Anna Campbell

September 2011


Ghosts are the new Black

MFTsept11-2  I could have sworn I’d already done a favorite things post on The Ghost and Mrs Muir. Clearly I’m losing my mind because I hadn’t. I hadn’t even done a blog on it. And it seems such a no-brainer as a subject when it’s one of my all-time favorite movies.

Anyway, my neglect of this obvious subject for an MFT worked out really well. As part of the launch of my mini novella “The Chinese Bed” from The Mammoth Book of Ghost Romance (out in the UK 6th September), I can continue the ghostly shenanigans of this month’s website updates. When I was writing “The Chinese Bed”, I remember describing it to the anthology’s editor as more The Ghost and Mrs Muir than Night of the Living Dead. I wanted to convey a similar beautiful romantic melancholy.

MFTsept11-3The Ghost and Mrs Muir is based on a 1945 novel by R.A. Dick (which I haven’t read) and was made in 1947 by 20th Century Fox. Joseph L. Manckiewicz directed (he’s probably best known for All About Eve in 1950 and Cleopatra in 1963). It was photographed in luminous black and white (if they ever colorize this, the end of the world is nigh) by Charles Lang, who also shot Some Like It Hot, another black and white masterpiece.

It’s clear we’re in old school movie territory. And I just love it. This film is vivid with unashamed romanticism.

Young widow Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) defies her bullying in-laws and sets up home in Gull Cottage at Whitecliff-on-the-Sea on the English coast. The house is haunted by mercurial ghost Captain Daniel Greg (Rex Harrison) who is rumoured to have killed himself (there’s some nice touches of black humor on this subject, believe me! Actually there’s plenty of humor in the film even if here I’ve concentrated on the emotional highlights). Automatically we have a wonderful conflict separating the two lovers – I mean, Captain Greg is dead. That’s a genuine obstacle to true love!

MFTsept11-1Lucy and Daniel fall in love but when a suitor (a superbly slimy George Sanders) enters the scene, Daniel metaphorically falls on his sword (perhaps dives headfirst from the cliff would be more appropriate imagery here) and disappears from Lucy’s world so she has a chance of happiness in this life. Awww. Don’t you just love it when the guy’s so noble?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this film. When I was a kid, it seemed to be on TV all the time and I remember it creeped me out until I was old enough to respond to the sizzling unresolved sexual tension. I must have been about 12 when I really fell in love with this story about passions frustrated in this world and only fulfilled in the next. It struck me then (and still does) as such a romantic film. The powerful love between Daniel and Lucy infuses the whole story and I never fail to cry at the end when they’re finally united for eternity.

MFTsept11-4Another scene that always brings tears to my eyes is the magnificent moment when Daniel relinquishes the woman he loves for what he believes is her own good.

If you haven’t seen this before, a couple of things I’m sure struck you. One is how beautiful Gene Tierney is. Another is how sexy and compelling Rex Harrison is. Check out the way he looks at her as though she’s the most gorgeous thing he’s ever beheld and the poignancy of that last ‘m’darling’ is so sharp, it cuts like a knife. Beautiful. I wonder if he’s free to haunt my place!

And the music. Bernard Hermann’s score is one of the most evocative ever written. It’s rich and symphonic and the way he writes the various moods of the sea that binds Lucy and Daniel together is breathtaking. Listen for the way the harps play the sparkle of the sun on the waves or how those few slow poignant harp notes at the end of the scene above echo Daniel’s reluctance to leave the woman he loves. I often write to this soundtrack – perfect music to accompany a romance novel.

I could go on! All I can say is if you haven’t seen this film, watch it pronto. If you have seen it, I’m sure I’m speaking to the converted. When I say this is a haunting film, I’m only make a SMALL pun.