The first and best of Hollywood’s ghostly romances is Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. There’s a delicacy and purity in the storytelling here that’s somewhat missing in other noble attempts to capture the same sort of emotional magic which this film generates, and the performances and the supreme accomplishments of the Hollywood studio system at its peak are evident in every frame of this work. Portrait of Jeannie, Ghost: they’re wonderful in their own ways, but The Ghost and Mrs. Muir somehow manages to retain its haunting attraction through generations of films that have come after.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono), English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 1.0 DD (Mono), French 5.1 DTS, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 44 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 12/03/2013
Seeking to have an independent life after becoming a widow, Mrs. Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) leaves her mother-in-law’s home and leases Gull Cottage, a notorious seaside dwelling supposedly haunted by the ghost of its previous owner Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison). The place is indeed haunted, but Gregg admires the young widow’s plucky determination to live her life on her own terms and allows her to stay. Over time, the two become dependent on each other for emotional grounding, and when Mrs. Muir’s legacy dries up and is in need of money, Gregg dictates his salty biography to her which becomes an enormous seller and allows her freedom from monetary woes. But a widow as lovely and charming as Mrs. Muir is hardly one to be ignored by eligible gentlemen, and another author Miles Fairley (George Sanders) comes calling and claims her heart. Faced with the prospect of losing Lucy, Gregg decides to dematerialize and leave her in peace wiping away memories of the many pleasant hours they had spent together, not realizing that Fairley is not really who he claims to be.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Based on the novel by R.A. Dick, the screenplay by Philip Dunne creates the character of Gregg as a ghostly entity who can be seen, heard, and experienced by the family (as we come to know later, Mrs. Muir isn’t his only family contact), a brilliant alteration from the novel which adds great humor and romantic impetus to the entire picture. Mankiewicz’s direction is so fresh and stylishly confident: Captain Gregg’s first full screen appearance as he emerges out of shadows in a darkened kitchen and his equally haunting exit late in the movie as he slowly fades away from the frame and from her memory. These are but two of the indications that Mankiewicz certainly had a striking visual sense that he isn’t always given credit for as a director, and he fills the film with chic touches: Lucy and the effete realtor Mr. Coombe’s (Robert Coote) exploration of Gull Cottage near the movie’s beginning, the walks on the beach past her daughter’s (the tiny Natalie Wood as a child, Vanessa Brown as an adult) deteriorating wooden marker noting the passage of years, all the ways he plays with light and shadow setting the proper romantic or indifferent atmospheres in various parts of the film. And all of this plaintive tone is aided by one of Bernard Herrmann’s most achingly beautiful, tender, and evocative scores which complements each mood, twist, and turn of the story.
Gene Tierney gives a glowing, lovely performance as the spirited yet somehow slightly vulnerable Mrs. Muir, one of the true highlights of her career as a major film star. Rex Harrison matches her step for step, mood for mood as the alternately blustering and tender Captain Gregg. It’s marvelous to see his spiky personality smooth out and eventually soften into one of genuine love and concern due to his involvement with Mrs. Muir. Third-billed George Sanders doesn’t enter until almost an hour into the movie, but he plays his persuasively unctuous cad with all of his customary aplomb. Natalie Wood gets very little screen time here (another 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street offered her far greater opportunities) as the obedient child: indeed we see very little of Mrs. Muir’s mothering skills since the focus on the film remains constantly on the relationship between the two title characters. Edna Best is a welcome presence as housekeeper Martha and Robert Coote as the rather prissy realtor earns some early laughs (he even comes courting after a fashion though Gregg certainly won’t permit it). As the nastiest in-laws imaginable, Isobel Elsom and especially Victoria Horne make vividly negative impressions.
The film is presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio offering 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. It’s a striking image with consistently excellent sharpness and no signs of any age-related defects (a tiny hair in the left hand corner appears near the end of the film) to mar the viewing experience. The grayscale is quite handsome and most effective surprisingly achieved with only mediocre black levels. Contrast has been dialed in superbly. The film has been divided into 22 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The disc offers DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 and 5.1 sound mixes. Both are effective and both retain just a touch of attenuated hiss in quieter moments, but the full breadth of Bernard Herrmann’s magnificent score is available in the 5.1 mix which I used for the majority of the review period. There are some slight ambient sounds placed in the rears (the gentle lapping of the sea, an occasional faint gull cry), but fidelity is excellent throughout with some notable uses of the LFE channel during a violent storm or when thunder crashes to make a suitable point. Dialogue is always discernible and has been placed in the center channel.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentaries: two commentaries are present shared by four film experts. The first (and better of the two) has visual effects expert Greg Kimble sharing commentary duties with Bernard Herrmann expert Christopher Husted. The second features film historian Jeanine Basinger (who does more analysis but also describes screen contents too often) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz biographer Kenneth Geist. Both are informative commentaries worthy of a listen.
Special Features Rating: 2.5/5
Theatrical Trailer (2:39, SD)
One of the great romantic fantasies from the golden era of Hollywood, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir continues to weave its evocative spell decades after its premiere with a story, characters, performances, and production that show Hollywood at its zenith. Highly recommended!
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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