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.

Black Noir Widow in Technicolor

DATELINE:  1954 Mystery

black widow

If you want to make a film noir, flashy colors and lacking mood would be two mistakes. When Nunnally Johnson pitched this movie to the studio, he no doubt mentioned Billy Wilder and Joe Mankiewicz. It sounds fairly entertaining:  a take off on All About Eve, set in the ruthless world of Broadway actresses.

Then you cast the film with some of the biggest names on the downslide of 1954: Ginger Rogers, Gene Tierney, Peggy Ann Gardner, George Raft, and you fill the cast out with red herring bad guys like Van Heflin, Skippy Homeier, Reginald Gardiner, and Otto Kruger.

Alas, your script needs more than a reverse side of a conniving young girl, winnowing her way into the hearts of all the men in the film—until she’s done in.  Eve Harrington would never have let it happen.

When Peggy shows up at her star uncle’s place at the start of the movie, he does not recognize her. Take it from there: the red herrings are ready to go upstream.

The film is called noir, but there is next to nothing here that fills that category.

When Tallulah Bankhead had a chance to play the aging star and parody Bette Davis, who parodied her, she turned it down. She knew a stinkeroo when she read the script.

The stars are fairly wasted, especially Gene Tierney.

The plot becomes asinine when Heflin makes some idiotic decisions, not the least is never to ask for an attorney when the police start behaving badly.

There is an alleged surprise ending, but we doubt many people will stick around that long—out of exasperation.

Where Good Scripts End


 Image Not Laura, Not Even Close

Nothing irks us like a plot that only an idiot could appreciate. When we see such bad writing in a major motion picture, no matter where and when it was produced, we are ready to take our machete to the film stock.

We came to 1950’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, as always, with high hopes and good intentions. We never finished watching the film, becoming incensed that Otto Preminger could make such a bad film.

We can’t spoil such a movie because we have no idea what happened, but we can guess.

This movie starred some fairly good actors in interesting roles: Harry Von Zell as a rich gambler, Craig Stevens as a drunk playboy, Gary Merrill as a gangster, Karl Malden as the police captain.

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney are teamed again for Preminger, hoping Laura’s lightning will strike twice. This film has no thunder or lightning. The stars are wasted, and Clifton Webb is nowhere to be seen.

Inexplicably, there is no David Raksin haunting musical score that gave Laura its mesmerizing edge. The earlier film was based on a solid Vera Caspary novel, whereas this is some cheese-pot boiler.

Here again Dana Andrews is a hard-bitten police detective in the Dirty Harry mode. As foreshadowing of the Clint Eastwood character, this one is prone to violence on the job and disapproval from his superiors. There it ends.

When a culprit dies at his hand (a one punch knockout), Andrews could simply call in his colleagues and say he found the man dead. Instead, he goes through an elaborate and unnecessary coverup.

Our guess is the mob poisoned the victim to die in the detective’s presence to implicate him. We have no idea because we shut off the movie.

We prefer our police detectives to be intelligent and overeager, not stupid. The Andrews character would send Sherlock Holmes into gales of laughter. At least Detective Lestrade was honest.

Maybe we are wrong about this movie, but with all its talents, no one bothered to think about how dumb the script was.