DATELINE: Spirit Network, Pre-Cable
Natwick, Bacall, Colbert, Hover Over Coward
With the passing of Lauren Bacall not a few weeks ago, and with the recent live television event of Peter Pan, we were moved to a degree of nostalgia.
We went on a scavenger hunt to find one of the few performances by Miss Bacall that we had missed along the way: her live television role as Elvira in Blithe Spirit, a 1956 production with Claudette Colbert and Noel Coward, starring and directing his most clever and brilliant light comedy.
Video Collectors of California actually had a black & white edition, rare and seldom seen, but worth every moment. To think that audiences at home decades ago had live television plays with major stars shames today’s world of hundreds of cable channels with shoddy repeats.
Colbert and Bacall play the two wives of Charles Condomine, a second-rate writer who wants to do a book on charlatan mediums. Mildred Natwick reprises her 1940s Broadway stage role here as dotty, cliché ridden Madame Acarti.
The result is magical. With special effects done live, and well before computer generated efforts, we have understated and perfectly fitting ghostly shenanigans. You see, Mr. Condomine’s first wife (Bacall) is dead—and returns unceremoniously to haunt his second wife (Colbert).
Crossed between the full-blown movie version and stage depictions, the television version is remarkable for its medium range. It has the best of both worlds, spiritual and physical, as well as film and primitive video.
Directed by the author and with his debonair send-up style, Noel Coward provides a delicious concoction. And, the television production is true to the play’s ending.
If you want an unusual treat, it would pay to look for this DVD version of the Emmy-winning show from the Golden Age of Television.
Wonderful and wondrous, we enjoyed every second.