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Entertainment & Media

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – A Very Rad Review

Jasmine Roberts

Volume 4 Issue 1

November 6, 2023

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – A Very Rad Review

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The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a classic supernatural romance, film noir of 1947. Starring Gene Tierney, as the titular Lucy Muir and esteemed actor Rex Harrison, as the Ghost. Directed by well accomplished filmmaker Joseph Mankiewicz, it bases itself on the book written by R.A. Dick, or more truthfully, Josephine Leslie. This movie could perfectly be summed up as a blend of the classic noir characteristics of idealistic romance, a stunning contrast of black and white, and the charming transatlantic accents with the supernatural and the melancholic sadness of lost love. The film creates not only an artistically beautiful film, which emphasizes the beauty of intimacy, but also a nuanced and heartfelt perspective on two of the most natural parts of human existence, time and love. The viewer’s heart has no choice but to flutter and yearn for the passion each protagonist shares for one another, even after years have passed. If it was not apparent enough, I will gladly say that The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is one of my most beloved films, and inherently one of the loveliest Romance films to date. 

The story takes place in 1900s Britain, following Mrs. Muir after the death of her husband, leaving her a widow in a period of patriarchal dependency. The now widowed Muir decides to move to an abode near the seaside, in the small village of Whitecliff, to the dismay of her family and the dismay of the realtor who sells her the home, as Gull Cottage is rumored to be haunted by its previous host, a man who had committed an unfortunate act of suicide; however, Muir decides to rent the home, allowing the widow’s life to change in ways that no mere skeptic could rightfully explain…  

We open to a scene of Lucy discussing her future with her family-in-law. Her sister and mother are distraught at her departure and are actively begging the widow to stay. Her mother in-law is crying into a handkerchief from losing the only remembrance of her late son, while Lucy’s sister in-law is questioning her ability to raise her daughter, Anna, on her own. Lucy, however, is calm and collected, she is blunt in her answers and makes sure to correctly point out, that she is merely an in-law, who does not have connections to her husband’s family other than by law. She freely states that after her husband's death, she now has her own life to live.

 When I first watched this movie, I was very young, around 6 or 7. I couldn’t appreciate the tasteful depiction of Lucy as an intelligent woman who understands what she wants, but after my fifth viewing of this movie, it has now greatly surprised me how independent Lucy is, in a time period of the late Edwardian era to early Victorian era. Women of this time were frequently considered more desirable, the less opiniated and assertive they were. If a women allowed herself the independence Lucy has decided to uphold, she would have been considered mentally ill and even branded with the misogynistic illness named female hysteria. Though we could blame this more feminist take on the fact that the author of the book is movie is based on is a woman, and also the time this movie was created, 1947, which was two years after the second world war, a time when women worked in the factories and the iconic illustration Rosie the Riveter was created. It still should be noted that the 40’s were not kind to women and strongly harbored objective views on how women should live their lives, so it was refreshing to see a take that showed not only a bold woman of the early 20th century, but also depicts this in the late 20th century. 

This movie also wonderfully illustrates Lucy’s personality as soon as she is on screen. As any film hobbyist will explain to you, it is imperative to establish your characters once they are first introduced. This allows the viewer to immerse themselves into the movie, but also makes the select characters' behavior and choices more sensible to the characterization as the story progresses. When we meet Lucy, she is shown to understand what she wants and even though she is a woman in the 19th century, she is blunt and does not sugar-coat her words, so it makes sense that she would want to live independently on her own, away from those who seem to enforce such traditional behaviors. Lucy’s choices make sense and allow me to forget my troubles and completely follow the story of Mrs. Muir and the ghost. I believe that some directors now, seem to not understand how jarring it can be to suspend your disbelief with every scene and decision a character makes, this movie understands that hassle and makes sure not to make those same mistakes.  

The movie continues to masterfully use Lucy’s early characterization to both make her decisions make sense and also build on her character. After, we are shown a quite short montage of Mrs. Muir moving to Whitecliff, we settle on a scene of Lucy trying to rent a home, from a realtor, Mr. Coombe. He guides Mrs. Muir to a seat next to him and begins to show her different listings, which all seem to be too expensive, except one. Gull Cottage. Mr. Coombe puts the paper aside again in anxious haste, explaining to Lucy that she would be wasting her time; however, Lucy picks up the paper once again, and holds her ground. She, adamant that she wants Gull Cottage and is not afraid to disagree with the man who speaks down to her, even threatening to leave him without business. The first major first scene and the second major scene wove together into a knit of splendid story telling. These scenes need one another to make Lucy. The first scene shows why she would not be scared to double down with her want of Gull Cottage, while the second scene shows how a characterization like this would apply to the real world. Some would say that scenes like this have little to do with the overall review of this movie, but I disagree with such an opinion. This is a romance movie, and romance movies need relationship dynamics for viewers to apply to our own realities. Lucy’s personality, as we will see, makes her and the ghost’s romance lovely to watch, especially in a movie of supernatural and paranormal idealism. 

Lucy is driven to the Cottage and on the outside, the home is decrepit and wild, in the inside it is plain and blanketed with dust. But this isn’t the most fundamental part of the film. No. It is when Lucy opens an inconspicuous door of the Cottage and is intrigued by an illuminated painting of a man with dark, brooding eyes, wearing the hat of a captain. 

This is our first introduction to The Ghost. It is a wonderful way to introduce a character and illustrate how the viewer should see this man. The image of a hyper realistic painting in a pitch black room, with the only light source being directly upon this mysterious man's face, not only tells us that we should remember his presence, but also creates an air of suspense, as we want to know more about this man and why a painting of him is so important to be directly emphasized upon. The light on this painting is also eerie. It illuminates upon an uncanny valley depiction of this gentleman, bringing a life to him, that should not be there, it feels as though he knows you are in his home, he sees you, and he knows what you are doing. The black and white contrast of the movie also creates this aura of mystery of both fear and intrigue. Even something as simple as the hat upon his head is a great way to tell us who this painted man is without directly stating so. In context, Gull Cottage is near a beach, so when the captain hat is shown, it tells the viewer right away that this man has worked at sea, and most likely appreciates it, as to then live right near it. 

The usage of the bright light is a stylistic, somewhat impressionist way of shooting this scene, because realistically in an all dark room, that does not have any obvious source, light does not appear in one area, but the light works so well because it feels supernatural, as if a ghost is haunting this portrait, and could even express how Lucy sees this man. A handsome gentleman, that draws attention with his aesthetic powerfulness, a man that the heart leads towards, to find some sanctity in his love. 

When they learn that the home was owned by the late Captain Gregg, we aren’t told anything after that, leaving the viewer with more questions that shall not be answered. The lovely Lucy seems to already adore this home and has already fallen in love with it. This scene shows a significant way of how the Ghost and Mrs. Muir will connect. Their taste in furniture can strongly allude to their sensibilities about life, as where furnishing is where you live for the majority of your life. A shared taste in furniture is also a shared belief in how individuals should live. 

Lucy has fallen in love with the home, and especially the room in which the painting resides, but there is a tree that exists on the outside of a large bay window, which she finds hideous, and tells the realtor she will have chopped down. At that moment, she freezes in place once the words have left her mouth. The instruments which play in the background have risen in intensity, and Mrs. Muir looks surprised, like she has felt a chilling presence, but nothing is there… right? We will discuss this later. 

A few more occurrences occur, which point to paranormal activity, such as food being left loosely upon a table, as the charwomen who had visited left in a haste, and a telescope located in the main bedroom, being clean when no one has lived in the home for 4 years, leaving the rest of the cottage dusty and old. But most chilling is the disembodied laugh which echoes through the main bedroom, as the realtor runs away in fear. These are good ways to foreshadow the existence of the ghost, as now the viewer knows there is a supernatural being roaming around, and one can piece together who it is, yet the viewer knows very little about the ghost. It both lets us on the secret yet leaves us out the loop. Questions surely need to be answered, so the viewer continues to watch the film, hoping their queries will be resolved in due time.  

Mrs. Muir still decides to take the home, she is skeptic of a ghost actually haunting the cottage, but the thought does not frighten her. It hints that she wants to understand the ghost, while others run away from terror. So, she moves in and begins living with her maid, Martha. 

A scene which I deeply appreciated was when Mrs. Muir discusses feelings of inadequacy. It foreshadows later events, ties into her characterization while adding a conflict, and creates agency in a female character when in other films, even modern ones, women are shown to have little. Every scene in a movie should progress the plot in some shape or form and this simple scene, as Mrs. Muir walks up the stairs, does this exact thing creatively. 

When Lucy is put down for a short nap, the viewer is welcomed to a dynamic shot of a clock, ticking. Showing the passage of time, it’s a loud ding that tells the watcher that something important will be showing soon, the camera shows Lucy’s barking dog, then lingers on the figure of a shadow, as it creeps towards Lucy. The film is amazing at shooting suspense, we know who that this shadow is the ghost, but now we are waiting for Lucy to know, though she continues to stay oblivious and wakes up in a haze, the clock is shown again, and the lighting dims, reminding the viewer that time has passed.  

Lucy knows very little of the Ghost, she lives her life without the knowledge of the dead, Until one stormy night. Lucy places her daughter to sleep, as lightning strikes, creating a comfy, yet haunting effect when contrasted with the traditional black and white film. Lucy, with one candle in her hand walks throughout the cottage and opens the door to the room which houses the illuminating painting, she glows once again, then vanishes with the dark. The ghost will appear soon.  

Mrs. Muir then lends herself in the kitchen, she tries to create light, but is disturbed by the hectic wind which blows the light. Mrs. Muir realizes it is the ghost and confronts him, she isn’t shy nor meek, instead she yells at him for being such a coward as to terrorize a poor lady. In response the ghost speaks. His domineering voice tells Lucy to allow light. Which she does and begins to show around the kitchen only to stop once she sees the Ghost in person. She is frightened, but I would say scared. More like surprised at such a sight, that should defy the laws of nature. 

The Ghost, however, seems to be more agitated than anything. Rex Harrison played the Ghost like a melodious flute. Everything present around the Ghost alludes to who he is as a person, from his informal, and scratchy tone to his rough beard. It helps the viewer draw correct conclusions on this sea torn man. He is ill-tempered and badly mannered, which contrast Mrs. Muir respectable, kind personality. As soon as these two meets, we are shown a sweet dynamic, where opposites attract to create the most wonderous of love. 

The two begin on shaky grounds. The Ghost is crude and misogynistic, finding solace in insulting others, especially women. He wants Mrs. Muir ousted from his past home, while Mrs. Muir refuses to leave. This causes a certain tension amongst the two, they argue and bicker, for Lucy is not a woman who is ordered around, while the ghost has his own wants, which Lucy refuses to allow him. But the ghost seems to have developed a soft spot for Lucy, due to her refusal to run away, and allows her to stay on a trial. The two continue to quarrel and argue, frequently clashing with one another's personalities, for instance when Lucy cuts down the tree, she deemed ugly when she first looked at the place, to then find out the Ghost planted the tree with his own bare hands. The argument is sweet to watch, it is like seeing an old married couple bicker in public. The Ghost nags Lucy about it, while the women hold her cool, demanding roses instead. They also connect in ways that are emotional. The Ghost has realized that Lucy didn’t actually love her husband, but merely liked him, a deeply hidden truth, which causes Lucy to become aghast. But through conversation, it is shown that he is right. Lucy says that her husband could not design the house she had moved into and loved so dearly, and when she asks who designed the home, the Ghost says that he created. This is similar to the furniture, these miniscule details show that they are on the same wavelength and through all their arguing, they still have a founded connection.  

The connection is shown even more when Lucy in-laws come to visit, bring bad news with them. The investment of her husband is paying dividends no more, forcing in a corner. With no more money to spare, she now has to move back in with the in-laws, which she finds little connection with. But, the Ghost refuses, and pridefully admits that he wants Mrs. Muir to stay with him in his own ornery manner. It is idealistic that in such a short period of time, these two would have a connection so profound, but it works so well because the connection between them was created before they had even met. They knew each other dearly before their words could ever clash. 

To remedy Mrs. Muir’s financial issue, the Ghost proposes that she write a book. He allows Lucy to write about his life as a captain, even though they haven’t known each other long, the captain seems to trust Mrs. Muir with his story. He evens tells her his name, Daniel, and nicknames Lucy, Lucia, explaining that the latter name, is strong and does not get forced upon. 

During their writing sessions, they begin to fall in love, as they fill in each other's gaps. Their bickering comes off as squabbles to hide their romantic tension, and even sometimes genuine flirts, for example when the Ghost begins to mock Lucy as a well-behaved young girl to then end with the compliments of her freckles. However, as their love grows the more unfortunate it becomes. Lucy is alive, while Daniel is dead. A love that is hindered by space and time, so Daniel must give Lucy up and direct her to fall in love with a living man. Their romance isn’t reconciled either, when Lucy meets another author named Miles Fairley and begin their own blossoming love. 

Daniel becomes jealous of their love at first, but ultimately decides to vanish in the night, leaving Lucy with merely a dream and idea of his existence, for he told Lucy to move on, so now the Ghost must move on too. But, not without his own sorrowful regrets. Lucy, however, doesn’t obtain the mortal love, The Ghost so desired her to get. Instead, she is left heartbroken, once she discovers that Miles, in an unfaithful man with two kids and a morose wife, who explains that Fairley makes it a habit to practice adultery with other women. Lucy withdraws into herself and forgoes the search for love, instead she grows lonely and tired, as her daughter leaves her to attend college and falls in love with her own future spouse. But her daughter leaves her with a few words relating to her secret crush as a child Daniel, who she has seen since the little girl had been living in Gull Cottage. As time grows and life begins to wane, Lucy’s health begins to diminish, she denies a cup of milk Martha offered to her and begins to grow tired. Time is merely a circle which documents our life throughout our years, and like any circle, there is a cycle to be maintained. Lucy dies in the same seat, in which she was first visited by the ghost. Daniel has come back to guide her to the heavens, and hand-in-hand the couple are delivered to the song of the angels. 

This movie cannot be explained, just in words. No. One must actively see how beautiful and loving this film is, by watching it on a cold, gloomy afternoon, with little to no natural nor artificial light. I couldn’t recommend it more! The symbolism of the clock, and of time, reminds those who view the movie, that nothing lasts forever, and we must cherish what we have now. This film has engraved itself into the edges of my heartstrings, and with every romantic memory I dare think, the water of my eyes begins to overflow, and the waterfall of my soul drowns me in sorrow and a hopeful yearning for the love so similar to that of the Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and for that I rate this movie: 

10/10 Crying Jasmines 

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