Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Ghost & Mrs. Muir

This movie is among my all-time favorites. Released in 1947 starring Rex Harrison as the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg and Gene Tierney as the “obstinate” widowed young mother Lucy Muir in turn of the century England – Whitecliff-by-the-Sea. After an appropriate period of mourning, Lucy finally escapes the clutches of her smothering in-laws.

Lucy is a woman of limited means; her deceased husband having failed to provide for her and their daughter. There is a small income from a gold mine that finances Lucy’s move. Her circumstances force her to take an inexpensive rental– and Gull Cottage at Whitecliff-by-the-Sea fits the bill. We don’t know why it’s so cheap, but we are soon to find out that it’s haunted by the ghost of Captain Gregg. The story circulating town is that the Captain committed suicide necessitating the haunts.

A crashing thunderstorm, a black night. Electricity doesn’t exist in all homes yet, and Lucy maneuvers, candle in hand, to the kitchen in search of her hot water bottle. The scene is set. Her candle keeps mysteriously blowing out. We all know who is blowing out the candle. Screwing up her courage, Lucy verbally confronts the ghost. She’s not leaving, and he’d better get used to it. Out from the shadows walks the imposing Captain Gregg. Lucy and Daniel come face to face, toe to toe. Neither will back down.

Lucy’s pluck arouses the Captain’s admiration; he gives her a trial. His death was accidental, not suicide, and he haunts because he doesn’t want anyone in the house. Lucy seems to be the epitome of a fussy Victorian lady, but she has a streak of independence and strength. The irascible Daniel, though dead, positively exudes animal magnetism and though a player in life, he displays signs of sensitivity; conversant with poetry, he designed his home and built it himself. Our characters develop a mutual fondness and respect.

Lucy’s gold mine peters out and she is faced with destitution and possibly being forced to move back in with the in-laws. We see Lucy’s more vulnerable side here, unsure what to do, she leans on the man in her life; Captain Gregg. In turn, it is apparent that Lucy has become important to Daniel – faced with the prospect of losing her, he tells her to stay, that they would think of something. Both a far cry from when they first met – Lucy determined to be independent and Daniel determined not to bring a woman aboard his ship. A plan is hatched; they collaborate on a book – Blood and Swash! (what a great title) “the unvarnished tale of a seaman’s life”. Lucy is invited to call Captain Gregg by his given name, Daniel. And Daniel calls Lucy “Lucia. A name befitting an Amazon.”

During the course of their collaboration, Daniel and Lucia’s feelings deepen. One of the magnificent aspects of the film are the passionate emotions brewing beneath the surface. Brilliantly unspoken, only intimated. When the book is finished Lucia only asks, “What is to become of us, Daniel? You and me.”

This is so much more than a love story. It’s a story of sacrifice, of longing, of time, of waiting and of enduring. Lucy’s loneliness over the passage of years is a mere echo to Daniel’s aching words when he lets her go. “What we’ve missed Lucia. What we’ve both missed.”

Bernard Herrmann’s score (which you have been listening to) so perfectly punctuates not only the passage of time but the yearning felt in both these characters. It’s creepy and it’s achy. It’s gentle and it’s powerful. It’s dark and it’s soft. In the end it’s full of hope and love fulfilled. I close my eyes and see the breakers on the shore and I can feel longing in my soul.

Can you say chick flick? Yes you can. I have yet to meet a woman who hasn’t just sighed at the end of this movie. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this film, but I always melt at the end.

I just always felt bad that Martha was going to have to clean up that spilt milk.


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