Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir - Reflections

It's 5:30 a.m., and I did not go to bed until 1:30 a.m.  I did not have to get up early this morning, but here I am, wide awake.  It is completely dark outside, the crickets are singing, my neighborhood is silent, and that is the time that I start to think and worry about anything difficult that is going on in my life.  At the moment, there is plenty to fret about.  Instead of just letting those thoughts whirl through my brain, I decided to write some thoughts  about a movie I have always loved, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947, starring Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison). I watched it just last night, and it had its usual effect on me - I sighed and cried a lot.  It is beautifully filmed, incredibly romantic, and emotionally moving.  Composer Bernard Herrmann believed the score to be his best work, and even taking into consideration the incredible body of his marvelous work, I agree completely. 


The story of Mrs. Lucy Muir, a widow who rents a house by the English seaside and the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg who haunts his house is fantasy at its best.  They fall in love, but Mrs. Muir becomes impoverished and in danger of losing her beloved house.  Captain Gregg helps Lucy write a book, his autobiography, the unvarnished tale of a seaman's life.  The book is published, Mrs. Muir is able to buy the house and all seems secure.  Captain Gregg, however, knows there can be no future for Mrs. Muir with him, despite their love, and he vanishes from her life, telling her as she sleeps that it has all just been a dream - "...and it will die, as all dreams must die upon waking."  I think I need another handkerchief.  Mrs. Muir meets a dashing scoundrel (George Sanders, the most charming scoundrel of all), and ends up alone in her house with her only family in the world, little daughter Anna (young Natalie Wood) and faithful servant Martha (the wonderful Edna Best).  The years pass, with the rolling ocean as the symbol of time, and Mrs. Muir grows old.  One night she dies quietly in her chair, and Captain Gregg comes back for her.  She takes his hands and stands up, young and beautiful again.  They walk side by side into the mist to the incredible music of Bernard Hermann.  How can you help sobbing like a child?

So I called my sister Amy, certainly a sucker for romance herself, but more pragmatic than I.  I wanted to know why this widow, with no apparent income except the royalties from one book, was able to keep her beautiful cottage by the sea for 50 years until her death.  Considering the life changes I am going through right now, it just didn't seem fair.  Amy said simply, "Becky, it's a movie."  Uh oh, reality came crashing down.  Our conversation had me laughing until my throat hurt.  We talked about how on earth she could have kept an old house by the sea, with wood that would warp, large lawn to mow, a servant that logically should be paid a salary (although you got the impression that Martha did all that work just for love), and a growing daughter to feed and send through school.  Not to mention that the kid was never around to bother her or get under her feet while the romances were going on.  All of that upkeep had to be done by someone, and they had to be paid, right?  How? Can one book finance an entire life?  Then the final blow -- the beauty of the love she always remembered as a dream and the reunion of the two lovers at the end.  Amy said, "Becky, that woman spent her life standing on a balcony looking at the sea for 50 years!"  She has a good point.  In the movie, 50 years goes by in about 5 minutes with the technique of the rolling sea.  In reality, it would be pretty boring.  My sister Amy was just what I needed last night!

Now, movie-lovers, don't descend upon me like an angry mob with torches and pitchforks for this little reflection.  I have loved The Ghost and Mrs. Muir all of my life and know it by heart.  I will always love it and cry every time with the wistful wish that life was really like that.  But as I wrote in my introduction to my site, movies have been a big part of who I am, for good or ill.  Sometimes it can have a negative side if you dive too deeply into the fantasy of it all.  I'm not worried though.  I will always have my sister to understand and pull me back down from the clouds when I float too high up.  I consider that to be the best of both worlds.

14 comments:

  1. Becky, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the film, The GHOST AND MRS MUIR, which is also one of my favorite Romance movies.Harrison and Tierney have wonderful on screen chemistry.

    I do not know if you know or not, the word "muir" means "the sea" in Gaelic.

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  2. I think that's great that you watched a movie that spoke to you during this time of change that you're going through. Although movies are just movies but they can be very powerful and therapuetic. A tough of pragmatism is always healthy, but I am reminded of a saying in "Dead Poets Society" when the teacher John Keating, played by Robin Williams said,

    "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"

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  3. Thanks, Dawn and Pat. It was a strange night, and it was helpful and fun to write this little piece. Pat, I haven't seen Dead Poets Society for years, and I had forgotten that beautiful piece. It goes right through your soul.

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  4. Becky, THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR is one of my all-time favorites! My wife and I watched as our New Year's Eve tradition for many years. The music score is outstanding (I own the soundtrack). And George Sanders as Uncle Neddy...I want to hiss at that man even now!

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  5. Becky, I won't name the film, but there is one in particular that has a few questionable things. In fact, out of sheer boredom, I made a list of inconsistencies and plot holes, and it was rather lengthy. You can't help but let yourself be taken in by a film and consequently question elements that relate to your own life. But some films, like THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR and the one that will not be named, can rise above all that and help us escape. I don't mean to refer to "escapism" as derogatory. These movies can take us away from our lives for just a little while, and that's a beautiful thing.

    THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR is a magnificent and romantic film. But I also appreciate the humor. I love it when the soft spoken Gene Tierney starts cursing, saying things like "blast" and asking people to "be good enough to shove off."

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  6. Becky...thanks for sharing your reflections on THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR - not to mention sharing your life with us. I love your blogs not just because you pick great films and write so well but also because you share so much of yourself in them. Beautiful post!

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  7. Any true romantic would love such as story. I spend a lot of time fantasizing about the ultimate love. Most of it is unrealistic at best with no underlying musical score to enhance things. It's ok to escape into fantasy, because there will always be someone or some situation to force you back into reality. That's what great movies are for.

    Laura S.

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  8. Becky, I LOVE The Ghost and Mrs Muir and really enjoyed your post! It may be my favorite Gene Tierney movie, although I'm torn between this one and Laura. Actually I don't think spending 50 years looking at the sea from a balcony would be boring (I certainly wouldn't complain!) but maybe that's just me...I'm a big fan of ocean views, LOL!

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  9. Hi JoAnn. Welcome to my blog! I'm glad you liked my little post. I must say, I would have a whole different view of looking at the sea for 50 years if I knew I had a Captain Gregg to look forward to at the end! 50 years are going to go by anyway -- that kind of ending sounds pretty fantastic to me!

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  10. Thanks for the welcome Becky! And, as a fellow "sucker for romance", I do know what you mean!

    It seems that movies like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Portrait of Jennie, even One Way Passage have such power over us is because they present the "spiritual" side of love, love that endures beyond the grave, love for eternity....our ideal of what love should be. I too am very easily swept away by these films.

    And as you mentioned, this one doesn't suffer at all from the wonderful Bernard Herrmann score to set the mood! Truly one of the great romantic movies of all time....

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  11. Awesome post on an awesome film. I just love Gene Tierney--she lights up the screen in practically everything she does.

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  12. Becky- The Ghost and Mrs Muir is an outstanding film, and the score is one of Hermann's masterpieces. I love the film, it is certainly beautifully written and directed- and the fact that so little happens makes it more moving. the farewell of Captain Gregg while Mrs. Muir sleeps is particularly fine...Never a dry eye when I see it! Thank you!

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  13. It is amazing that Mrs Muir did spend 50 years. But, to me, it just proved that the Captain was her one true mate. He gave her up so that if she was meant to be with a mortal man, so could be. The fact that she never coupled and still had vague memories of him (as did her daughter) in spite of him "clearing" her memory just further shows that she knew somewhere inside herself that she shouldn't settle like she did the first time with Mr Muir. It reminds of the quote: "If you love someone, set him/her free. If he/she comes, then he/she is truly yours." That point really comes through loud and clear to me in the beautiful performances by Gene Tierney & Rex Harrison.

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  14. this film is a product of the classic 40s..if made today if would be a mess...GENE TIERNEY i radiantly beautiful!! FORGET LOGIC & ENJOY!!

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