The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, 1947, Twentieth Century Fox. Starring Rex Harrison, Gene Tierney, George Sanders. Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. B&W, 104 minutes.
A headstrong, independent widow goes against her late husband’s family’s wishes and strikes out on her own, young daughter and loyal maid by her side. Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney), no longer wishing to be under the thumb of her mother-in-law, decides to move to the coast. She finds an affordable cottage that would be perfect, except for this: it is haunted by the ghost of sea captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison), who wants nothing more than to scare the young woman away.
Instead, there is an immediate attraction, which takes an interesting turn when Lucy learns her investment income has dried up and she has nothing to live on. Captain Gregg comes to the rescue with his idea to write a book, a memoir of his life at sea, salty language and racy stories included.
Enter Miles Fairley (George Sanders), an author himself, who courts Lucy, forcing a difficult confrontation between the widow and the sea captain.
Gene Tierney gave her character depth and a sereneness that matched the actresses’ beauty. It was a character she was well-suited to play, not because she was a particularly fine actress, but because she looked the part and carried herself as you would expect a woman in those circumstances to do. Credit that to her privileged upbringing and years spent in finishing school.
Initially in filming, however, Tierney played the character with a more comedic touch, only to find it wasn’t working. After two days they went back and re-shot the scenes they’d already completed with much greater success.
Rex Harrison made the cranky (and remember, dead) sea captain sympathetic and a worthy romantic lead. He looks like a sea captain should, and is an imposing presence, yet Tierney played her character with such strength he didn’t overpower her character.
A young Natalie Wood makes her appearance in only her third film, yet she’s as professional and polished as the adult actors she performs with. The remaining cast helps keep the film on an even emotional keel, despite the somewhat jarring events that occur.
A wonderful romantic story, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir also boasts haunting and beautiful cinematography. Although shot entirely on the California coast, it is easy to imagine this is truly overlooking the British sea. The movie received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.
This is an easy film to watch and one you can completely lose yourself to for the time you are viewing it. Understated, romantic, fantastical and sweet, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is pure pleasure.