Though technically not directing a script of his own, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's touch as a screenwriter is all over his fifth directorial effort, a supernatural fantasy that treats a ghost story as romantic comedy and pulls off a dazzlingly tender, wistful celebration of love. Working from Philip Dunne's adaptation of a pseudonymous novel by little-known Scottish novelist Josephine Leslie, Mr. Mankiewicz creates a surprisingly modern portrait of a woman: Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney), a widow in turn-of-the-century England determined to escape the stifling social conventions to move to a seaside cottage with her child and maid after the death of a husband she never truly loved. There Lucy will find love in the shape of a ghost: the curmudgeonly and very dead seaman Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison), with whom she strikes a deep friendship that merely underlines how this most pragmatic and common-sensed woman yearns for the human touch that has eluded her in the real world.

     While fitting into Hollywood's grand tradition of whimsical fantasy, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir also works as a crackerjack of a comedy, Ms. Tierney's airy elegance perfectly contrasting with Mr. Harrison' rakish, rogueish charms, and both actors delivering the fast-paced, quasi-screwball dialogue exquisitely. As the story moves from comedy to melodrama (as Lucy is wooed by George Sanders' seductive cad and begins to contemplate a new marriage), the film gains an added dimension of regret and sadness, highlighted by Mr. Mankiewicz's adroit pacing and smartly economical transitions marking the passing of time, and by Bernard Herrmann's lush, foreboding score. And it also becomes a prime example of Hollywood studio filmmaking giving birth to something that transcends it in surprisingly affecting, moving ways: a gentle, rueful meditation on love and loss, chance and regret.

Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders; Edna Best, Vanessa Brown, Anna Lee, Robert Coote, Natalie Wood, Isobel Elson, Victoria Horne.
     Director, Joseph L. Mankiewicz; screenplay, Philip Dunne, from the novel by R. A. Dick, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir; cinematography (b&w), Charles Lang Jr.; music, Bernard Herrmann; art directors, Richard Day, George Davis; wardrobe, Charles Le Maire, Eleanor Behm, Oleg Cassini; editor, Dorothy Spencer; producer, Fred Kohlmar (Twentieth Century-Fox), USA, 1947, 104 minutes.
     Screened: Cinemateca Portuguesa - Dr. Félix Ribeiro Theatre, Lisbon, February 7th 2012. 


Popular Posts