I’ve seen The Ghost And Mrs. Muir several times and blast it if this salty old dog of a movie doesn’t suck me in every time I watch it, its dreamy tale of impossible, yet enduring love washing over this crusty old barnacle of a viewer like the roiling English surf featured so prominently in this film.
Aye, in fact, there probably be some landlubbers out there among you that might think this ancient mariner had a tear or two in his eye during a few of the movie’s more emotional moments, but stow that sort of chatter matey! It was only the nor’easter blowing into me open windows and spraying me in the face! Dang squalls!
Gene Tierney (Leave Her To Heaven, Laura) is Lucy Muir, a recently widowed gal who has to figure out what she’s going to do with the rest of her life. Her irritating in-laws think she should live with them, but Lucy isn’t one of these wimpy chicks who does what society’s norms dictates and announces that she, her daughter, and her housekeeper are all going to move into this nice little haunted seaside cottage whether they like it or not. She’ll make ends meet by living off the shares of her dead husband’s gold mine and they don’t have to worry about her.
Her own housekeeper? Haunted seaside cottage? Dead husband’s shares in a gold mine? This just goes to show you how great a movie this is! In spite of some of the more eccentric details, it all works. Besides, if you’re going to be buying a ghostly sea captain and a young widow falling in love, the set up doesn’t seem all that questionable, does it?
Once at the haunted cottage, the ghost of Captain Gregg (Cleopatra‘s Rex Harrison) doesn’t take too long to make himself known to Lucy. He’s run all the previous tenants out of the house because he has a special affinity for it (he designed it himself after all) and always wanted it turned into a home for retired seaman. He died without a will because of an accident and is hilariously indignant that the coroner ruled it a suicide.
Lucy shows the same backbone she did with her in-laws by not being cowed by the ghost and Captain Gregg admires her for this and agrees to let her stay at the house. The plan is that she’ll have the house turned into that retirement home once she dies. Trouble comes though when her dead husband’s gold mine runs dry and his shares stop paying dividends. Silly plot points like that always have a way of giving out just when a new silly plot point needs to start.
Without any money, how will Lucy continue to stay at the house with her ghostly pal? Even after seeing this so many times I still laugh out loud on each viewing when Captain Gregg announces that they would get the money by him writing a book!
It will be all about his life and be called “Blood and Swash.” And since you can’t very well claim it was written by a ghost, the author will simply be “Captain X.” He also says that he wants her to call him Daniel and that he will call her Lucia, because Lucy as a name sucks.
Only after they’ve completed the book does Lucy, I mean, Lucia, realize how close she’s gotten to the Captain and she frets about what will happen to them from this point on. The Captain is a noble sort and says that she has to go on living and needs to go out and meet people, like, um, men with actual bodies. But is he saying what his heart feels or what his head knows is best?
The years go by and the Captain disappears once it seems that Lucy has found someone else. His departing speech to her as she sleeps is among the emotional highlights of the film. Lucy ends up alone as she grows older and though she has grown to think that the Captain was just a dream she had years ago, you realize that she is just marking time until she can finally be reunited with him.
The film’s conclusion is painfully bittersweet as you realize what Lucy had to give up to finally get what she always wanted. Though it’s one of my favorite films, I wondered what it was saying about how to live your life. Is it better to retreat into yourself and live in a dream world of a love that can never be than it is to go out seeking someone to spend your life with, but risk having your heart broken again?
Captain Gregg himself tells Lucy this very thing – that happiness is worth almost any risk. But then again, if she’s only truly happy with Captain Gregg, isn’t it worth risking wasting her mortal life away in the hopes that someday they will be together again? I guess how you choose to live your life all depends on whether your boyfriend is a ghost or not.
Alternately haunting, funny, sad, and ultimately fulfilling, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir stands out as one of the great, emotionally powerful romances. Benefiting from the two stars’ on-screen affinity for one another, it draws you in as soon as they have their first scene together and you root for it all to work out for them the rest of the movie. Now can some scupper close that infernal window? That blasted rain keeps getting in me eyes!
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