The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

by Jeanne Kane

Let’s go straight to the trivia bits: the Director, Joseph Mankiewicz, is little brother to Herman Mankiewicz (big time boozer who won the Oscar for Best Writing, Original Screenplay on Citizen Kane) and father to Tom Mankiewicz (who directed Dragnet , the 1987 movie version, and an episode of Hart to Hart, a 1970’s television series. What more can one say?). Joseph Mankiewicz started working for Paramount in the late 1920’s, but didn’t get to directing till 1946 when the he took over Dragonwyck after Director Ernst Lubitsch fell ill. This, his first film, is noteworthy because he also wrote it and because Gene Tierney (pictured here) starred in it with Vincent Price, and that’s probably about it. The big hits for Mankiewicz were A Letter to Three Wives (1949) which won him the Oscar for Best Director, and All About Eve (1950) which won him the Oscar for Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay.

Gene TierneyOne year and three movies into his directing career, Mankiewicz did The Ghost and Mrs. Muir . It’s a turn-of-the- century love story between a deceased sea captain who haunts his home to prevent renters from staying there and a young, widowed, single mother who rents the house and stays, despite the haunting. Gene Tierney is the widow, Lucy, who leaves her in-laws (a weepy mother-in-law and a brittle, domineering sister-in-law both of whom object to Lucy moving out and further, object to Lucy taking the maid with her) to have a life of her own. She heads for the coast with her daughter (played by the eight-year-old Natalie Wood), the maid, and the dog. Mr. Coombes, the tidy realtor, with a new motorcar - naturally - discourages Mrs. Muir from one of his listings, Gull Cottage, but this is the one she wants and gets, even after she discovers it is haunted by Captain Gregg (Rex Harrison). She moves in and this is when some of the cinematography gets really good.

Charles Lang (The Magnificent Seven, How the West Was Won, The Big Heat, just for starters) was an Oscar nominee for Best Black & White Cinematography for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. He creates wonderful shadowy shots that make you believe Captain Gregg has walked in the room out of nowhere. If you are willing to put aside Dr. Doolittle and some of the others, Rex Harrison is everything one would want in a Captain Gregg right down to the title of his autobiography Blood and Swash. He’s full of himself and his rages usually include great lines like: "I hate roses. I hope the whole blasted bed dies of blight." or "Confound it madam, my language is most controlled and as for me morals, I lived a man’s life and I’m not ashamed of it." George Sanders plays Miles Fairley a.k.a. Uncle Nettie, beloved children’s book writer. Lucy falls for him, but he is the bad guy who probably doesn’t get all the comeuppance he deserves.

Lucy meets Uncle Nettie at a publishing house. Captain Gregg has written Blood and Swash through Lucy, in order to raise money for her when her own income suddenly runs out. When she submits Blood and Swash for publication, the editor is won over and her bid for financial independence is a success. I suppose one could argue this point - just how independent is an independent woman, with a life of her own, who doesn’t write her own book, but has a man - albeit a ghost of one - write it through her?

Bernard Herrmann did the movie score. Herrmann’s music turns up in a lot of movies; it is hard not to come across one of his edgy scores (Taxi Driver, Vertigo, for example). The music for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, while a little more tame than some of the others, is just as appealing. Maybe I’ve watched the movie too many times or listened to the sound track too often, but Gene Tierney’s dream-like voice and Rex Harrison’s thunderous rages go along with the music as if they are two more instruments.

One more bit of trivia: Victoria Horne who plays Eva, the bristling sister-in-law, was married to Jack Oakie who has a long line up of movie credits mostly from the 1920’s through the 1940’s. Mankiewicz worked with Oakie as a screenwriter before he got into directing.

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