Thursday, November 19, 2015

Gene Tierney in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Today Gene Tierney's turn as Lucy Muir in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) remains one of her most acclaimed performances. It should then come as no surprise that The Ghost and Mr.s Muir is one of her best loved movies. Indeed, it also remains one of her best known movies today, if not the best known.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was based on the novel of the same name by R. A. Dick (the pseudonym of  Josephine Leslie). It was adapted for the screen by Philip Dunne, who had already written several period pieces. He had previously written the screenplays for The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), The Last of the Mohicans (1936), and How Green Was My Valley (1941). The film was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Joseph L. Mankiewicz was already a well established screenwriter, his first screenplay being The Dummy in 1929. His directorial debut would be an auspicious one, Dragonwyck in 1946 (which also starred Gene Tierney). He would go on to direct such films as A Letter to Three Wives (1949), All About Eve (1950), Guys and Dolls (1955), and Sleuth (1972).

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was set in the Edwardian Era and centred on Lucy Muir, a young widow with a daughter who moves to the English village of Whitecliff. There she lives in Gull Cottage, which is haunted by the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg. Fortunately Captain Gregg (Rex Harrison), although a bit of a rascal, is amicable to the young Mrs. Muir. While The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was set in England, the movie was entirely shot entirely in California. Much of the film was shot on Stage 9 of 20th Century Fox Studios, with scenes shot at such locations as Carmel-by-the-Sea and the Monterey Peninsula. The village of Whitecliff was actually a standing set on the 20th Century Fox backlot.

Rex Harrison, who played Captain Gregg, had already starred in several British films, including the classic Night Train to Munich (1940). He had even starred in a film involving ghosts, the Noel Coward comedy Blithe Spirit (1945). With Anna and the King of Siam (1946) he made the move to Hollywood. Lucy Muir's young daughter was played by Natalie Wood, whose next film, Miracle on 34th Street, would bring her lasting fame as a child star.

Shooting on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir began in 1947. Unfortunately the film would not be without its problems. Namely, it was early in the film's production that Gene Tierney took a spill down a flight of stairs. As a result she broke a bone in her left foot. This required Miss Tierney to be a cast. Filming was delayed on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir for a time. When it recommenced. Joseph L. Mankiewicz had to shoot around Gene Tierney's cast. Many scenes were shot with Lucy Muir sitting and in yet others long gowns were used to hide the cast. After two weeks of this Gene Tierney begged her doctor to remove the cast even though the foot was not fully healed. She preferred the slight pain to constantly being in a cast.

Gene Tierney's costume designer on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was Gene Tierney's estranged husband Oleg Cassini. The two had separated in October 1946 after a little over five years of marriage. Despite the separation Gene Tierney and Oleg Cassini remained friendly and, in fact, refused to attack each other in the press. By the end of the production the two had reconciled. The two would eventually divorce in 1952, but remained friends for the rest of their lives.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir premiered on June 26 1947. Surprisingly for a film now considered a classic, reviews were mixed. The critic at The Times wrote of the film, "Mr. Harrison, whose spiritual home is rather the drawing room than the nineteenth century fo'c'sle, fumes and stumps about with an admirable assumption of heartiness, and the pity is that, in spite of all these supernatural goings-on, so little happens." A review published in The New York Times was a bit more positive, beginning, "There is a most engaging spirit of a salty seafarer loose on the screen of the Radio City Music Hall. His name is Capt. Daniel Gregg. And it is a pleasure to be in the captain's mischievous company when he is haunting would-be occupants out of the cozy cottage he built on a bluff overlooking the English Channel, but was forced to quit abruptly when a gas heater snuffed out his life." The critic at The Los Angeles Times also liked The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, stating, "Tierney enacts her role with studious care and is remarkably effective."

Surprisingly given the film's popularity today, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was not a huge hit at the box office, although it did do moderate business. It was the 10th highest grossing film of 1947 with a box office take of $3,750,000. Curiously it was just slightly ahead in the box office of another supernatural comedy that is now regarded as a beloved classic, The Bishop's Wife (no. 11 for the year). The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was nominated for only one Academy Award, the one for Best Cinematography.

Regardless, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir has proven popular through the years. It was twice adapted for radio. The first time was on December 1 1947 on Lux Radio Theatre with  Charles Boyer and Madeleine Carroll in the lead roles. It was adapted to radio a second time on August 16 1951 on Screen Director's Playhouse. In 1968 a television sitcom very loosely based on the original novel, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, debuted on NBC. For its second and final season it moved to ABC.

Although it received mixed critics and only did moderately well at the box office upon its debut, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir has since become one of Gene Tierney's best loved movies. For its list of the greatest love stories on the big screen, the American Film Institute The Ghost and Mrs. Muir at no. 73. There can be little doubt that for many fans it is their favourite Gene Tierney movie. A blend of romance, comedy, and a ghost story, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir will remain popular for years to come.

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