Who’d have thought the paranormal lives that touch reality from beyond the grave could be so charming? The Ghost and Mrs. Muir sees these eponymous two get along like a house on fire. Despite the rift between life and death, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s ghostly flirtations are warm and welcoming, even if one of the two love leads is cold and cadaver-like. Still, why should that stop him? Mankiewicz’s post-war work here highlights those strong, sentimental notes of dead heroes, and captures an odd little culture for the audience, those that wish to live on alongside their loved ones. That much is not possible, not just for the audience, but for the protagonist too.
Losing her husband the year before, Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) is ready to move on. Those around her disagree, but the strong will and excellent work Tierney provides convince them otherwise. Moving away to Whitecliff-by-the-Sea, Muir wishes for a fresh start, one far away from the overbearing relatives and those snooty British manners that suggest she shouldn’t move on from her days as a widow with her husband so soon removed from the land of the living. She carries the film with exceptional grace, capturing the scene and stealing the show from established supporting stars George Sanders and Anna Lee. No small feat, but the work behind the camera is integral in cementing this.
Mankiewicz’s direction is marvellous. Tricks of the camera make for sudden apparitions. Smart editing and tricks of the light cement the talents, providing an initial introduction to Capt. Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison). He and Tierney have exceptional chemistry, adopting the house as a verbal battleground. Sharp writing paves the way, and as these performers stagger through anger, betrayal and love, there is a sense of liveliness. Ironic, considering one of them is a ghost. That’s not much of a spoiler, as The Ghost and Mrs. Muir gives away its twist in the title. That doesn’t matter, though, the ghostly behaviour of Gregg is better known than unknown. He keeps his distance from Muir, and his odd eccentricities are never quite questioned. He reveals his state of dying rather immediately, but it doesn’t seem to affect the dynamic between the two. That lack of change is odd, but crucial for the narrative.
Despite its romantic tendencies, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir has early elements of horror spread throughout. There is something ghastly about the premise, and such terror is shown through a potentially haunted house, the laughter of the dead echoing down the stairs and into the rooms of a once warm house. “Medieval nonsense,” Muir calls it. She may not be convinced, but Mankiewicz does well to coax his audience into caring not just for her, but the apparition in her home as well. Landlubber this and seaman that, Gregg is a captain of the sea, if you couldn’t tell. It grates from time to time, but that is the point of it. How can two totally different people live together in harmony? They don’t and won’t, but persevere nonetheless.