplex each weekend, get yourself a subscription to Warner Archive Instant, or check out the Internet Archive for free! You don’t need to go and pay 30 bucks per person for stale popcorn, unnecessary slow motion, and obnoxious surround sound bass drops when there are undiscovered celluloid treasures from the 30s and 40s waiting for you on the internets.
P.S. Am I the only one who finds it amusing to watch an old film that is also a period piece? Because even if the scene cut to them wearing their 40s clothes they’d still be quaint as hell. I always think, “Y’all are already in a period piece from my perspective, 1940s people!” HaHA!
P.P.S. I can’t help but wonder whether Old Gregg was named after Captain Gregg. I’m just going to pretend this is the case.