Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir [dir. Joseph L Mankiewicz]

For a good while I had my eye on the Indian (Excel) blu-ray release of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (G&MM), especially since the US release from Fox wasn't much cheaper even for a 2013 release. But I was not sure if the Indian BD would carry over the 2 audio commentaries included on the US disc, and so when I had the chance to order stuff from Amazon US to Singapore in time for my vacation there, I snagged the US BD.

G&MM is an old-fashioned story of love and friendship between the titular characters. Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) after her husband's death decides to leave her in-laws' home and make her own with daughter Anna and faithful caretaker Martha. Conscious of not having thus far led a life of her own, Lucy acts on impulse, renting a cliffside cottage that appeals to her despite strong misgivings from the buffoonish house agent, only to discover that it is haunted by the ghost of its former occupant, the salty seaman Captain Gregg. As played by Rex Harrison, Gregg is first seen as a bluff petty-minded bully, determined to drive out all tenants and preserve his home. But he quickly takes a shine to the young widow, and we see the beginnings of a (heavily sanitized) romance across the pale. When Lucy is hard-pressed for the rent he comes up with the idea of her writing a book out of his racy memoirs (called Blood and Swash). In the course of getting the book published Lucy meets with another man, a cheeky handsome writer-artist (George Sanders) who charms her off her feet and gives the spectral captain a bout of distinctly corporeal jealousy. What ultimately becomes of Lucy forms the remaining part of this whimsical story.

Despite the idea of a lonely house haunted by a blasphemous mariner's ghost, Philip Dunne's screenplay (based on a novel by Josephine Leslie, writing as - heh, heh - R.A. Dick) is not a stormy supernatural thriller, but a gentle funny romance. Captain Gregg's language may have raised polite brows in the early twentieth century setting of the story, but even in the 40's when the novel and film were released, his "blasted" exclamations would have been more cute than shocking. Without the use of special effects to depict the ghostly element, the real magic in G&MM is the chemistry between Tierney and Harrison. Never even implying the crossing of any taboos, there is an appealing sweetness in their scenes together. Captain Gregg is an under-written character with little nuance, but Harrison is energetic and, when needed, tender. Tierney gives a mostly good account of the widow who looks first for freedom and then for love. The other big stars of the film are Charles Lang's wonderful chiaroscuro cinematography (only a few years before he had captured The Uninvited) and a lush romantic score from Bernard Herrmann, very different from his compositions for Alfred Hitchcock.

Even at a little past 100min, the film goes on for a bit more than it should have, but it offers relaxing old-fashioned good-natured amusement and should bring at least the occasional smile to even the dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon.

The stray bit of speckling aside, 20th Century Fox's blu-ray gives a luminous video presentation of G&MM's shadow-dappled visuals. The English audio is presented as lossless original mono or a respectfully repurposed 5.1 track that mostly gives additional space to Herrmann's music. I have not as yet heard the two commentary tracks, will try to update this review when I do.

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