Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney.
A year after her husband's death, widow Lucy Muir has made the bold decision to move to the coastal village of Whitecliff-by-the-Sea with her young daughter and housekeeper. It's a decision that's derided by her sister-in-law and mother-in-law--but Lucy (Gene Tierney) knows her mind and no one is going to change it.

A village realtor learns that same lesson when he tries to talk Lucy out of renting Gull Cottage, an isolated home previously owned by a sea captain. Lucy falls in love with Gull Cottage instantly--despite the rumors that it's haunted by the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison). On the family's first night in their new home, Captain Gregg appears before Lucy. Instead of screaming and running away, Lucy talks with the salty sea man and convinces him to let her family stay on a "trial basis."

It's the beginning of a friendship between Lucy and Daniel that develops into something more. But what future can there be in the love between a very human woman and a ghostly man?

Gene Tierney as Lucy Muir.
Based on Josephine Leslie's 1945 novel, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1948) is a grand Hollywood romance made with care and craftsmanship. Set at the turn of the century, it offers a unique mix of quaint charm and haunting imagery. Famed cinematographer Charles Lang earned an Oscar nomination for his striking black-and-white photography. Composer Bernard Herrmann should have been honored as well. His beautiful, expressive score will linger with you long after the movie. The composer considered The Ghost and Mrs. Muir his finest film score. Entire books have been written about it (e.g., Bernard Herrmann's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir: A Film Score Guide).

George Sanders as a suitor.
While The Ghost and Mrs. Muir earned mixed reviews on its original release, it has become a bona fide classic over the years. In the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest movie love stories, it ranked #73 (far too low in my opinion). Its enduring popularity has much to do with the natural chemistry between stars Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison and Philip Dunne's masterful screenplay that makes the audience invest fully in this unlikely romance. It helps, too, to have a wonderful supporting cast that features George Sanders as a cad (who writes children's books, no less) and Edna Best as Mrs. Muir's housekeeper and friend.

In hindsight, it's also interesting to note that Lucy Muir is a very strong, independent woman for a Hollywood romance of this period. She takes bold risks, doesn't frighten easily, and isn't afraid to face loneliness. One of the film's best scenes is when she reflects back on her life with her grown daughter near the end.

Hope Lange & Edward Mulhare.
Though The Ghost and Mrs. Muir has never been remade, it was adapted for radio twice: in 1947 with Madeleine Carroll and Charles Boyer and in 1951 with Jane Wyatt and Charles Boyer. It was adapted into a TV sitcom in 1968 with Hope Lange as Carolyn Muir and Edward Mulhare as Captain Gregg. The TV series added another child (as in the novel) and a dog. The show only lasted two years--despite the fact that Hope Lange won two Emmys for playing Mrs. Muir!


  1. It is such a pleasure to read of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir today. The TV series is a favourite childhood memory, and the movie is simply glorious.

  2. One of my favorite movies. I wish Tierney and Harrison made another movie together; they really had great chemistry.

  3. Nice review, Rick. Here is the one I wrote a while back: I hope it is not considered bad form to post a link to a review on another reviewer's blog. If it is, I will be happy to delete the link.

  4. This has long been one of my favorites and also a film which I feel deserves to be better known by those outside the classic film community.

  5. I love this film. It is one of those classics of which I never tire.

  6. My thoughts exactly! Their chemistry was magical. I am surprised they didn't act in another film together.