Five Movies with Spirits

 DATELINE: Oldies but Goodies

Mrs. Muir & Ghost

 

 

 

Crusty Dead Sea Captain?

You may well wonder why five of the most influential and fascinating fantasy films about timeless ghostly encounters were made in a short span of the 1940s.

Some theories have centered on the fact it was the time that millions of women lost their husbands and boyfriends to casualties of World War II.

Our selected films do feature a romantic drama complicated by the fatalism of war. Two movies present men (one maimed, one an alleged suicide), and two depict dead women (yearning for unrealized love).

The women characters grow up and grow old in long sequences of time passing. Two of the men are actually one man: Rex Harrison.

If you have not guessed the movies, here they are:

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, wherein Gene Tierney meets a salty and dead sea captain at her new home, Gull Cottage (see photo above). In Blithe Spirit, a sophisticated writer finds his first dead wife jealously returned to claim her husband. (See photo below). It’s the only one in color, if that’s your preference.

Playful Blithe Spirit Rutherford as Madam Acardi

Between Two Worlds features a shipload of dead people learning their fate—and finding heaven and hell are the same destination and destiny.

Go to Hell?  Go to Heaven or Hell?

Life apparently is filled with apparitions and reincarnated souls, as told by these literary-styled tales.

 

Jennie, Dead Dream Girl  Jennie, Dead Dream Girl?

Portrait of Jennie featured a painter whose model seems to age a few years with every sitting—and who died before they met. In Enchanted Cottage, a location with magical qualities can help a disfigured war survivor and an ugly woman find themselves transformed into movie stars by an invisible benevolent force in the universe.

Enchantment Makeover  Enchanted Makeover?

If you are haunted by lost love, dead friends, and cheating fate, you may relate to these stunning films.

There are some fairly sophisticated quantum physics theories at work back in the 1940s. We hear about tears in the seams of time, or atmospheric conditions that give a place parallel universal magic, or we meet obese Examiners who measure your life like a haberdasher fitting a good suit.

In nearly every instance of these plots, you must ultimately give up the dead and continue your life until you may be returned to some dimension where death is ephemeral and an illusion.

Perhaps we love these movies because they tell the fortunes of a haunted landlord and his soulful tenant.

Our Cosmo Topper ties to a personal spirit parallel each of the story-lines of old celluloid ghosts. If there is a common thread for all these stories, it is a dimension called limbo. One day both parties will be reunited, if not reincarnated.

Not So Blithe, Spirit!

DATELINE: Third Time is No Charm

Not Blithe

Bogarde & Gordon Blow It Big Time!

We all know the legendary story of the actor on his deathbed who said, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”

To die on live national television is now an actor’s lost dream. You can’t blow it on live TV when they won’t let you work for genuine laughs unless it is stand-up.

There are still ways to prove your mettle as an actor when you are a highly respected movie star. One is to perform live comedy in a play—say the likes of Noel Coward. Now that seems easy. Didn’t Rex Harrison throw away lines all the time in Coward style?

We recently watched Noel Coward doing his own Blithe Spirit on live television in 1956 (a video copy, old wags). And now, we wanted to see one of our favorite actors Dirk Bogarde give it a shot in 1966.

He seemed right on the surface: British, handsome, pleasant, but deep down his specialty has always been some kind of existential suffering. He should have left that style at the door. It works in Death in Venice, not here.

Poor Bogarde. His comedy seems less manners and more black. Someone must have told him he was doing Edward Albee, not Noel Coward. He shouts at his wife like they are a road show of Burton and Taylor.

He steps on every laugh. Alas, in this Hallmark Hall of Fame production from 1966, so does his costar Ruth Gordon as Madame Acarti. Her singular acting delivery seems not to know where pause meets laugh.

Rachel Roberts actually suffers most here as Ruth because she is on the money around the penny-pinchers of laughs. Rosemary Harris is Elvira in traditional fashion.

Yes, comedy is hard when you die on live TV. Don’t go looking for this version of Blithe Spirit unless you are into historical tragedy.

Noel Coward’s Ghosts Come to Life

DATELINE: Spirit Network, Pre-Cable

castst:Blithe Spirit

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.

 

 

My Fair Ghost: Blithe Spirit & Henry Higgins

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

blithe spirit

 

If you want timeless classics, you cannot find anything remotely close to a rare David Lean directed comedy, written and produced by Noel Coward. The delightful Blithe Spirit transcended its time of 1945 with lively repartee and shockingly modern sensibilities.

Novelist Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison) has invited a daffy cliché-ridden medium named Madame Acarti (Margaret Rutherford) to his home to study her for “tricks of the trade” for his new book.

One séance leads to another. Charles’s overly minx-like dead first wife named Elvira shows up to complicate his life and present marriage to staid Ruth.

It’s one of those ironic British tales where the ultra-rich shut off lights to save electricity, but they dress four times per day for each meal with increasing foppery. Saving the best for last, Rex Harrison and Constance Cummings are dressed to the nines for dinner, just themselves of course. What a quaint era.

As Elvira in ghastly grey and green makeup to make her fade into a faded color movie, Kay Hammond is utterly wonderful as the acerbic Elvira—making off-hand comments on the medium and guests with aplomb.

As Madame Arcati, Margaret Rutherford made an impression on movie audiences, though her big success was still a decade away. The old gal simply steals every moment of film she shares with anyone else in the cast.

That is no mean feat with Rex Harrison in his most classic glib demeanor. It’s Henry Higgins with Ruth as Colonel Pickering and Elvira as Eliza. Every moment is a classic, and David Lean deftly shows he could handle even the soufflés that Noel Coward half-baked.

Short, sweet, and with a light touch on special effects, the charm is just right.