“Haunted…..how perfectly fascinating!”
Recently widowed Lucy Muir has left her London lodgings – and her in-laws – to come to White Cliff-on-the-sea with her daughter and loyal housemaid. There, situated atop a lovely coastal cliff, she finds her ideal home….Gull Cottage. It is up for rent.
“And priced at only 54 pounds per week. That’s very inexpensive for a furnished house.”
Strong-minded Lucy will not even let the thought of a ghost scare her away from Gull Cottage. The idea of returning to London and the life she led before is not a choice she wants to consider. Yea, even the gruff and determined Captain Daniel Gregg – the apparition she comes to meet there one dark and stormy night – yields to her wish to remain at his beloved home.
During their coming year together, a gentle love blossoms between this roguish sea captain and the spirited Victorian widow. She comes to see Captain Gregg not only as a dear friend but as an anchor and a pillar of support. Their relationship deepens when Lucy – forced to earn money for payment of the cottage – pens the captain’s memoirs, “Blood and Swash”. However, when she meets the suave author Miles Fairley (George Sanders) while at the publishing house, the Captain realizes that his “Lucia” may be wanting the love, companionship, and reality of a mortal man.
“Real happiness is worth almost any risk…. but be careful me dear, there may be breakers ahead”
Joseph Mankiewicz‘s wonderfully whimsical fantasy was released in theatres in 1947 to great commercial success. It was based on the novel, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir written two years earlier by author Josephine Leslie, who – like her character Lucy Muir – published her book under a much more masculine pseudonym…R.A. Dick.
20th Century Fox purchased the rights to the story shortly after its publication and selected Philip Dunne to rework it into a fitting screenplay for a feature film. Philip Dunne was a very talented screenwriter who had been nominated for an Academy Award in 1941 for How Green Was My Valley. He retained much of the essence of the book, and much of the plot, too – with the exception of eliminating the character of Mrs. Muir’s son.
Rex Harrison is superb as our beloved sea captain – handsome, brawny, and blazed-eyed….a man in every sense of the word. While Gene Tierney is his perfect mate: beautiful, prim and respectable. And what they both shared was the spirit of adventure in their souls.
“How you’d of loved the North Cape and the fjords and the midnight sun…to sail across the reef at Barbados where the blue waters turn to green….to the Falklands, where a southerly gale rips the whole sea white…..Oh, what we’ve missed Lucia! What we’ve both missed.”
The rest of this excellent cast includes George Sanders (playing his usual deliciously sly self ), character actress Edna Best as Mrs. Muir’s right hand arm and dear companion Martha, little Natalie Wood as daughter Anna, English stage legend Isobel Elsom as Lucy’s mother-in-law, Robert Coote as the real-estate agent, Anna Lee as “the wife”, and Austrian actress Vanessa Brown as the grown-up Anna.
Lucy Muir is quite an independent woman for the turn-of-the-century. Young, innocent and idealistic, she had married a man who had swept her off her feet, only to discover that he was not the romantic she had thought him to be. After his death, she wants to live a life of her own, free to make decisions without anyone warning her of society’s views on her actions. She finds her true self and her peace at Gull Cottage. And there amongst the splendor of the ocean she does not dream of her husband returning to life, but rather of a Gothic hero, a Flying-Dutchman spirit of adventure. A man who worships her as much as the fairest Lady he ever knew…the mighty Sea herself.
In the hands of another director, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir may have been a tragic story…a story of lost love and regret and of a woman living out an empty life of isolation. But instead, under the direction of Joseph Mankiewicz, it becomes a magnificent magical romance. Gentle and warm and humorous, too. A tale of love transcending all boundaries.
Constance Metzinger runs the website Silver Scenes, “a blog for classic film lovers.”
This article originally ran on MovieFanFare last year