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20TH CENTURY FOX

MOVIE INFO
Synopsis:
Determined to live her life the way she wants, newly widowed Lucy Muir declines her straightlaced in-laws demand that she live with them and moves with her daughter to the seaside into a cottage haunted by the handsome, blustering Captain Gregg. A deal is struck between the two in the wee hours of the morning allowing Lucy to stay in the house and the captain to materialize only in the master bedroom. As they gradually get to know each other, Lucy's spunk and stubborness gains first the captain's grudging respect, then his heart. But when another man woos Lucy, both must face that her future lies with the living, not the in the spirit world.

Director:
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Cast:
Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders, Edna Best, Vanessa Brown
Writing Credits:
Philip Dunne, based on the novel by R.A. Dick

MPAA:
Not Rated.

Academy Awards:
Nominated for Best Cinematography.

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Digital Stereo
English Digital Mono
French Digital Mono
Spanish Digital Mono
Subtitles:
English, Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 4/1/2003

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Visual Effects Supervisor and Film Historian Gregg Kimble and Head of the Bernard Herrmann Estate Christopher Husted
• Audio Commentary with Film Professor Jeanine Basinger and Joseph L. Mankiewicz Biographer Kenneth Geist
• A&E Biography: “Rex Harrison: the Man Who Would Be King”
• Still Gallery
• Theatrical Trailers


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RELATED REVIEWS


The Ghost and Mrs. Muir: Studio Classics (1947)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 8, 2003)

Pop quiz: what was the first film to later become resurrected as a TV series? Lame reply: I have no idea. However, I am aware that before successes like M*A*S*H transferred to the small screen, we got a short-lived series based on 1947’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

For me, the TV show was my first experience with the tale. I can recall that I was surprised to learn that a movie preceded the show. (I was probably also stunned to learn that Hogan’s Heroes had a historical antecedent as well – “They based the show on a war???”)

Whereas when I reviewed the film version of M*A*S*H, I needed to combat my preconceived notions based on the series, no such issues affected my encounter with the original movie of Muir. Indeed, my memories of the show are exceedingly faint. I know it existed. I know I watched it a few times. End of recollections.

Set in London at the turn of the 20th century, Muir tells the take of Mrs. Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney), whose husband died about a year earlier. She tells her mother-in-law Angelica (Isobel Elsom) and sister-in-law Eva (Victoria Horne) that she wants to leave their home and strike out on their own. A nasty pair, they don’t like this idea, but Lucy takes off for Whitecliff-by-the-Sea anyway. She goes along with her young daughter Anna (Natalie Wood) and housekeeper Martha (Edna Best).

When Lucy gets to Whitecliff, she examines local abodes with real estate agent Mr. Coombe (Robert Coote), and she takes a shine to Gull Cottage. Coombe shies her away from it, but she insists that they inspect it. She loves it even though she quickly discovers the apparent presence of the ghost of the prior owner, Captain Gregg (Rex Harrison). Surprisingly, Lucy likes the idea of living with a spirit, so she takes the place despite the protests of Coombe.

Gregg tries to scare off the interlopers, but the increasingly assertive Lucy refuses to go. They come to an accord that will allow them to co-exist. In the meantime, we see that eventually Lucy’s money supply runs out, and she may lose the house. Gregg proposes that Lucy ghostwrite (ha!) his biography; she can make the money she needs from his tales.

They work on this and she eventually sells the book. At the publisher’s office, she meets wily children’s author Miles Fairley (George Sanders). Though Gregg previously encouraged Lucy to date, he always comes across as jealous when she shows even the slightest interest in living men, and her interactions with Fairley upset him. The rest of the movie follows the progress of this unusual love triangle and other elements.

Many of those aspects didn’t progress like I expected, and Muir offered a number of unanticipated things. The first surprise I encountered in regard to Muir related to its director. I had no idea noted filmmaker Joseph L. Mankiewicz made Muir. Oscar gold remained a couple of years in the future for Mankiewicz when he created Muir; he nabbed consecutive Best Director awards for 1949’s A Letter to Three Wives and 1950’s All About Eve, and the latter also won Best Picture. I had no idea Mankiewicz had anything to do with this seemingly light fare.

Another surprise relayed to the depth and snap of Muir. For all intents and purposes, Muir qualifies as a “chick flick”, but it maintains a lot of interest for folks not usually interested in that genre. I watched Muir right after I checked out 1957’s An Affair to Remember, one of the best-known chick flicks of all-time. I didn’t care for that movie, as it suffered from all of the sappy and weepy tendencies of the genre.

Muir offered a very different case, as it presented a concise and rich affair that avoided the maudlin elements of Remember and other movies of that sort. That occurred largely due to the presence of Mankiewicz, a director who doesn’t seem like a mawkish personality. Muir lacks the bitter cynicism of Eve, but Mankiewicz keeps matters from becoming too sentimental. He infuses the material with a nice sense of pizzazz and zest that makes it work.

Harrison also helps create an unsentimental piece. Never exactly a subtle actor, Harrison barrels through the role, but that factor means that at least he doesn’t become syrupy. This allows the movie to avoid the potential traps, and he displays a good chemistry with Tierney.

At first I questioned the casting of Sanders, as the part seemed a little too romantic for him. He was a sublimely acerbic actor who works best in coolly dismissive parts. However, Sanders overcame my initial concerns as the role developed, and he ended up performing well. I would have expected someone more namby-pamby in this part, so it’s a treat to get an actor as tart as Sanders.

As for the lead actress, she doesn’t present a lot of spark in the role, but given the forceful personalities of the males in the cast, a somewhat milquetoast actress helped keep things in balance. Tierney allows the character’s assertiveness to grow naturally, and she certainly seems exceedingly lovely, but she remains a little bland.

One nice aspect of Muir stems from its progression. The film doesn’t develop along a totally predictable manner. I don’t want to discuss those elements since they may provide some spoilers, but the last act seemed more surprising than I expected. The ending worked extremely well, as it presented a lovely and touching conclusion to the flick.

Across the board, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir surprised me. I didn’t think the same director who created the caustic All About Eve could make something with such a moving and gentle conclusion, and many other parts of the flick caught me off guard. Though it should have been nothing more than a slight romantic piffle, Muir overcomes its genre origins and offers a vivid and endearing piece.


The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio C+ (stereo), B (mono) / Bonus B+

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For the most part, Muir presented a very good picture, though some moderate problems kept it from greatness.

Sharpness caused the majority of the concerns. Too much of the film came across as fairly soft and ill defined. This seemed exacerbated by some moderate edge enhancement that showed up through parts of the movie. While much of the flick looked good, the softness seemed a little heavy at times. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, though, and print flaws appeared pretty minor given the age of the film. I noticed occasional spots, specks, marks and a few hairs, but the movie generally appeared nicely clean and fresh.

Some flickering also occurred at times. As for contrast, the film looked a bit bright at times, but it usually seemed solid. Black levels came across as fairly deep and rich, and shadow detail looked nicely clear and concise. The moderate softness caused most of the reason I gave Muir a “B”, but the film looked quite lovely at times.

As with most of the releases in the Fox Studio Classics series, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir presented both a remixed stereo and the original monaural soundtracks. As with most of the releases in the Fox Studio Classics series, the mono mix seemed noticeably stronger than the stereo one did. The soundfield heard in the stereo version lacked much definition. Essentially the domain displayed broad mono; it spread the audio in a vague manner across the forward channels, but it failed to substantial accuracy or delineation. Speech appeared especially problematic, as lines tended to bleed across the speakers. The stereo presentation did enhance Harrison’s ghostly laugh, as the spread across the front was moderately effective.

Mostly the stereo track just offered a vague echo, though this didn’t seem as obnoxiously enforced as in some prior Studio Classics releases. Audio quality appeared fairly decent, at least. Speech demonstrated some edginess but generally remained acceptably distinct and intelligible. Effects were somewhat thin and tinny, but they sounded reasonably clean and accurate, and they different suffer from notable distortion. Bernard Herrmann’s excellent score also suffered from trebly tendencies, but these weren’t excessive, and the music seemed fairly rich given the age of the material.

The problematic delineation of the stereo spectrum and the somewhat excessive reverberation caused most of the problems related to this mix. Due to those reasons, I preferred the mono track. Speech still showed a little edginess, but it seemed a little warmer and more natural since it lacked the echo. Effects and music also displayed similar dynamics for both tracks, but the greater focus on the single-channel presentation and the absence of reverberation made the elements sound clearer and tighter. I didn’t notice the extreme difference between stereo and mono heard on some of the crummier remixes, but I still definitely preferred the mono mix for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

For the “Studio Classics” release of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, we get a pretty decent package of supplements. These start with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from visual effects supervisor and film historian Gregg Kimble and Bernard Herrmann historian Christopher Husted. Both men were recorded separately and their statements were edited together for this occasionally screen-specific track.

Altogether, the pair offered a nice look at Muir. Kimble dominated the piece and he covered a lot of ground. He discussed specifics about the production such as sets, locations, cinematography and other technical issues, and he also went into some film history as it related to the movie. For instance, he talked about the production code in place at the time and told us how that affected the flick’s content. As for Husted, he concentrated mostly on score-related topics. He chatted about Herrmann’s career and personality and also gave us some details about the way the music worked. All told, the pair combined to create an intriguing and stimulating discussion of Muir.

The second commentary involves film professor Jeanine Basinger and Joseph Mankiewicz biographer Kenneth Geist. As with the first track, both participants were recorded separately for this edited piece, but their remarks covered the flick in a running, scene-specific manner. Basinger dominated the commentary, especially during its first half; things became more equitable after that.

After the solid first commentary, this one seemed a little lackluster. Basinger went over a number of details related to the movie, with an emphasis on biographical details for the participants and story interpretation. Unfortunately, those latter elements tended to come across as little more than narration; Basinger didn’t present a great deal of incisive material about the tale. Although I expected Geist to focus mainly on Mankiewicz, he actually went over a mix of issues related to the flick. His remarks mostly blended in with Basinger’s and didn’t stand out as anything terribly remarkable. He told us some interesting elements such as Mankiewicz’s reluctance to take on the movie, but he didn’t delve into these topics with much substance. Geist’s discussion of Mankiewicz heard during All About Eve seemed much more compelling. A few too many empty spaces crop up as well, though these don’t become frequent nuisances. Ultimately, the second commentary offered some decent moments but was fairly average as a whole.

One interesting conflict between the two tracks related to the broken foot Gene Tierney suffered throughout the shoot. According to Kimble in the first commentary, she had it taken off early to complete her performance. However, in the second piece, Basinger states that Tierney did this under pressure. Basinger seems like the more believable source since her university houses Tierney’s memoirs, but since Basinger makes a couple of strange mistakes during her discussion, I don’t know which person to trust.

Next we find an episode of A&E’s Biography series called Rex Harrison: The Man Who Would Be King. In this 44-minute and seven-second program, we see clips from Harrison’s movies, archival materials, and modern interviews with actor Charlton Heston, author Roy Moseley, sons Noel and Carey Harrison, biographer Alexander Walker, former wife Elizabeth Harris, and producer Elliott Martin.

As one might expect from a show in the Biography series, “King” emphasizes general elements of Harrison’s life. It covers his childhood and moves through his career and personal life. The latter aspects provide the majority of “King”, as we learn a lot about his romances and dalliances. We get a fair amount of information about his stage and film work, but this doesn’t dominate the program. It suffers from a somewhat dry presentation, but “King” nonetheless provides a reasonably interesting examination of the actor.

A few minor extras round out the package. The DVD’s Still Gallery splits into five different areas. We get sections devoted to “Lobby Cards” (two images), “Posters” (two stills), “Publicity” (18 shots), “Set Stills” (89 photos), and “Production Stills” (44 pictures). The last one provides the best material, though all have their merits. The DVD’s producers should have combined the lobby cards and posters into one section, though; two different spots with only two shots apiece makes those parts tedious to access.

Lastly, some advertisements appear. In addition to the trailer for Muir, we find a section called Movie Classics. This includes promos for An Affair to Remember, All About Eve, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Gentleman’s Agreement, and How Green Was My Valley.

Not the average sentimental romance, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir provided a surprisingly likeable and entertaining affair. The flick avoided mushiness but managed a lot of zest and a sweet emotional element. The DVD presented good picture quality slightly marred by softness along with fairly clear and accurate sound plus a nice set of supplements. An enchanting and well-executed film, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir comes with my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6166 Stars Number of Votes: 60
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