The Ghost And Mrs. Muir (DVD)
Romantic ghost stories are often more about the absence of sex than the presence of spirits. In 1947's The Ghost And Mrs. Muir, Gene Tierney plays a widowed turn-of-the-century Londoner with no apparent prurient interests: She lacks passionate feeling for her late husband, and she describes the conception of preadolescent daughter Natalie Wood as something that "just happened," reducing the reproductive act to a shrug of the shoulders. Carnality in The Ghost And Mrs. Muir is left up to the ghost himself, a salty old sea captain played by Rex Harrison, who haunts the seaside cottage Tierney rents after her husband's death. He swears like a sailor–or so the audience is told, since the movie maintains the era's decorum–and he lingers in Tierney's bedroom at night, which enables him to make appreciative comments about her (off-camera) naked figure. But he is, in the end, a ghost, meaning he can't touch the skittish Tierney. The Ghost And Mrs. Muir was adapted by director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and screenwriter Philip Dunne from a novel by R.A. Dick, and it holds to the potboiler form, juiced by episodic crises. Crisis One has Tierney running low on money and about to lose her house. For Crisis Two, she meets a children's author (played by the chivalrous/caddish George Sanders) who threatens her relationship with the ghost. The Ghost And Mrs. Muir is the latest of the monthly "Fox Studio Classics" DVD releases, and as with earlier entries, the new disc is nicely adorned with extras. In addition to A&E's Harrison episode of Biography, the set features two commentary tracks, one with Christopher Hustead (who manages the estate of Muir's composer, Bernard Herrmann) and film historian/effects expert Greg Kimble, and the other with film professor Jeanine Basinger and Mankiewiecz biographer Kenneth Geist. All the commentators offer pertinent pieces of history and analysis, but only Basinger addresses the physical aspect of Tierney's love, and the heroine's choice between the messy real and the spotless imaginary. The Ghost And Mrs. Muir lends itself to multiple viewings, because it's slowly paced with lots of dialogue, and the long conversations reveal more nuance the second or third time through. Plus, the more time viewers spend with the film, the more they can contemplate whether Harrison's ghost really exists, or if he's just the manifestation of Tierney's deepest fantasy: to have a man without really having him.