THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR
Review by Ed Nguyen
Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders, Edna Best, Natalie Wood
Director: Joseph Mankiewicz
Audio: English stereo/mono, French and Spanish mono
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: black and white, full-screen 1.33:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: two audio commentaries, still gallery, theatrical trailers, Rex Harrison documentary
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: April 1, 2003
make a bargain with you. Leave me
bedroom as it is, and I'll promise not to go into any other room in the house."
if you keep the best bedroom, where should I sleep?"
the best bedroom."
the late 1960's, for a couple of short seasons, there existed on Saturday
evenings a television program called The
Ghost and Mrs. Muir. It was a
romantic drama about the irascible ghost of a sea captain and the current
occupant of his former home, Mrs. Muir. Younger
generations may be forgiven for being unaware of this show, though older
generations may remember it well. Still
older generations may also recall fondly the classic film upon which the show
original film of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
(1947) was adapted from a popular 1940's novel by Josephine Leslie (under a
pseudonym). In the novel, there was
no visible presence to the ghost. Instead,
Mrs. Muir perceived the ghost as a voice within her mind.
The ambivalence over whether the ghost truly existed or was merely a
trace of Mrs. Muir's imagination made for an atypical ghost story.
So it is with the film as well, for director Joseph Mankiewicz has
refrained from many of the conventions of the haunted house genre in crafting
his film. The result is a story that is only mildly frightening in some
early passages before revealing its true nature as a romantic tale about
the film, Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) is a young and beautiful widow living in
turn-of-the-century Victorian England. Having
grown tired of occupying the same house as her in-laws, she determines to find a
home of her own. Taking her young
daughter (Natalie Wood in an early role) and a housekeeper along with her, she
travels towards the English shores. Her
journeys bring her to Whitecliff, a quaint coastal village.
Herein, she finds a local real estate agent to introduce her to some
available homes. Lucy eventually
decides upon Gull Cottage, a lovely but isolated home situated upon a hilltop
overlooking a beach. However, its
four previous occupants strangely had fled after only an evening, and the manor
has remained empty for four years ever since.
The real estate agent repetitively tries to warn Lucy that the house is
unsuitable for habitation. Despite
the agent's misgivings, Lucy decides that Gull Cottage, though dusty and
enigmatic, offers her the peace and solitude she seeks.
Cottage initially appears to be a comfortable home. By day, it is warmed by sunlight that filters in through the
windows and bathes the home in a cheerful glow. By night, it is cooled by whistling sea breezes calling up
from the shores. The home's decor
possesses an elegant oceanic theme. An
elaborate telescope, mysteriously always clean, peers from an upper story window
upon the dancing waves below. A
nautical compass hangs in the main hall, while numerous paintings of ships adorn
the walls. In the parlor, there is
a bold portrait of a handsome sea captain, presumably a previous owner. It is a strangely affecting portrait, which
Lucy eventually moves into her bedroom.
young daughter and her housekeeper are blissfully unaware of anything peculiar
about the house. However, Lucy,
mindful of the real estate agent's words, suspects otherwise. Disembodied laughter sometimes drifts through the rooms.
Windows open and close by themselves.
At night, kerosene lamps flicker and die away in perfectly still
hallways, as though blown out by unseen lips.
One stormy evening, as Lucy wanders down to the kitchen to heat some
water, she has a sudden encounter with the hidden force behind these
force is Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison), a proud and cantankerous spirit.
His death many years ago was an unexpected one, and since then, he has
haunted Gull Cottage and successfully scared off all other would-be occupants.
Lucy Muir, however, is different. Though
she is at first very apprehensive of the ghost, she quickly tells him that she
has no intentions of being frightened away so easily from what she considers a
beautiful and ideal home. Perhaps
her stubborn stance and her love for his old home appeals to the bemused ghost,
for, contrary to his salty nature, he decides to allow Lucy to stay "on
trial" for a while. The
captain's gruff and often frank manners are initially a source of irritation to
Lucy's Victorian sensibilities, but she eventually becomes accustomed of his
presence, seen or not.
rest of the film follows the flowering of their unusual friendship, although
their story is destined to have a bittersweet quality.
After all, Lucy is alive, and the captain is not.
As the film progresses, Lucy eventually meets a writer, Miles Fairley
(noted character actor George Sanders). Fairley
is quickly smitten with her and signals his feelings quite clearly.
Thus, Lucy is presented with a difficult situation.
She has grown fond of the captain's ghost, yet here now is a flesh and
blood man who adores her. The ramifications of her eventual decisions affect the course
of the remainder of the film, albeit in a somewhat unexpected manner.
I will not reveal more except to say that the final scene, though
melancholy, is a fitting conclusion that establishes the film's reputation as
one of Hollywood's most touching romances.
many elements coalesce beautifully in this film. Mankiewicz's direction is subtle yet very confident, second
only to his masterpiece All about Eve.
The set designs, featuring many antique furniture pieces, bring Gull
Cottage wonderfully to life. The
actors are superb - Rex Harrison is lively and witty and has a truly commanding
presence as the roguish captain, while Gene Tierney is quite radiant and sublime
in perhaps her finest screen performance. Particularly
noteworthy is Bernard Herrman's memorable musical score.
What's not to love about music by Bernard Herrmann?
Although he is justifiably famous for his many collaborations with
Hitchcock (Psycho, Vertigo,
or North by Northwest to name a few), Herrmann has created an
atmospheric score here that easily ranks as one of his finest.
It is simultaneously lush and poignant, conjuring vivid images of serene
seascapes and forlorn love. Make no
mistake - the musical score transforms The
Ghost and Mrs. Muir from being merely a very good film into the great
classic that it is.
I would be remiss in not mentioning Charles Lang's stunning cinematography.
Lang paints a breathtaking canvas, from early haunting scenes that
display his true mastery of light and shadows, to his many evocative shots of
the beach waters and the restless oceans. There
is something inherently tranquil yet sad about coastal shores, with the mournful
cries of gulls and the ceaseless motion of waves.
Lang's cinematography, combined with Herrmann's score, captures this mood
perfectly. Of all other ghost
stories, only one, the achingly-beautiful Portrait
of Jennie, is comparable in romantic beauty.
Ghost and Mrs. Muir
is presented in glorious black & white.
It is full screen, as are all films from before 1950.
The good news is that the image clarity and contrast are excellent and do
justice to the Oscar-nominated cinematography.
The many dark scenes show no hint of breakup, and overall, detail levels
are quite fine with only minimal grain. As
for the bad news, the film is over fifty years old, so it does show its age.
There are dust spots scattered about, as well as a few minor scratches.
The frame is not entirely stable; it seems to shake ever so slightly in a
few scenes, though this is not too uncommon with older films.
At any rate, it does not distract from the actual viewing.
There is a shimmering effect here and there which does
call attention to itself. Also,
stationary objects may occasionally wobble, which is annoying. Overall, the print is pretty good and the transfer is okay
but has a few defects.
*** (mono) * (stereo)
edition of the film offers four different modes for listening - French mono,
Spanish mono, and English stereo/mono. Most
people will probably choose the English stereo track, but I implore you not
to do this! Please stay with the
original English mono track. The
stereo track is horrible. It is
beyond horrible. The dialogue
sounds as though it was recorded through a tin bucket in the middle of a large
wind tunnel. The echo effect is so
prominent that the film is virtually un-listenable in stereo.
The stereo track barely deserves one star. No joke. And I
only give it that because the Bernard Herrmann music seems to have survived
unmangled. Really, the sound
engineers dropped all the balls on this one.
Trust me - I tried repetitively
to listen to the stereo track to give it an honest shot, but I had to give up in
want to point out that this same problem occurs with other DVDs in the Fox
Studio Classics series as well. The
solution is simple - just listen to the original mono audio track!
Fortunately, the sound engineers redeemed themselves nicely with the
English mono track. It may not be
very dynamic, but it is crisp and scrubbed clean of all snaps, crackles, and
pops. The dialogue sounds natural.
Best of all, Bernard Herrmann's score sounds wonderful in it.
are some nice features on this DVD. The
minor extras include trailers, six in all, for this film and others in the Fox
Studio Classics series. Also
included is a still gallery. I must
admit that it temporarily stunned me because the splash screen displays such a
luminous photograph of Gene Tierney that I was reluctant to move onward!
At any rate, this gallery is divided into five categories,
some of which only have a couple of entries, while others contain several
dozen. Overall, it is quite nice. Notably,
Gene Tierney is observed sitting in a wheelchair in a number of photographs.
This is because, believe it or not, she had broken her foot the night
before the start of filming and spent virtually the entire production wearing a
next feature is from the A&E cable program Biography. It is a
44-minute documentary on Rex Harrison, The
Man Who Would Be King, and is a great look at the public and personal life
of this talented and knighted thespian. Harrison
had quite a reputation for being a ladies' man and in his youth had earned the
nickname Sexy Rexy! How about that?
The documentary is lurid but great fun!
but not least, there are two separate audio commentary tracks.
Both feature duo commentators. The
first is narrated by Greg Kimble, a special effects supervisor, and Christopher
Husted, a musical scholar on Bernard Herrmann.
They reminisce about the studio era of filmmaking, the construction of
Herrmann's wonderfully moody score, and the brilliant black and white
composition of the film itself. Modern audiences may be surprised to learn how exceedingly
difficult it often is to photograph a black and white film as well as this one!
Cinematographer Charles Lang's efforts earned him a well-deserved Oscar
nomination, yet it was merely one of an astounding eighteen nominations for this
second commentary track features Jeanine Bassinger, a film historian and
professor, and Kenneth Geist, an author on a book about the film's director.
While the previous commentary was often tangential to the plot, here
Bassinger directly discusses the film and its scenes in depth.
Her commentary is quite good. Geist,
however, is a bit of a shadowy afterthought but occasionally offers an
last "feature" is not on the DVD per
se. Rather, it is a mail-in
offer good until the end of 2003. Buy
any three of the fourteen Fox Studio
Classics DVDs released in 2003, send in the appropriate materials, and soon
thereafter you will receive the 1927 silent film masterpiece Sunrise...on
is the only silent film included on Sight and Sound's 2002 list of the world's
ten greatest films. It is also
widely considered to be the best silent film ever made. In general, the Fox Studio Classics are all very noteworthy films. For
instance, admirers of director Mankiewicz may wish to purchase his masterpiece All
about Eve. Conversely, fans of the lovely Gene Tierney may be very
interested in Laura, due out in late
2003. Including The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, that's three superb Studio Classics DVDs
already! It couldn't be any easier
to get a free copy of Sunrise.
It's an offer you can't refuse!