Saturday, January 30, 2016

OVP: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

Film: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
Stars: Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Black-and-White Cinematography)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

There are few things enjoyable to me than sitting on a Saturday night, cozied up with a Turner Classic Movies tale (it is, in fact, what I plan on doing in a few hours from now, along with some Pop-Secret and probably Swedish Fish).  The thing I love about Turner Classic Movies (a list I should make at some point on this blog, but that would be pages and pages and pages) is that the films of the channel always give me something unexpected.  Sometimes that's bad (not every classic movie is a "classic," if you get my drift), but usually it comes with a wonderful dose of delightful, as was the case when I recently caught The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.  Having not been familiar before with either the film or the later television series starring Hope Lange, I settled in for a lovely evening of movie-watching (and had my mom, who has loved this movie for years, alongside me to watch it with me for the first time).

(Spoilers Ahead) The movie was everything I hoped it would be and more.  Honestly, it's hard to go wrong when you have Gene Tierney in the lead.  Tierney, largely forgotten today (even by the standards of Millennials who only seem to know that Marilyn Monroe once existed when it comes to classic cinema), was such a strong performer in the 1940's and someone that consistently played regal-but-tough heroines in the 1940's and is one of my favorite performers (if you know me in real-life you'll know that I speak of Laura in hushed and reverent tones every chance that I get).  The film follows her Lucy Muir as she buys a house that is supposedly haunted, a rumor that turns out to be true when she meets a sea captain named Daniel Gregg (Harrison), who is ornery and doesn't want anyone to be in his house, not least of which a widow and her young daughter.  Slowly but steadily he comes to be fond of her, and eventually he helps her to buy the house after it turns out her money has disappeared and she must find a way to earn a salary (she does this by quite literally ghost-writing the captain's memoirs).  After a while the two realize that their romantic relationship is hopeless, and Lucy tries to date a successful children's author named Fairley (Sanders), but it turns out that he's actually married and a serial philanderer, and she contents herself to many years quietly alone in her house, until eventually she joins the captain in the afterlife.

The film could so easily be silly, and occasionally it is, but the two leads completely sell the film's more ridiculous notions, and actually save it from being too sitcom-y (though the elements were there for it, hence the later television series) by making the characters terribly romantic.  You spend the entire film sort of glued to the two of them, their ribald chemistry just innocent enough for the 1940's but occasionally with a wink or two in the direction of the audience.  The film is beautifully shot, with gorgeous use of light (the day scenes are particularly expressive) and wonderful shadow in the candlelight.  It makes sense, as a result, that the film was nominated for Best Cinematography as its sole Oscar notice, but honestly (and especially considering the dearth of fine work for women in 1947 in particular), it wouldn't have been without issue to nominate the film for Best Actress or Screenplay (Tierney is heads and tails above Loretta Young's winning work in The Farmer's Daughter, though that's a low threshold).  Honestly, this is the sort of simple but classic film that makes watching old movies such a joy-there's nothing unpredictable about it (you know that Harrison and Tierney will find a way to be together), but it's romantic and elegant, and with sharp enough writing and performances that you actually quite enjoy the entire tale.

Those are my thoughts on this lovely movie from Joseph L. Mankiewicz (this was right before he would win his back-to-back Oscars).  What about you?  Are you a fan of the romantic comedy, and if not, what is wrong with you?  Has anyone seen the Hope Lange film as well, and how does it compare?  And what are some other favorite films you have of Gene Tierney's?  Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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