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The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
1 hr. 44 mins Comedy, Drama, Fantasy 1947 7.9 stars
Director: Joseph Mankiewicz
Cast: Gene Tierney - Mrs. Lucy Muir
Rex Harrison - The Ghost of Capt. Daniel Gregg
George Sanders - Miles Fairley
Vanessa Brown - Anna Muir as an adult
Natalie Wood - Anna Muir as a child
Edna Best - Martha Huggins
Robert Coote - Mr. Coombe (the realtor)
Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie.
Lucy Discovers the Ghost
Synopsis: Part I
The movie takes place at the turn of the 20th century, roughly about 1900. Mrs. Lucy Muir (played by Gene Tierney) is recently widowed and she is discussing her future with her mother-in-law and her sister-in-law. She has a peaceful demeanor while the others are arguing forcefully with her, begging her to stay. Her recent widowhood has filled her with a sense of freedom that is much too appealing to pass up and she wishes to depart the household and strike out on her own. This was a bold idea in Victorian England. Mrs. Muir is a young mother with a daughter named Anna (played by Natalie Wood), and she has a maid, Martha Huggins (played by Edna Best). These three left to find a place of their own and they searched for rental properties by the seaside. Mrs. Muir was taken by a house called Gull Cottage, but the realtor was strongly reluctant to even show that house. Still, from the written description she insisted on seeing it. They drove out to the house and she immediately fell in love with it, and decided to take it.
The realtor’s reluctance to show the house was not without reason and soon enough we saw what the problem was. The house is haunted. There is a large portrait of a sea captain, Daniel Gregg, who was the owner of the house and it is he who haunts the house. The realtor says that Captain Gregg committed suicide. But the ghost of Captain Gregg (played by Rex Harrison) confronted Mrs. Muir and denied that it was suicide; it had been an accident. Though he had succeeded in driving all previous tenants out, his hauntings had the opposite effect on Lucy Muir and she had a haunting effect upon him too. She is fascinated by this spectre and is drawn to learn more about him and why he’s there. She wants to know what motivates him, what he wants for the house, what drives him to drive others out.
Odd as it may be a romance develops, though the impossibility of this situation is clearly understood. The ghost agrees to let her stay unmolested if she keeps the house in “ship shape and Bristol fashion”. He insists on having a portrait which he had painted of himself hung on the wall in a prominent place. Lucy had previously taken it down in an effort to redecorate. This redecoration was not approved by the ghost of Captain Gregg and he let that be known. Captain Gregg insisted on calling her “Lucia” because he thought the name more fitting her. He got particularly angry when she had his monkey-puzzle tree taken down. She didn’t like it because it blocked her view to the sea, but it was his imported pride and joy.
He says he saw her while she was sleeping to which she says, “so you were in my room.” He immediately responds, “My room, Madame!” She expresses a love for the house and he gets that, and she says, “Captain Gregg, if you insist on haunting me you might at least be more agreeable about it.”
Writing the book of Captain Gregg's Life
Synopsis Part II
Soon Lucy’s in-laws arrive with bad news; the gold mine from which she was getting an income had petered out and she was facing poverty.
Captain Gregg told her that she should not fret. She is going to write a book and he will dictate it – the unvarnished tale of a sea captain. He will call it “Blood and Swash”.
Mrs. Muir sets down and begins the arduous task of writing the book and it takes a long time. When it is finished Captain Gregg tells her what publisher to go to and the specific man there to deal with, a man named Mr. Sproul, who had longed to go to sea himself. At first she was rebuffed at the publisher, but the ghost was present and a few harsh words from him (which we hear in his voice, but the publisher hears in her voice) convinced Mr. Sproul to read the manuscript. The book is adored by Mr. Sproul and he agrees to publish it right away. Not only does he like it; but his readership likes it too and it’s a big seller. Mrs. Muir will no longer have financial worries and she can now stop renting Gull Cottage and buy it outright which she does. Captain Gregg is pleased. He would like her to leave it in her will as a home for retired seamen.
While at the publisher Lucy Muir met a man named Miles Fairley. He had helped Mrs. Muir to get the appointment, because he was attracted to her and wanted to make a good impression by giving up his appointment time to her. The ghost of Daniel Gregg disapproved of him because he was jealous, but he can’t admit that because as he stated, “jealousy is a matter of the flesh” and he was a spirit after all.
A romance develops between Miles Fairley and Lucy Muir; the two become engaged. This is despite the wishes of Martha Huggins and little Anna. Martha was more than a maid; she was Lucy’s best friend.
Captain Gregg Hypnotizes Lucy
Captain Gregg Says Good Bye and Fades Away
Synopsis Part III
In light of this engagement among the mortals Captain Gregg decided to depart. In a key scene while Lucy was sleeping he came to her as if to kiss her, but he spoke to her telling her that he was leaving. He also told her that all recollections she may have of him were only dreams. He instructed her as a hypnotist would that from now on her memories of him were only dreams. Furthermore the book “they” had written she alone wrote based on her imagination and the ideas she came up with from the Captain’s portrait and from staring out and contemplating the sea. Then he disappeared, and as the movie will show it was “till death does he depart”.
When she woke up, indeed, she regarded her memories of Captain Gregg as nothing but fantasy. Lucy went to London on business connected to the publishing house and decided to pay a surprise visit to Miles, but he was not at home. She was greeted by his wife! Lucy left quickly having had the shocking realization that her new fiancé is a married man! She was devastated.
Time passes, even years pass and Lucy seems to long for something, but she no longer remembers what - or does she? She is lonely, but she reminisces about a romance in the past that she believes never to have taken place, a romance that reason tells her could not have taken place. Anna is now grown and she comes home to visit. She asks Lucy if she would like to move in with her and her husband, but Lucy says no. She is in love with the house and couldn’t leave it. Anna then asks if she’d like to stay at the house with Captain Gregg. Anna says that she used to talk with him a lot as a little girl. Lucy stares off wistfully. She indicates to Anna that she also remembers having that experience, but then quickly re-enforces to her that it was all simply a dream. Then Anna asks how they could both have had the same dream. Lucy explains it away, but is unconvincing even to herself.
More years pass and Anna is now the mother of a college bound daughter. Lucy and Martha are elderly, bickering easily but remaining friends. Martha gives Lucy some warm milk before bed time and leaves the room. Lucy sits in her chair and we see they milk spill out of the glass as she drops it to the ground. She has died, but instantly upon death Captain Gregg is there to take her away. She is young again and she looks back to say something to Martha, but Martha can’t hear her. She and Captain Gregg walk out the door and into the fog together a happy ending (or is it a beginning?).
Looking Back on her Life Lucy Longs for Something or Someone
The story explores the serious topic of the afterlife and though it is a comedy it does bring up several points to ponder. The first thing that comes to mind is the notion of disbelief. More than once the sentiment is expressed that we can’t believe in ghosts now that it’s the 20th century (recall that the time frame of this story is in the very early years of the 20th century).
We the audience believe the ghost is real. Why do we believe so? What if he is indeed as Lucy later states, a figment of imagination? In Lucy’s defense Captain Gregg did hypnotize her into disbelieving in him, but still her arguments against his existence are weak, given the facts. We believe because we want to believe. The movie points out that the house, Gull Cottage, does have a haunted reputation and this was clearly evidenced by the realtor’s reaction to the property as well as the evident hasty departure of the charwoman. The antics that Captain Gregg played on both the realtor and the in-laws were further evidence of the veracity of the claim that the house was haunted. Most conclusively the reality of his existence in the movie is seen when Lucy dies and he comes to take her.
She has obvious longings for something or someone which she can’t identify; Lucy when talking to Anna resolutely proclaims that all memories of the Captain were mere fantasies. Even when Anna asks, “could we both have had the same dream”? Lucy looks off wistfully as if the topic of her longing has been identified, then again stubbornly dismisses it as nothing but a fantasy. Do we miss joys because we will not accept things as real simply because they do not fit within a framework we’ve erected to explain reality? Why does a child express wonder at the world in contrast to the adult who thinks he understands it? Does the propensity of adults to disbelieve the fantastic ruin their chances to see the wonderful opportunities that lie just beyond the veil of their perception?
This is the sort of question raised in this tale. Lucy longs for Captain Gregg, but she no longer believes in him so she longs and longs and longs. She tells Anna that she’s been lonely but “there have been other compensations.” We don’t believe her about the other compensations. She doesn’t believe it herself either. It’s a sad scene, tragic because Lucy holds the means to free herself from that loneliness.
The comedic aspect of this movie comes out of what would be the unlikely romance between Mrs. Muir and Captain Gregg, between the living and the dead. One obvious oddity is that she is not afraid of the ghost. At first she certainly believes in him and so do many others as is clearly evidenced in the realtor’s attitudes about the property or the evident kitchen utensils hurriedly left by a charwoman who had been there. Very simply put ghosts scare people; it’s what they do. Yet Mrs. Muir and, as is revealed towards the end of the movie, Anna Muir had healthy, friendly interactions with this ghost.
Miles Fairley is in the role of the competitive love interest. He is a philandering flirt who wears down and eventually wins the heart of Lucy Muir. He never knew that he is competing for her affections against a ghost. Yet, he is probably not the type who would care. He is after all, unbeknownst to Lucy, happily married with children. Learning of Miles’ other life has its devastating effect upon Lucy and the tragedy is made worse by the fact that her real love, Captain Gregg, has left and will never return - at least in this life.
In addition to that Captain Gregg left her believing that she had only dreamed him up. In what was really a break up scene as she lay sleeping he was evidently able to implant a hypnotic suggestion in her that he was nothing more than a fantasy so she longs for him, but no longer believes in him. It’s a very moving scene in which he starts off wishing her well and is even a bit hopeful when he says, “Whether you meet fair winds or foul find your way to harbor in the end.” Then he concludes the hypnosis in the most powerful scene of the movie when he says,
“And in the morning and the years after you will only remember it as a dream and it will die as all dreams must die in the waking.” Then stepping to the door to depart he forcefully continues, “How you would have loved the North Cape and the fjords and the midnight sun, to sail across the reef at Barbados where the blue water turns to green, to the Falklands where a southerly gale rips the whole sea white! What we’ve missed, Lucia, what we’ve both missed. Good bye, my darling.”
Although she was better off for having learned about Miles’ duplicity, one must wonder if she was a lot better off since she dropped almost all semblance of a social life afterwards. Her death is her liberation. Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning”. The verse suggests that sadness is temporary. It applies here to the final scene of the movie. Lucy Muir’s years of loneliness and longing end upon her death. But the joy for her was the reuniting of her and her love, Captain Gregg, who is there to greet her as she passes into his world. They are depicted as younger, say in their 20s, the spring of their youth. He takes her by the hand and leads her out through the house. She stops to say goodbye to Martha but is unable to do so. Then he takes her through the doorway and out into the world beyond. This scene is a powerful statement about what lies beyond. After she died we must suppose that he at that time took her to see all those wonderful things he spoke of when he departed from her life before.
When Captain Gregg first met Lucy Muir he insisted that a self-portrait of him remain placed on the wall in the master bedroom. Much later in the movie Miles Fairley painted a portrait of Lucy Muir. She had that portrait hung on the wall beside that of Captain Gregg, and so those two portraits remained side by sided until the two people depicted in them were united in the afterlife. Note that the two love interests in Lucy’s life that were portrayed in the movie were the painters of these portraits, but she was the one to hang them side by side.
This and all ghost movies imply that there is a world out there all around us and only perceived through senses other than the usual five or perceived when the haunting entity intends to be perceived. This notion is quite fascinating to us and all religions proclaim this. The fascination with this spiritual world is itself fascinating. Some people accept it as real. Others resist the belief. Throughout the course of the movie we watch as Lucy went through various times, first when she believed and was happy, then (after and evidently because of the ghost’s hypnotic suggestion) she resisted believing though it is obvious that she wanted to. And finally with her death came the full realization of the reality of Captain Gregg. It was a reality that was joyful to her, so much so that she did not want to return to the physical, skeptical existence. It’s a bittersweet ending because we realize the separation that occurs with her loved ones in the land of the living, but we see the joy she feels at finding of her love in the afterlife. Is this not the way it is? The movie shows that death is a beautiful thing.
The score is sensational as it both haunting and romantic and evoke the emotions the movie is producing in us.
Captain Gregg Takes Lucy into the Afterlife
“The word ‘muir’ means ‘sea’ in Scots Gaelic. Many times sailors are said to have been ‘married to the sea’, or that the only woman they ever loved was the sea” – From IMDB