This is one of my favourite romantic films. I always watch this if I’m in need of cheering up. This is a film that touches my heart like no other ever has. I love it because the characters are likeable, loneliness is cured, friendship and love are found, and there is the right mix between fantasy and reality to make it all work.
I also love how the film shows Mrs.Muir and the Captain helping each other to change. He helps her become outgoing and strong, while providing her with the love and appreciation her life has lacked up to this point. She in return helps him become gentler and more sociable. The plot of the film is a sort of Beauty and The Beast story. I’m partial to stories of opposites attracting and personalities being changed for the better. This is one of my favourite such stories.
The film is based upon the 1945 novel of the same name, which was written by R. A Dick. The film is directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. The film is set on the British coast (actually filmed in California) at the turn of the 20th century. Gene Tierney is at her most beautiful and regal here as the young widow, Mrs. Lucy Muir. Rex Harrison is intense and gruff as the ghostly Captain Gregg, the former owner of the haunted cottage that Mrs. Muir moves into.
There is an ambiguity that you can easily pick up on in the film I think, about whether or not the Captain is actually a real manifestation, or if he is merely wish fulfilment and a part of Mrs. Muir’s overactive imagination. For example when she moves in to her new home and sees the portrait of the Captain hanging in a room, she becomes intrigued by this sailor in the portrait and begins to think of him and imagines he appears to her.
The Captain could also be a representation of her beginning to start breaking free of her past restrictions. With the Captain around, Mrs. Muir becomes much more open, adventurous, and she has some much needed fun.She is no longer living a sheltered and pampered life. If you believe that then it’s also possible that she writes the book later in the film simply due to being inspired by her surroundings and the history of her new home.
However, it’s pretty obvious that the Captain is indeed a real ghost. Mrs. Muir’s daughter sees him too, as do the relations of Mrs. Muir’s dead husband(in a memorable scene where the Captain evicts them from the premises). There is also the fact that hauntings were reported to be happening at the cottage long before Mrs. Muir ever arrived there, and the ending pretty much(for me at least)proves his existence.
Mrs Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney)is a widow. She and her daughter (Natalie Wood)move to their new home Gull Cottage on the British coast. The pair are joined by their loyal maid and friend, Martha(Edna Best). One night, Lucy is startled to meet the ghost of the former owner of her new home. This man is the rough and gruff Captain Gregg (Rex Harrison). The two do not get along at all at first. He soon warms to her presence though and allows her to stay. He won’t disturb her with haunting tricks (moving furniture etc).
As they spend more time together, the Captain falls in love with Lucy, all the while knowing full well that nothing can ever come of their growing feelings and desire. She comes to care for him a great deal too. The pair settle for a close friendship and she agrees to write his memoirs about life as a sailor.
They finish the book, and she takes it to a publisher. Whilst on a trip to the publishers, Lucy meets the charming (and obvious cad)Miles Fairley(George Sanders, at his most charming and oily), he (supposedly) falls in love with her. The Captain however can see straight through Miles’s charming façade. He knows full well that this man is no good, but will Lucy ever see and accept the truth about this elegant living man in her life?
Rex and Gene make a beautiful screen couple. I think that they perfectly convey the shared heartache and desires of their characters. I love how their shared scenes become more tender and moving as the film goes on, and as their characters feelings for one another increase.
Rex Harrison is an actor who I’ve never really been that much of a fan of, but I really do like him here. Rex makes the Captain harsh and gruff, and yet he also shows us that his outward appearance is nothing more than an act, he is really a gentle, tender and very decent man underneath.
Gene Tierney delivers one of her very best performances here, as the rich young woman finally getting her first chance to do the things she wants to do. She starts off as a restrained woman who doesn’t express much. Through her friendship with the Captain she becomes more outgoing and open. Gene does a marvellous job of showing us that change in her character. She makes Mrs. Muir strong, determined, gentle and excitable.
George Sanders is all smooth charm and elegance as Miles. This is one of his best cad roles in my opinion. He makes us all fall for Miles just as much as Mrs. Muir does when she meets him.
Bernard Herrmann’s beautiful score for this is one of his very best, it’s atmospheric and for me always conjures up images of the sea. It’s a moving and passionate score.
Natalie Wood is adorable as Mrs. Muir’s daughter. Edna Best steals all the scenes she’s in as Martha. I love the friendship/mother and daughter relationship between Martha and Mrs. Muir, and Edna and Gene really convince us of their bond.
The photography by Charles Lang is gorgeous. He was Oscar nominated for his work here. I particularly love his photography in the kitchen scene, it’s so dark and scary, and then when the candle is lit the room becomes very atmospheric casting shadows on the walls.
My all time favourite scene in this is the dream scene. In this scene we see the Captain realise that he must make quite a sacrifice to ensure Lucy’s future happiness. It is a heartbreaking moment. I also really love the scene on the train where the Captain yells at an old man who wants to share Lucy’s compartment, and because the Captain is invisible to anyone except Lucy, the old man thinks she has yelled insults at him and his reaction to her is priceless.
Superb performances from the entire cast. This is a must watch for fans of classic era romance. Make sure you have some tissues with you though as it’s guaranteed to make you shed a few tears. There was a TV series of this made in the 1960’s. I’ve been lucky enough to find the episodes on YouTube, if you haven’t seen it and like the film, then do check it out because it’s equally lovely. Hope Lange plays Mrs. Muir and Edward Mulhare plays Captain Gregg. I enjoyed this very much, it’s more of a comedy than a romantic drama, but there are many lovely scenes between the Captain and Mrs. Muir to enjoy too.
Nothing can top this film version for me though. The gorgeous score, the excellent performances, the poignant romance, and the interesting premise make this a timeless classic. It is a film I return to again and again. It never fails to make me laugh and cry. It provides the perfect viewing for times when I am ill or sad.
What do you think of the film?