Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir


The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
Director: Joseph Mankiewicz
Starring: Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders

A young widow (Tierney) emancipates herself from her in-laws and moves herself and her young daughter (a young Natalie Wood) to a rustic seaside cottage. Problem is, the cottage is haunted by the singularly unthreatening ghost of a former sea captain (Harrison). The two strike up a friendship, as the captain allows Mrs. Muir to occupy his former house. When she is in need of money, he helps her get some by having her pen his biography. When she falls for a sleazy gentlemen (when has George Sanders ever NOT played a sleazeball?) he tries to protect her. Can the relationship between the ghost and Mrs. Muir overcome obstacles of love and mortality?

I can’t help but get the feeling that in the hands of a more competent actress, this would have been a much more compelling romantic drama. Despite the fact that she’s the title character in one of my all-time favorite films (Laura), Tierney was the weakest link of that particular film, and she is unquestionably the weakest link here. She is flat and unconvincing in her portrayal of Mrs. Lucy Muir. Mrs. Muir is supposedly some sort of Victorian feminist: insisting on casting off her obnoxious in-laws, anxious to live her own life, undeterred by the prospect of ghosts. Tierney, however, just can’t pull it off. We are supposed to watch Mrs. Muir’s voyage from uptight snooty widow to hair-let-down romantic, but Tierney is too clunky in her transition. When Mrs. Muir actually swears (granted, by saying “blast” and “push off”), it’s not in any way shocking or sensational or liberating. It’s awkward and laughable.


Rex Harrison fares better as Captain Gregg, clearly possessing more talent in his pinky than Tierney does as a whole. Still, although I like Harrison, his sea captain is a bit too audacious for audacious’ sake. He’s “salty” and “coarse,” and I know that because the dialogue keeps on telling me over and over again that he has no manners and is, in fact, salty and coarse. Over and over and over again. He's salty! He swears! (sort of) He has no manners! Really, the film tells me this so many times, it's like they're trying to hypnotize me. And then, let’s talk about the chemistry between him and Tierney. Oh wait, better yet, let’s not, because it’s not there. The two are almost as wooden around each other as are Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen in Star Wars Episode II. Poor Harrison. He can do so much better, but he’s not going to get there in this vapid black hole of a story.

Coming into the movie about an hour in is the refreshing breath of air that is George Sanders. Anything he does is fascinating. He walks in and instantly perks up the film, what with his smarmy, grinning, sleazy, unctuous character. Yet again, he plays exactly the sort of venomous snake as he did in Rebecca and All About Eve, but frankly, I don’t care. The film desperately needs some edge, and he manages to provide it. Of course, though, what happens next? He turns all lover, ooey gooey, “Ooh, Gene Tierney, tell me how much you love me,” which is not nearly as interesting as when he is being all mean and conniving. And then, even worse, he just stops showing up. The man is the best thing about the film, and he’s only in three scenes. MORE GEORGE SANDERS, I SAY!


Alright, so let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the filmmakers went back and recast the two leads in an effort to have SOME sort of passion between the two of them (and to find an actress who can... well, act). There would still be the rather blatant problem of the story. Ironically, in the film, several potshots are taken at the melodramatic fare "women novelists" of the Victorian and Edwardian era tended to churn out. Um… hello?!?! This is a classic example of such middling fare. I checked; the screenplay is based on a novel written by a woman. I really hate to denigrate my own sex, but really, this is pure schmaltz of exactly the vapid and insipid nature that "female novelists" developed a bad reputation for. It’s one step up from romance novels. Well, actually, I’m not so sure about that. At least romance novels have some sort of heat and chemistry between the two leads.

When I rewatched this movie recently, I had to stop watching this at least twice in order to do various and sundry chores around the house. I found myself grateful for these breaks because I needed a breather. Watching Tierney lifelessly carry a film is not the most compelling use of my afternoon. It’s a nice enough story, I guess, but just not my kind of romance. At all.

Arbitrary Rating: 4/10. The more I think about it, the lower I would rate it.