Chicken Soup for the Soul Movies, #2: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

“Confound it, madam, my language is most controlled. And as for me morals, I lived a man ‘s life and I’m not ashamed of it; and, I can assure you no woman’s ever been the worse for knowing me – and I’d like to know how many mealy-mouthed bluenoses can say the same.”–Captain Gregg 

My “Chicken Soup for the Soul” movie list, comprised of only two films at this point, I cannot help but notice is fairly homogenousA Room

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with a View and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir have a lot in common.  Both are historical romances that have been adapted from novels.  Both feature as their protagonists young women named Lucy who are struggling against repression (both internally and externally), and both adopt a love triangle as plot contrivances.  Surprisingly, the more fantastical of the two is also the more heavy handed.  The stakes for both women are basically the same–their happiness.  However, Cecil is more amusing and pathetic than actually dangerous.  When he says he loves Lucy, he does, if in his own peculiar way. He cannot help being what he is (any more than Forster could), and he would not ill-use Lucy Honeychurch in any deliberate, systematic way.  Miles, however, is not only a second rate fop but a first rate cad. Unlike Cecil, there’s no upside or conscience to him whatsoever. He does not bring financial security or social status. Only a trap. And he has as much concern for smashing her world to bits as the siren does for the sailor who comes too close and winds up amongst the rocks.  

Speaking of Sirens, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir has been lauded for its Bernard Hermann film score, which is said to have been one of Hermann’s favorites and is described by his biographer as, “filled with the pain of frustrated desire and the Romantic promise of spiritual transcendence through death.”  In other words, it echoes precisely the predominant themes of the film.  Do modern film scores do this?  I don’t think so.  For one, they’re much more front and center and as likely to be composed of pre-existing songs selected for their value as accompaniment than music written specifically for the purpose at hand.  As such, they are easier to separate from the film, and while that may be good for secondary profits, it’s not as good for engaging the audience emotionally with what’s happening on the screen.    
One thing that isn’t always lauded and was not lauded at the time of the film’s release are the performances of the film’s stars, Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison.  Exactly what their problem was with “Sexy Rexy,” I don’t know, but critics, both contemporary and modern, might be forgiven for criticizing Tierney’s performance as a bit “wooden.”  It is a bit wooden.  One reason for this, however, and the reason it works anyway, is that Tierney had to portray her character as sensitive in a 19th century cult of femininity prim and proper sort of way while at the same time self-possessed, strong, and determined enough not only to strike out on her own, but to turn around and walk back into a house she fully realizes is haunted and tell the ghost of the salty old sea captain who is haunting it to knock that crap off.   A more animated approach (of which Tierney was fully capable–Laura anyone?) would have created too much of a dichotomy between this Mrs. Muir and the one who can barely bring herself to write, much less say, the naughty word Captain Gregg dictates for his memoir.              
Whew.  Okay, that’s two legitimate reasons for including The Ghost and Mrs. Muir on my list, and I’m glad I was able to come up with them.  I was afraid there for a moment I might have to rename my list sentimental favorites of an old fool (and I may yet at that).  Nevertheless, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir for me is one that is simply more than the sum of its parts.  The soundtrack is good, the performances are good, and Tierney absolutely looks like an angel.  What’s more, the film received a 1947 Academy Award nomination for Cinematography (losing to Great Expectations).  Yet none of these reasons quite explains why it makes me smile the way it does.  It just does.  I had a shitty day today.  I think I’ll go watch it again.

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