Classic Woman-centric Movie Review: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

Hello, Persephoneers! I hope you had fun this Halloween and aren’t too hungover from all of that leftover Halloween candy. We’re going to round out the 31 Days of Halloween with the classic film The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, released in 1947. It’s based on the novel by R. A. Dick and stars Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, and a very young Natalie Wood. The film was directed by Joseph Mankiewicz and won the Academy Award for Cinemetography.

Lucy Muir (Tierney), a young widow with a daughter, Anna (Wood), wants to move out on her own, much to the chagrin of her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. She finds a lovely seaside cottage, and despite rumors that it’s haunted, she rents it. During her first night there, she meets the house’s resident specter, Captain Daniel Gregg (Harrison), who is a benign, if not rakish, ghost. The two become fast friends; Captain Gregg even affectionately calls Lucy “Lucia,” since he finds her name to be terribly common for such a lovely woman. When Lucy’s investment income begins to dwindle, Daniel suggests that she acts as a sort of ghostwriter for him. He dictates his memoirs to her and she records them. When they are published, they become a bestseller and secure Lucy’s financial future. But during the course of writing the book, the two fall in love, even though it’s painfully obvious that their love can never be.

Poster from The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
Poster from film. Image via Wikipedia.
Still from The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
Still from the film. Image via classiccinemaphotos.com.

When Lucy travels to London to meet with her publisher, she makes the acquaintance of Miles Fairley, a children’s author. Soon Fairley begins to court Lucy, and Daniel becomes jealous. He decides to let Lucy live her life, and he convinces her that her encounters with him were just dreams before disappearing from the house. Lucy later discovers that Fairley is married with two children, and Fairley’s wife informs Lucy that her husband has led other women on before. Heartbroken, Lucy returns home and vows to spend the rest of her life as a single woman.

Years later, when an adult Anna comes to visit her mother, she tells Lucy that she knew about Captain Gregg’s ghost all the time and that Miles Fairley’s family finally left him. Lucy remembers Daniel, and she realizes that he wasn’t a dream at all. After a long life, Lucy finally dies in her sleep in the cottage. Daniel arrives just as she breathes her last and urges her to come to him. Lucy’s spirit, young as she was when she first arrived at Gull Cottage, emerges from her body to join her beloved Daniel, and the two walk into the afterlife to spend eternity together.

The film has a very compelling romantic story, one of true love found in the most unlikely of places with the most unlikely of people. But the story is ahead of its time in many ways, particularly when it comes to the portrayal of the relationship between Lucy and Daniel. Lucy strikes out on her own after her husband’s death because she wants to live her own life instead of the one society and those around her think she should. Daniel, who lived his own life on his own terms, finds this to be enthralling about Lucy. When she finds herself attracted to Fairley, Daniel allows her to follow her heart and to live her life where it leads, because in his mind, she deserves happiness. Unlike Fairley, whose love for her is little more than an infatuation and a game, Daniel truly loves Lucy and is willing to wait for her, since after her life ends, they will have all of eternity together. Lucy is allowed to become the woman who she wants to be and the woman she is meant to be instead of the woman who others would like her to be.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is available through Netflix’s DVD service.

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