American Films VIII - The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

Country - USA
Year - 1947
Duration - 104 mins
Language - English
Genre - Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Referenced by Carrie'O

Girl Friday Blogspot

If it is true that many seaman are “married” to the sea, then perhaps that it is fated that Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison) should be married to Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney): her surname means “sea” in Gaelic.

After all—it’s only a minor issue that Captain Gregg’s really a ghost and Mrs. Muir is only just recently widowed. Right?

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir tells the story of the exquisite yet wonderfully down-to-earth-yet-one-foot-off-the-ground widow, Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney; only 27-years-old at the time of the film’s release), her young daughter, Anna (played by nine-year-old, darling Natalie Wood—the “older” Anna is played by Vanessa Brown), and her mothering maid, Martha, played by Edna Best. When this trio decides to rent a more or less “abandoned” cottage by the sea (“abandoned” meaning that, although rented in the past, its tenants seem to flee from it so quickly as to leave its kitchen table spread with tea-things). Despite the rumors that the house is haunted by the late Captain Daniel Gregg (thought to have committed suicide), and despite having her own “paranormal experiences” in the house, Lucy decides to stay, being fascinated with the tale.

For Lucy Muir is a bit of a romantic, and Gene Tierney—so wholesome and pure in her role—is able to captivate the passions and whimsies of a young woman learning to feel again simply in her facial expressions. It is not long before the scruffy, devilish Captain Gregg falls for Lucy, and she for him. But is he all specter? Is he only a figment of her imagination? It seems no one but Lucy can feel, hear, and see Daniel Gregg. She seems to spend her longest hours admiring his painting, talking to “him” (or his ghost), and helping him turn his memoirs into a best-seller, which helps her pay the bills and buy the house.

But this life of apparent charade—a phantasmagoric procession by the sea-shore led by Lucy and including only the “ghost” of a sea captain with the mouth of a typical sailor—is nothing for Lucy. Even Captain Gregg, jealous and possessive as he is, realizes that he is doing the young widow no favors by smothering her and keeping her to himself. Before long, she falls for the dapper Miles Fairley (George Sanders) and the two become engaged.

This engagement prompts the self-elected removal of Captain Gregg from both the cottage and Lucy’s life. Now free to pursue Miles more ardently, Lucy is also free to find herself hurt by outside forces…and in a turn of events that can only be described (without giving it away) as something “the maid knew best” about, Lucy finds herself, at last, alone and seemingly content in the end.

The final moments of the film suggest a passage of time: young Anna is now nearly engaged. Then, with another passing of seasons, Lucy is sudden aged and a grandmother to at least one child of marrying age (as a letter, read to her by the surprisingly still-spry Martha, indicates). Then, at last, a romance of what is probably forty years or more in the making culminates in a great, glorious, and surreal moment that is so beautiful and touching, saddening and tragic, that I leave it to the viewer to watch without me having to say anything further.

Ultimately, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a film for classic movie fans as much as it is for fans with more modern tastes, for there are elements of love and sexual innuendos and scandal enough to pique the interest of even those who prefer more contemporary films. This film contains the “paranormal” elements promised in its title, but it should not be confused with a “ghost” film of the sort one might watch on Halloween in order to work one’s self into a scared frenzy. Perhaps the storyline will appeal more to women than men—in fact, I have watched this film several times, either alone or with all women—but this is not to say that the right kind of man with the right kind of (coaxing) woman could not enjoy it. I daresay that Gene Tierney’s beauty alone, and perhaps some of Rex Harrison’s manly and grubby demeanor, will dazzle male viewers who are not above watching “old” movies that are not in color.

Lest I sound like a presumptuous snob, I’ll simply say that this is a beautiful, sentimental movie. It is more sentimental than romantic. (Sentimental people hope things never change; romantic people hope ardently that they do—and I’ll accredit this slightly-rehashed and summarized statement to F. Scott Fitzgerald in This Side of Paradise). Despite Lucy’s attempts to move on from her entanglements with the mysterious ghostly presence that she learns to love as a man, she never really wants things to change. True Love waits. Despite all other things that happen, and despite the length of time and breadth of problems and horrors and worries of life in general, True Love waits. And this, more than anything, is the most stunning message and realization of the film.