Challenge Week 47: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

This film has snuck by me for decades now, as it’s one of those classics that a lot of what I call “classic movie fans” seem to like though it doesn’t tend to be on critical best lists, and as an elitist teen I used to avoid those. I’m coming around on a lot of that type of film now, and realizing I missed out.

In this one, Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney) breaks free from her late husband’s controlling family to find a little cottage she can call her own (along with her daughter, a young Natalie Wood) – only trouble is it’s haunted by the sea captain (Rex Harrison) who used to own it. Unafraid of the ghost, she moves in anyway and ends up striking up quite a friendship with the gruff captain…and maybe a little more.

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Yeah, the film dances right along the edge of necrophilia here, though I mean, Captain Dan is a much more vital and interesting character than most everyone else she comes across. She almost manages a romance with George Sanders, but he’s at his most charmingly slimy and it’s pretty obvious that’s not really going anywhere. It’s really about the most gothic of romances, a love for something seemingly unattainable that stretches across the boundaries of life and death itself.

You’d think all that would kind of creepy, but it isn’t – it’s fairly safe, actually, almost to the detriment of the film. In a way, it’s almost weird how this ghost romance situation isn’t remarked on more than it is. The film itself doesn’t treat it as odd, no one seems to notice that she’s spending all hours of the day chatting up invisible boat captains (possibly because they are, too – at least her young daughter is). Seems like at some point it would’ve turned into a “does she belong in a nuthouse” movie, but it never even threatens to.

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The film is too sweet and well-meaning to deserve much real criticism, but I did also find it a little bland and uninvolving (and I mean, just how long was Mrs. Muir ignoring her daughter completely to write this book with a dead sea captain?). I think if I’d seen it back in the day I would have more fond feelings for it – and maybe over time, those feelings will grow. It is lovingly shot, with appropriately gothic light and shadows, though the Victorian setting does nothing valuable for Gene Tierney’s hairstylings.

Stats and stuff…

1947, USA
directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, written by Philip Dunne
starring Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders

I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how The Ghost and Mrs. Muir entered my chart:

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir > Courage of Lassie
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir > The Shining
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir < The Three Musketeers (1973)
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir < The Fly (1958)
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir > District B13
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir < Dodge City
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir < Detective Story
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir < The Keys of the Kingdom
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir > Cat People (1942)
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir < Waking Life
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir > The Devil’s Backbone

Final #804 out of 3724 (78%)

It is now my #2 Joseph L. Mankiewicz film, my #2 Gene Tierney film, my #3 Rex Harrison film, my #4 George Sanders film, my #10 Romantic Fantasy, my #1 Supernatural Drama and my #4 film of 1947.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was recommended by Patrick Gray, a friend from the Flickcharters group on Facebook.

A few more screenshots…

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  • http://carygrantwonteatyou.com carygrantwonteatyou

    Harrison and Sanders together in a film. That makes it worth watching if nothing else.:) I had mixed feelings about this one. There’s something nostalgic and lovely about it, but there’s also that sense that a widow has nothing to look forward to but love for a dead guy who isn’t her dead husband. A bit of an odd message:)

    • http://www.the-frame.com/blog Jandy

      I agree! I think that was one of my major reservations about it. It’s actually strange how the film treats all this as normal, even desirable.