Vintage Film Review: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) – Friendship Turns to Love Between a Woman and a Ghost
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During Halloween season, most movies tend to fall within the supernatural, suspense or horror genres. But occasionally, you can find a romantic exception which still fits with the overall tone of the season.
With its slightly moody romantic atmosphere and the unconventional relationship between a woman and a ghost, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is the perfect film to watch this time of year. That is if you prefer your movies a little less intense or scary.
Recently widowed, Lucy Muir demands her independence from her deceased husband’s overbearing family. With a small inheritance from his estate, Mrs. Muir is able to rent a small seaside cottage for her daughter, maid and herself.
Coombe: In my opinion, you are the most obstinate young woman I have ever met!
Lucy Muir: Thank you, Mr. Coombe. I’ve always wanted to be considered obstinate!
Though the rental agent Mr. Coombe warns her that Gull Cottage is haunted by its’ former owner, a sea captain, Mrs. Muir insists on the property. It isn’t too long before the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg attempts to frighten her away. You see, he has plans for his house and doesn’t intend to share it. But Lucia (Lu-CHEE -A) as the Captain calls her, makes for a formidable opponent. Lucia wins Daniel’s respect and they agree to share the house.
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Slowly, and despite their extreme personality differences, they form a warm friendship. When Lucy is in danger of losing Gull Cottage, Daniel devises a way for her to buy the house outright. Eventually, they each develop deeper feelings for each other. But when Lucia becomes torn between the living and the dead Daniel must make a painful decision.
A BELOVED CLASSIC
There is a reason that The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a much-beloved film and one of my favorites. It is utterly charming and without flaw, in my opinion.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir takes the simple story of a friendship between a man and woman and then grows it into something more complex. This complexity is not just in the difference of sexes but for the fact that Lucy is human and Daniel is not.
In lesser hands, this kind of story could devolve into something either melodramatic or ridiculous. But this film manages to balance the lines between the natural and supernatural with as much logic and grace as possible.
WHEN FRIENDSHIP BECOMES MORE
The relationship that develops between the Captain and Lucia builds slowly. This isn’t a case of instantaneous attraction. In fact, their initial encounter is one of clashing wills and personalities. The growth of trust between them and the slow burn as friendship turns to more is the perfect example of how a solid friendship makes a good foundation for romance. Their attraction is obvious, but not overt. Yet, Daniel and Lucy are mature, thoughtful and responsible people who take their reality and others into consideration when making decisions. It’s so refreshing to see this type of romance portrayed on screen.
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Captain Daniel Gregg: Women named Lucy are always being imposed upon but, Lucia, there’s a name for an amazon, for a queen
INTRODUCING LUCY (LUCIA) MUIR
Lucy Muir as played by the classically beautiful Gene Tierney may be one of my favorite female characters in cinema. Although Tierney is an Oscar winner, she is generally considered an underrated actress due to her mostly mediocre film material. In The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, she gets the chance to show her talent. Her Lucy is a primly elegant woman with a silk wrapped steel spine. She never raises her voice but she refuses to allow anyone to tell her how to live. When she meets with objection she simply restates her intent and continues on with her plans.
She appears to be the epitome of a turn of the century woman -gracious, kind and ladylike. And she is. But she also asserts her independence as few women of that time would have done. After her husband’s death and a lifetime of fitting the mold, she takes risks. She also takes control of her own life, all with two dependents relying on her. And when she meets the loud, gruff and very masculine Captain she stands her ground. If he is a windblown storm, she is an immovable rock.
Lucy: I wish you wouldn’t swear. It’s so ugly.
Daniel: If you think that’s ugly, it’s a good thing you can’t read me thoughts!
A BOSSY SEA CAPTAIN MEETS HIS MATCH
His prior years as a sea captain mean that Daniel Gregg is used to having his orders obeyed. But as most men eventually learn, women don’t like to be ordered around, a lesson Daniel quickly learns when dealing with Lucia. Remarkably, he seems to respect her the more for it. Clearly, he is unused to interacting with women, as his manner towards Lucy is rather domineering. However, the two of them eventually adapt to each other. He softens by her feminine grace and she even adopts some of his coarse language. Rex Harrison (who also played Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady) does a wonderful job portraying the Captain when he barks at Lucia and also as he tells of his adventurous days at sea. But it is the quieter moments where his character really shines.
Captain Gregg: I was young, but I was never foolish. Inexperienced, perhaps. Curious, as young men are. Eager for adventure. I matured early.
As the title suggests, this film really centers around Lucy Muir and Daniel Gregg. But the few supporting characters in the film are also rather unique and delightful. From Lucy’s daughter Anna (portrayed by a young Natalie Wood) to her faithful maid Martha (Edna Best), to the somewhat nervous estate agent Mr. Coombe (Robert Coote), to Anna’s human love interest Miles Fairley (George Sanders), each character is perfectly portrayed. Sanders, in particular, excels as a gentleman scoundrel, a role which he played to perfection in many of his films.
Lucy Muir: You’ve been watching me bathe.
Miles Fairley: But always from a respectable distance.
HAUNTED COTTAGE FOR RENT
Lastly, I must mention Gull Cottage and its’ surrounding environs which are key to evoking the happy then haunting atmosphere required for such a story. Despite being filmed in black and white, the cinematography displaying the house and its’ beach setting is absolutely stunning as the film shifts moods. In particular, the ocean waves and beach are used brilliantly to portray tumultuous emotions and the passage of time. The cottage itself is both homey and grand and I can’t imagine anyone declining to live there, even if it is haunted.
If you have never seen The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, its’ blend of comedy, romance, drama, and mystery should appeal to a wide audience. The expert way the story, character and relationship arcs are handled and the talent both on and off screen make this a lovely, memorable film to revisit over and over.
Captain Gregg: You must make your own life amongst the living and, whether you meet fair winds or foul, find your own way to harbor in the end.
Fun Fact: Muir is Gaelic for the word sea.
Content: As with most classic films, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is clean with no objectionable material.
Where to Watch: The Ghost And Mrs. Muir (affiliate link) is available for purchase on DVD or for rental on Amazon. It also airs occasionally on TCM.
Photo Credits: 20th Century Fox
Have you ever seen The Ghost and Mrs. Muir? What do you think of the way it handles the romance between a ghost and a human?
The stuff that dreams are made of.”
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.
I have loved none but you.”