“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”: a classic romantic fantasy

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Glad to see this favourite turn up on Netflix, and delighted in re-watching it many years after I originally fell for it on VHS(!).

40+ years before  Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore’s interdimensional romance in “Ghost”, this 1947 fantasy deals with the same kind of theme, but in the classic Hollywood style. And it is a sheer delight – if you’re willing to surrender yourself to its expertly-crafted romantic spell. It balances humour, romance and a strong thread of melancholy into a unique whole that is haunting in the best sense.

At the turn of the century, a young widow (Gene Tierney) moves into an old house which is haunted by the spirit of a rugged, colourful sea captain (played with charm and gusto by Rex Harrison). A relationship develops between the two, and as it develops and evolves, some unexpected twists and turns ensue.

It features  a strong-willed heroine, a charming supporting cast, and a witty turn by George Sanders – arriving relatively late in the proceedings – as an earthly competition for Tierney’s affections.

The film is visually lush, a perfect example of the lost art of gorgeous black-and-white cinematography. A swooping, fluid camera helps set the ethereal tone.

But the real secret ingredient here is the evocative Bernard Herrmann score. His signature style adds a whole dimension of melancholic beauty. The connection with Vertigo, which came over a decade later, is uncanny – it’s hard not to think that Hitchcock had this film in mind to some degree when working on his own masterpiece involving ghostly obsessions. There’s even a scene by the water between Tierney and Harrison that uncannily mirrors one in Vertigo right down to Herrmann’s theme.

Even though the style might be considered a little overwrought by today’s standards, I found it easy to abandon myself to its charms, and watched the unworldly, beautiful ending – almost the only thing I remembered vividly from that previous viewing more than a decade ago – through teary eyes. If you’re up for some unabashed romanticism in a fantasy vein, do give it a look.

PS – Always on the hunt for trivia or unexpected connections, I turned up a gem by close observation of this film. An office receptionist at a publishing house is reading what looks like a dime-store romance, and its title is: “Love Lies  Bleeding”. Spotting that phrase sure raised my eyebrows, as I only knew this as an Elton John song – the second half of his epic opening track to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Wikipedia tells us this was the title of a 17th-century romantic play – at least, it’s the only one of multiple references that would not be anachronistic to the story’s timeline –  but are the two connected? There was also a detective novel with the same title, but in 1948, a year after the film was released, and far after the time frame of its story. Clearly this bears further research. I shall report any conclusive findings.

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