The Ghost And Mrs. Muir is a romantic fantasy and so much more. Pinning it down to any one genre does the great film such a disservice. Gene Tierney, one of the biggest Hollywood stars in the 1940s, plays a lively British widow that moves into a haunted cottage on the English seaside. She falls in love with a salty sea captain that incidentally happens to be a ghost. The Ghost And Mrs. Muir has only grown in stature over time, as its spirited love story works today as well as it did upon release in 1947. A shining example of the studio system in place during its creation, the film is perfectly crafted and one of the most charming romances ever committed to celluloid.
The story opens in London at the beginning of the last century. Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) has been a widow for one year and decides to move away from her deceased husband’s mother and sister, for a fresh start. The young woman takes her daughter (Natalie Wood when she was a very young child) and maid along to live in a cottage, living off her husband’s stock investments. Lucy is not independently wealthy and has to look at the cheaper cottages available for rent. One remote cottage offers very cheap rates but the rental agent is hesitant to mention the property. It turns out the last few residents have seen ghosts in the house and gotten out of there as quickly as possible.
Lucy is undeterred by talk of spirits haunting the property and immediately takes a shine to the quaint seaside cottage. Apparently the property was the former residence of Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison), a sea captain rumored to have committed suicide. Soon after Lucy moves into the house, she begins hearing ghostly voices and experiencing mysterious occurrences. Lucy meets the ghost of Captain Gregg, a gruff sea captain that accidentally died a few years before she moved into the cottage. The cottage was originally designed by Captain Gregg as his home away from the sea. Gregg has haunted it since his death, driving away all of its occupants before Lucy and her daughter came to live in it.
Lucy and Captain Gregg quickly establish a sort of bargain, as the two strike a deal to allow Lucy to remain undisturbed in the home. The lightly comic undertones set the stage for them to draw closer, as Gregg grows protective of Lucy and haunts her despised in-laws when they come to inform Lucy that her husband’s investments have gone bad. Faced with Lucy getting thrown out of the house and going broke, Captain Gregg comes up with a plan to dictate his unfinished book to Lucy and have her use those proceeds to pay her living expenses. She agrees and the two grow ever closer over the course of a year.
It would be a shame to detail any more of the story but a living suitor interrupts the romantic relationship between Lucy and her ghostly paramour. Miles Fairley (George Sanders) is an eligible bachelor that Lucy meets in London when she attempts to get her newly-finished book published. An author himself, Miles has one huge advantage in romantically pursuing Lucy. He is alive and not merely an apparition. Captain Gregg begins to have regrets about interfering with Lucy and taking her from a normal life, even though he thinks that Miles is a cad. He dearly loves her but acknowledges the problems of their relationship as a ghost.
From Bernard Herrmann’s magnificent score to the stellar acting by its leads, The Ghost And Mrs. Muir is a romantic fable perfectly executed in the best manner of classic Hollywood craftsmanship. Gene Tierney is its real shining star as the beautiful but vulnerable Lucy Muir, one of the best romantic performances in Hollywood’s history. The romantic chemistry between Rex Harrison and Tierney oozes off the screen in a delicate and honest portrayal of love. This is a film built for true romantics and essential viewing for them. Thematically rich and emotionally involving, it is a thoroughly enchanting romantic fantasy that still haunts today.
Fox has delivered a striking film transfer for The Ghost And Mrs. Muir, showcasing its Oscar-nominated cinematography (in fact, the cinematography nod would be its only recognition from the Academy Awards). The exquisite black-and-white cinematography shows a marked improvement in 1080P resolution, properly presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The film-like transfer is untouched by serious processing issues and has been given generous technical parameters, making this BD a real winner in hi-definition.
The flawless AVC video encode has top-notch quality, averaging a robust 32.01 Mbps on a BD-50. It replicates the delicate grain structure and dark shadows with ease. Its film elements are in fine shape, lacking visible signs of age and wear. This is a clean print with pleasing clarity and moderate detail. The lack of noticeable filtering or sharpening is one of its stronger attributes. If I had to wager a guess, the film scan appears to have been done at 2K from film elements very close to the original negative, if not the negative itself. That beautifully renders the carefully-composed shadows with sterling delineation and retains the essential essence of the remarkable cinematography.
I don’t think this is necessarily the best restoration Fox has brought to light on Blu-ray, but it definitely represents a serious improvement in almost all aspects of video quality over prior versions. A fine upgrade for a truly classic film.
Master composer Bernard Herrmann considered his film score for The Ghost And Mrs. Muir his finest movie work. I won’t go that far but it truly stands the test of time as a haunting and evocative piece of music. Fox has taken the original mono mix from the theatrical run and expanded it into a fine 5.1 DTS-HD MA presentation. For audiophile purists, the mono mix has been retained in a lossless 1.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Despite some minor inherent limitations in the original recording, both possess excellent clarity and fidelity. The surround mix slightly spreads the musical score over a larger soundstage with a few discrete audio elements. Most will likely prefer the more expansive 5.1 mix but listening to the original mono presentation poses no problems.
A number of subtitles and dubs are included by Fox. The provided dubs are Italian DTS-HD Master Audio mono, French DTS 5.1, and Spanish Dolby Digital mono. Optional subtitles display in a white font: English SDH, Dutch, French, Japanese, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish.
Twentieth Century Fox has brought over all available supplemental features from the older DVD version with one major exception. An A&E Biography documentary on Rex Harrison is missing from this new Blu-ray edition. The inclusion of two separate commentaries are a nice touch. It does lose a small booklet included with the DVD.
Theatrical Trailer (02:39 in SD)
Commentaries by Greg Kimble and Christopher Husted – Greg Kimble (visual effects supervisor and film historian) and Christopher Husted (manager of The Bernard Herrmann Estate) share this informative commentary, using their individual expertise to illuminate and highlight critical elements of the film. Kimble is an obvious admirer of this movie, citing it as one of his personal favorites. His enthusiasm spills over into his interesting observations. Husted provides inside knowledge on the more subtle aspects of the musical score.
Commentaries by Jeanine Basinger and Kenneth Geist – Jeanine Bassinger (Chairman of the Film Studies Program at Western University) and Kenneth Geist (biographer of Joseph Mankiewicz) share this commentary, though I did not find this one nearly as interesting or entertaining as the other commentary track. Basinger’s observations are fairly routine and Geist often sounds like he is reading directly from notes.
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