Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The (1947): Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ Romantic Fantasy (or Fantasy Romance), Starring Rex Harrison, Gene Tierney, George Sanders, Natalie Wood as a Child

Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, a romantic fantasy, starring Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison.

It was based on a 1945 novel written by Josephine Leslie under the pseudonym of R.A. Dick.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Mrs. Muir
The-Ghost-and-Mrs-Muir-Posters.jpg

In 1945, 20th Century Fox bought the film rights to the novel, which was published only in the UK at that time.

It was shot entirely in California, around Stillwater Cove.

In Britain in the early 1900s, the recently widowed Mrs. Lucy Muir moves to the seaside village of Whitecliff despite her in-laws’ disapproval.

She rents a house, named Gull Cottage, though it has reputation as being haunted by the spirit of seaman who died there.

On the first night, Lucy is visited by an apparition of the former owner, a roguish but harmless sea captain named Daniel Gregg. He tells Lucy that his death was not a suicide, but the result of accidentally kicking the valve on a gas-fired room heater in sleep.

Daniel wanted to turn Gull Cottage into a home for retired seamen and does not appreciate her presence. However, due to Lucy’s headstrong attitude, and her appreciation of the house, Daniel reluctantly agrees to allow her living there; he promises to make himself visible only to her.

When Lucy’s investment has dried up, she considers moving back to London. However, Daniel asks her to stay. They decide to write a book, about his memories at sea, for which she will profit.

During the writing of the book, they fall in love. Both realize it is hopeless situation–Daniel tells Lucy to find a living man.

In London, Lucy goes to meet a publisher and becomes attracted to Miles Fairley, a suave author who writes children’s stories under the pen name Uncle Neddy. Daniel’s lurid and sensational recollections, titled Blood and Swash, become a bestseller, providing Lucy royalties which she uses to buy Gull Cottage.

Fairley follows her back to Whitecliff and they begin a courtship. Though initially jealous, Daniel decides to leave, as he considers himself an obstacle to Lucy’s happiness.

While she is asleep, he places in her mind the suggestion that she alone wrote the book and his presence was just a dream. He then fades away after declaring regret for never having a life with her.

Lucy visits London and discovers that Fairley is already married with two children. Heartbroken, Lucy returns to Whitecliff to spend the rest of her life as a recluse, with Martha looking after her.

Anna returns with the Royal Navy lieutenant she plans to marry. She reveals that she too had seen Daniel, whom she regarded as childhood friend, and she knew about her mother’s relationship with Fairley. Lucy in turn reveals that Fairley is an overweight alcoholic, abandoned by his wife and children. Lucy then realizes that the ghost she loved was in fact real.

Years later, ailing and under a doctor’s care, Lucy receives a letter from Anna about her daughter–also named Lucy–beins engaged to plane captain. Anna believes that affection for captains runs in their family. Lucy rejects the glass of hot milk Martha has brought, complaining she is tired. After Martha leaves the room, Lucy takes a sip, but the glass falls to the floor as she dies.

Suddenly, Daniel returns and approaches her, whispering that she will never be tired again. Taking his hands, her young spirit leaves her aged body and greets him with loving smile. Unnoticed by Martha, the couple leave the house and walk into ethereal mist.

Philip Dunne’s script lards the R. A. Dick novel with humor and situations that belie the ghostly theme.

Mankiewicz’s only contribution was writing some sharp lines for George Sanders’ character. Sanders’ casting occurred when Richard Ney, the original actor, was fired for being inadequate.

The movie was enjoyable, despite its failings, due to its warmly human tone, and superlative cast. Harrison’s ingratiating personality and Tierney’s charm compensated for the lack of in-depth characterizations of their roles.

Bernard Herrmann, the film’s composer, regarded his work on this film as one of his finest score.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Cinematography (b/w): Charles Lang Jr

Oscar Context

The winner was Guy Green for David Lean’s Great Expectations.

Recycling:

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was adapted as hour-long radio play on the December 1, 1947 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater with Charles Boyer and Madeleine Carroll.

It was adapted on the August 16, 1951 Screen Director’s Playhouse with Boyer and Jane Wyatt.

A 90-minute adaptation by Barry Campbell of the novel was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on December 21, 1974 with Bryan Pringle as Captain Gregg, Gemma Jones as Lucy Muir, and Philip Bond as Miles.

From 1968 to 1970, a TV series titled The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, starring Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare, aired on NBC and then ABC. It had the same premise and main characters as the book and film, but it was a sit com, downplaying the romantic fantasy elements. The time and setting changed to contemporary American coastal town (although the ghost was from the Victorian era). For the series, Mrs. Muir’s first name Carolyn (not Lucy), and the children’s names changed from Cyril and Anna to Jonathan and Candace.

On June 3, 2005, a musical based on the film and book, written and directed by James J. Mellon, premiered at the NoHo Arts Center in Los Angeles.

Cast
Gene Tierney as Lucy Muir
Rex Harrison as Captain Daniel Gregg
George Sanders as Miles Fairley
Edna Best as Martha Huggins
Vanessa Brown as Anna Muir (as an adult)
Anna Lee as Mrs. Fairley
Natalie Wood as Anna Muir (as a child)
Robert Coote as Mr. Coombe
Isobel Elsom as Angelica Muir, Lucy’s mother-in-law
Victoria Horne as Eva Muir, Lucy’s sister-in-law
Whitford Kane as Mr. Sproule, the publisher (uncredited)

Credits:

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay by Philip Dunne, based on The Ghost of Captain Gregg and Mrs. Muir. 1945 novel by R.A. Dick
Produced by Fred Kohlmar
Cinematography Charles Lang
Edited by Dorothy Spencer
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Distributed by 20th Century Fox

Release date: June 26, 1947 (U.S.)

Running time: 104 minutes