Wednesday 28 May 2014

Secret Beyond the Door (1948)

Hemmeligheden bag døren
”Secret Beyond the Door” would have been the result if Val Lewton had decided to produce a mix of ”Rebecca” and “Spellbound”.

Okay, this is not a Val Lewton film, but a film directed and produced by Fritz Lang. That does not change that this is a film with some serious referencing issues. I can almost imagine Lang watching “Rebecca” and thinking: “So ein muss ich auch machen”. A woman coming to a strange house full of strange people and secrets that all conspire against her. It would then be really cool to hang it all up on a Freudian plot like “Spellbound”. Very hot at the time and a perfect device for making seemingly normal people do crazy and frightening things. But the production should be really dark, something like “Cat People” or “I Walked With a Zombie” to really get people out on the edge of the seat. Yeah, that would be so cool.

Fortunately for Lang “Secret Beyond the Door” turned out very good. It works, at least in the sense of creating a frightening and suspenseful ambience. There is far between older suspense movies that really work for me, I am just a jaded 21st movie fan who is used to think that effective suspense requires the boom of an approaching T-Rex or the possibility of a strange girl suddenly appearing in an elevator. But “Secret…” really found me on the edge of the proverbial seat. For scenes like Celia (Joan Bennett) discovering the dark secrets of the Lamphere mansion I can forgive Lang a lot. To discover the scene of your own death on a thundering, dark night is quite a mouthful for Celia and that feeling is transmitted directly and undiluted to us. Lang was always a talented expressionist moviemaker, but rarely as effective as here. I am sure he had been watching some of Jacques Tourneur’s work as well.

If you want to do a remake, you better try to make it better than the original or not at all.

I suppose there was an entire theme going on in the 40’ies with women coming to a new place only to find that they are very much alone in a strange and terrifying place. It was just come il faux. A difference here is that Celia is a much tougher girl than her predecessors. Joan Bennett is making her a far more mature woman than Joan Bennett was in “Rebecca” and more resolute than Ingrid Bergman’s Paula in “Gaslight”. In some ways she reminds me of Betsy in “I Walked With a Zombie”, not least because of her narration.

Celia is a highly eligible heiress vacationing in Mexico when she meets Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave). He is apparently a successful architect and due to some magical chemistry between them they fall in love and get married in a rush. She knows very little of him and we all know what that means: There are skeletons in the closet. He soon start to act weirdly as some events seems to be triggering a different and colder persona. He is like a pendulum swinging between the loving and caring husband and the cold and hostile stranger (who said Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?) and Celia is responding by doubting if this marriage thing is really such a good idea.

The Lamphere mansion is Lang’s Manderley. It is gloomy and stuffed with odd characters. There is Marks dominating sister Caroline (Anne Revere) and Mark’s secretary Miss Robey (Barbara O'Neil), a character who has not a little in common with Mrs. Danvers. And then there is Mark’s son David. Whoops, I guess he forgot to mention that to Celia before they tied the knot. Mark also had a previous wife who died and whose death he is still blaming himself for. Does that sound familiar?

Under a very thin surface everybody seems at odds with each other in the house. David is a really weird boy who walks around with an accusing finger pointed toward Mark (He killed my mother!) Robey is like a ghost secretly in love with Mark and clinging on to her position using guilt as a weapon (She saved David as a child) and Caroline is bossing everybody around. Not the most comfortable place in the world.

All this takes a serious turn for the worse during a house warming party where Mark is encouraged to tour the guests through a series of reconstructed famous rooms, Marks hobby. Mark happily obliges and tells how each room was the scene of a famous murder. It is gruesome, macabre and not a little disturbing. What the hell is going on here? Celia is seriously shaken and frankly I found it a bit hard to believe that Mark and his guests would find such a series of rooms appropriate. Mark is clearly not normal in the head and what is in that mysterious seventh room that Mark insists on keeping locked up?

The following part is the best segment of the movie, but also a part I should not reveal too much from. Suffice to say that Celia HAVE to find out what is in the room and is not too happy with what she finds there.

As I already mentioned the entire film hangs on Freudian psychoanalysis. Mark has some repressed trauma from his childhood relating to his mother (of course) and that makes him behave in a psychotic manner, in this case giving him an urge to kill. He thinks he already did kill and the guilt just compounds the psychosis. Now, since this is a Freudian story Mark, like Anthony Edwardes in “Spellbound” just needs to be confronted with the events in his childhood and he will essentially snap out of his mental illness.

Hollywood loved Freud. Freudian psychoanalysis was a way to disarm an insane murderer and produce a happy ending without too much complication. A silver bullet so to speak. It is also a pile of horse shit psychobabble that trivializes something which is immensely more complicated in reality.

So, where does “Secret Beyond the Door” land? Yes, it is a total rip off, yes we have seen most of it before, yes, the Freudian psychobabble makes me gag, but damn, this is an effective film! It works, goddammit, and for that I can forgive Herr Lang a lot. Okay, this is not “M”, but I did for my part enjoy this movie.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)

Brev Fra en Ukendt Kvinde
”Letter From an Unknown Woman” is touted as a masterpiece by the Book. Technically it is quite okay, but I hated the story and the characters with a vengeance.

Let me explain this right away (and warn of spoilers right away). This is essentially a film about a stalker. A female stalker, but a stalker nonetheless. Joan Fontaine is Lisa Berndle, a woman who all her life has been madly in love with a famous pianist, Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan), who happens to live in the same building. It is the kind of love I think most people experience at some point during their adolescence, the remote adoration of someone unachievable. Like the love for an idol or image or older student who would never look in your direction under normal circumstances. That much is fine. I understand that.

The problem here is that Lisa lets this infatuation totally dominate her life. Like most psychoses an element that is common in normal people has grown out of control and that is why I consider Lisa not a romantic star-struck dreamer, but a psychotic woman. In our day and age she would get a restraining order or get locked up for some treatment.

I am okay with her childhood romance. That is almost normal and even sweet. She stands under the pianist window and listens to his music and dreams that the music is for her. She is overstepping herself when she invades his home, but even that can be excused. She is young and this is the kind of thing silly young people do and we love them for it (sometimes).

My problem with Lisa stems from two episodes, or chapters of her life. The first is from the moment she returns from Linz to Vienna and arrange her entire life around Stefan Brand. Mind you, he has no clue who she is and that she is even around. When they finally meet (because they do) Stefan treats her like on a first date, while she is like a fangirl who knows more about her “victim” than he does. To her credit she chooses to be discreet and mysterious and that was probably the smarter route. Had she blurted out her state of mind he would likely have called the police. Of course she attach a lot more significance to this date than he does, so he just moves on while she nurtures her devotion in the one thing Stefan gave her, a child (named Stefan of course).

As the next chapter opens you would almost think that she has recovered her senses. Little Stefan is 9 years old and an adorable boy. Lisa has married the soldier she once dated and left. He loves her, she loves him and their life together is one of comfort. In fact you would think all turned out well. But no. On the whim of a chance meeting with the now older Stefan Brand Lisa decides to throw it all away. Husband, son, comfortable life, even herself eventually, to throw herself at Stefan Brand. Not a decision she makes on the spot, but careful deliberation brings her to the conclusion that this is what she must do. Only to find out that to Stefan Brand the older Lisa is just another pretty woman with no connection to the earlier encounter and that all the meaning she gave their brief encounter was all in her mind. But then it is too late. Gone is everything, literally.

The ironical thing is that Stefan Brand is not at all worthy of all this attention. He is in a word a scumbag. He is a talented artist (like all such idols) but undisciplined and superficial. He is all words and charm and absolutely no commitment. His declining musical career has nothing to do with a romantic longing for a mysterious girl, but all to do with an unhealthy and idle lifestyle.

Now, I will admit that there is some potential of an interesting drama in a story of a stalker and a hedonist, but for me all is ruined by the intention of the movie. It seems to me that the movie wants us to root for this girl. We are to think that it is so romantic, that she is willing to sacrifice everything for this man and that he is a fool not to reach out for her. Goddammit she is a psychopath! Ruining people’s lives for a dream no more real than the Easter Bunny. I cannot forgive her to give up on a loving and caring husband who will do anything for her and is taking in her son as his own, well knowing that he is the lovechild that could never be his. And more importantly she has no care for her beautiful son who has finally found a home and a father and instead tosses him into the unknown. That he as an indirect result dies from typhus is not really her fault, but the fact is that it would not have happened if she could just have controlled those crazy feelings.

I do not really give a shit for Lisa and Stefan senior, but I care for her husband and son as her victims and I am angry with her and more importantly the director for telling us that in the name of romantic love such casualties are acceptable. That is stupid nonsense and I will not have it.

Done with that.

On the technical side I quite liked how they have tried to recreate Vienna around year 1900. Max Ophüls would have known Vienna quite well as he used to live there before the war. Of course it is odd with everybody speaking English with varying accents in Vienna, but that is not unusual for this sort of films. The music is nice and elegant and on the technical side my only complaint is that Joan Fontaine is playing Lisa in all her life stages. That works well in her older incarnations, but to see this 30-something woman playing a 12 year old girl is just creepy. The extra-material explains this as Lisa placing herself in her younger body, but I am not buying it. They actively tried to make her 12 years old and failed. To me it seems like they wrongly thought this would be preferable to having a younger actress playing Lisa-as-a-child.

Anyway, this movie disgusted me and I hope I will not have to see it again. Done.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Ladri di Biciclette (1948)

Welcome to 1948. The first film of this interesting year is “Ladri di Biciclette” or “Bicycle Thieves”, a movie whose acclaim has not gone unnoticed. This is a movie I have heard of even before I started this project, though I never saw it before now, and it has won a number of international prices including an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

I am not surprised really. This is an amazing movie

I should at this point warn that this review contains massive spoilers. If you have not seen it read no further. Do not get your experience tempered by me revealing the ending. Just go see this film, please.

Now that you have seen the film there is little point in me summarizing the plot. You know that this is essentially a film about a father and his son desperately looking for a stolen bicycle.

There is a lot of excellent stuff in this film.

The first item I noticed is how real the film is. Okay, duh, this is Italian neo-realism. It is supposed to be realistic. But “Ladri di Biciclette” takes realism to a new level. People act and talk like they would in reality. Gone is the stylized and cool dialogue or the tough guy act. These are people who act out of need and do what anybody would do in such a situation. Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) needs a job badly because he has a family to take care of. His wife, Maria Ricci (Lianella Carell) sacrifices the bed sheets because they are in this together and if the job requires a bike then it is essential to get it back from the pawn shop. When the bike is stolen it is just really bad luck, you cannot even blame Antonio for not locking it. He does not return directly to Maria because he feels he has let her down. This must somehow be fixed before he can face her. When she appears she is more interested in solutions than throwing up a melodramatic tantrum. This is their future as a family which is at stake.

It is this behavioral pattern that is so familiar and recognizable from ourselves that makes this film so relevant for us. In this day and age a stolen bicycle would hardly be a crisis, certainly not of this magnitude, but these characters (and the direction of course) make it very real. Frankly, when his bike got stolen I was devastated although I knew it was coming. I had to take a little break to recover.

What do you do in such a situation Antonio finds himself in? What can you really do? You can go to the police, but they could not care less. There are more important things for them to do than look for stolen bicycles. That has not changed since. Antonio does the only thing he can do, he go out to look for the bicycle himself. It is hopeless of course, Rome is a big city and in 1948 bicycles seem to be the mode of transportation. Even though he do find the thief, which is quite an achievement, it helps him zip. No proof, no bicycle, no witnesses and it is clear that the bicycle thieves are an organized lot. That bicycle is gone and so it the job that Antonio and Maria had hinged their future on.

Had this been a contemporary Hollywood production Antonio would have found the bicycle somehow, probably in some miraculous coincidence, or some other opportunity would have appeared, but that is hardly realistic, is it? What is realistic is what this sort of desperation drives a man to do. He tries (and fails) to forget his misfortune, what else is the visit to the restaurant? He hopes for some divine intervention and that is as useless as ever, and eventually he succumbs to the worst of all. Giving up his principles and become thief himself. Another devastating moment.

In all this I have not mentioned another truly amazing element to the movie: Bruno Ricci (Enzo Staiola), Antonio’s little son. Enzo was 8 years at the time of filming and Bruno is supposed to be 7-8 years old. Normally I dislike children in older movies. They tend to come about fake and staged, but not Bruno. He is absolutely adorable and more importantly, the father – son relationship is just perfectly heartbreaking. This relationship, how it works through the crisis, the respect, love but also friction is maybe even more important than the search for the bicycle. Although the movie ends on a downbeat it also ends with father and son reunited and more together than ever. When Bruno smiles I am happy. When Bruno is missing I worry, when Bruno cries “Papa” and runs to his father my heart is overflowing. That is how good this film works and why it is tearing me apart. Oh, Bruno’s disbelief when he sees his father stealing a bike…

In the extra-material  Vittorio De Sica says that neo-realism was not a conscious effort to do exactly that. The neo-realists after the war set out to find the truth, not realism. Film can never be real, but film can be true. I think there is a lot of right in that. I felt watching this film that it was true.

Bonus detail: The poster Antonio is putting up is a poster for the movie “Gilda”. Funny, but also symbolic. “Gilda” in the world of “Ladri di Biciclette” is fiction.

Saturday 17 May 2014

The Soldier and Jenny (Soldaten og Jenny) (1947)

Soldaten og Jenny
”Soldaten og Jenny” (The Soldier and Jenny) is the third replacement in the Danish edition of the Book. It replaces “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” and it is the final movie from 1947.

Lately I have been watching a number of excellent films. Sometimes the production value is really good, sometimes the story or the acting is of high quality and a few time everything just work out perfectly. By 1947 the standard has become pretty good. Unfortunately Danish movies do not seem to be on par with the rest of the world at this time. On so many levels this particular movie seems to be two or three steps behind the level of its contemporary foreign films. This surprises me since the last Danish film I reviewed (Ditte Menneskebarn) was of very high quality, but perhaps that was the exception.

I am a bit confused why this film is on the list. It is unexceptional on almost every account. There are a few bright spots, but not enough to really make a difference.

The Soldier, Robert Olsen (Poul Reichhardt) is complaining about his lot in life to a bartender (Per Buckhøj) when an acquaintance enters the bar. This is Gustav Skow (Gunnar Lauring), a chauffeur, who brags about how awesome he is with the girls. His date enters the bar hesitantly. This is Jenny Christensen (Bodil Kjer). Gustav immediately sets about wooing her and his technique involves pouring lots of alcohol on her, clearly against her will. Robert intervenes and knocks down Gustav. Pling, Jenny and Robert are a new couple.

This single scene takes about 20 minutes and that is characteristic for the entire film. The pace is soooo slow. It is not just that the movie takes its time to explore characters and makes room for plenty of dialogue. I would not even say that it does that. We do not really get to know the characters very well. It is more that everything happens in that glacial pace that I suspect that the film is stretched to become a feature length film. Too many sets may have been too expensive.

While Jenny and Robert explore their newfound love we follow a different thread. State prosecutor Olaf Knauer (Elith Pio) is working on a case of utmost importance, a crusade from the minister of justice against abortion. Not just against the shady doctors who perform them but particularly against the unfortunate women who went to these dodgy practitioners to get an abortion. This is back when abortion was illegal in Denmark and I suppose the film has a political side there. This may be the other end of the social spectrum from Jenny and Robert, but everything is not good in the Knauer mansion. His wife Birgit (Karin Nellemose) has an affair with the very lawyer that Knauer has arranged to run the case and even worse, Knauer’s chauffeur is none other than Gustav Skow who lost his girl and drowned his sorrow and hurt pride in booze. In this unfortunate state he crashes Knauer’s car, kills himself and sends Knauer to the hospital.

Meanwhile Jenny is being contacted by the police. It turns out that she is one of the unfortunate girls and apparently the charge fills her so with shame that she is contemplating suicide.

There are a few surprises, but really when you think about them they are not surprises at all. You see them coming a long way off. In fact as you sketch up the plotlines there is here the basis for a very interesting and even relevant crisis, but it fizzles and without revealing too much of the resolution I can safely say that the ending is rather anticlimactic.

Poul Reichhardt and Bodil Kjer were for decades the first lovers of Danish film. They made countless movies being exactly these kinds of characters and the audience loved them. They are pretty and charming and that likability goes some way to save the film. They are the kind of people you would want to root for. Unfortunately, and that may be the age, they do come about rather meek and colorless. There is not a lot of fire in these people and that despite that Robert has been equipped with a violent streak. He manages to punch three different people to the ground in the course of the film.

The best scene of the film is Roberts visit to the parents of Jenny. They are terrible people, but so exaggerated terrible that they are actually funny. The mother (Maria Garland) was born of a well-off family and has never forgotten it. She is obsessing about status and titles and measures Jenny’s boyfriends singularly along this parameter, so much that she adores the pig of a boyfriend who impregnated Jenny and left her simply because he was the son of a wealthy fur trader. Watching her mourn the loss of that potential son in law to Robert’s face is actually funny. The father (Johannes Meyer) is even worse. He is an embittered customs assistant who never made any career advances and blames the world. Despite his own failure he sets a high standard for his family and takes his anger out on his wife and Jenny. We get a spectacular tantrum at the dinner table when he gets disappointed by his food. Great behavior on the first visit of the prospective son in law. Hilarious really.

The worst scene (and there are a few candidates although the film does not really hold that many scenes) would be when Birgit plays the sexy and cunning femme fatale for the lawyer George Richter (Sigfred Johansen). I have a lot of respect for Karin Nellemose in general, but here, instead of being a sexy snake, she looks and sounds like she is falling asleep. It is horrible. And the reaction of George is almost as bad. He is supposed to be a badass womanizer who considers himself above the many women he frequents, yet he is impossibly allured by the sleeping beauty. It is not bad casting, but horrible direction.

“Soldaten og Jenny” is symptomatic for many Danish movies over the next two decades. The movies were simple, cheap and inexpertly made, but generally loved by the public. They would be fairly harmless to watch and would be considered wholesome entertainment for the entire family. Maybe this is why this one was picked. By touching the abortion issue it went into slightly more dangerous ground than the average movie of the period and that could have set it apart.

To me the one thing I did find interesting was that this was a contemporary film as opposed to the previous Danish entries which were all period pieces. Many of the shots are from the streets of Copenhagen and it is really fun to see how everything was there in 1947. Frankly I would have preferred spending an hour and a half exploring Copenhagen anno 1947 than following these characters. That would have been really nice.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Odd Man Out (1947)

Natten Uden Nåde
There can be no doubt that Carol Reed’s ”Odd Man Out is a technical masterpiece. From start to finish we are served an extravagant feast of light and shadow. Close ups and odd angles. Framed faces and anguish in the eyes of the characters. We even get a dose of surrealist dream visions to top is off. It is quite delicious really.

Unfortunately I am not sure the story itself can carry this film. It is not just that the story is thin, it is more that I am not sure where it is going. The Book says this is the story about how alone you can be, but I am not convinced. It is a bit odd.

The unnamed Northern Irish city with a major port can almost only be Belfast and the “organization” fighting an armed struggle against the authorities can almost only be IRA and that makes this the first film on the list about the trouble in Northern Ireland. Only last week I heard that there is trouble there again and it is so sad with these conflicts that just never end. I have been to Northern Ireland and really they are the nicest people in the world and yet home to this ongoing insanity. If anything, that is also the (or a) message of this 67 year old film.

Johnny McQueen (James Mason) is the leader of a cell of the “organization” (read IRA). They need funding for their cause so they rob a mill and in the process shoot a guard to death. Johnny is wounded and gets lost during the escape and the rest of the movie is essentially Johnny’s odyssey through the city this cold and wet evening and night, and the search for him.

He meets two nurses who boots him out when they find out who he is, a taxi driver who dumps him at the junkyard and bar staff who just want to get rid of him. Shell (F. J. McCormick) is a bum who sees in Johnny McQueen the value of handing him in to the highest bidder (currently Father Tom, though his price offered was a bit obscure). Shell’s roomie, the mad painter Lukey (Robert Newton), desperately wants to paint Johnny and even the (sort of) doctor who end up treating him does it to finally get some recognition from his peers.

Real sympathy Johnny only gets from his compatriots and his girlfriend Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan). Two of the gang members are lured by an old matron who turns out not to be as sympathetic to their cause as they thought and a third is cornered in a tram by the police. That leaves Kathleen who wants to follow Johnny out of love rather than politics.

It is striking how little support the gang gets. Oh, people are afraid of them, but they just want to keep out of trouble. None of them are sympathetic to their cause. So, what are a group of fighters with hardly any backing, who rob factories and shoots people but simple gangsters? As simple gangsters they are vermin to be cleansed from the streets and that is essentially just a police matter. It is this reduction of political ideals to simple crime that is almost the most devastating about the film. It takes away their raison d’etre and it removes our sympathies for the characters. As faceless as the police inspector (Denis O'Dea) is he got it right when he tells Kathleen to stay out of it. Theirs is a lost cause and it is now just a police job.

Johnny had hinted at his doubts to begin with, but I fear that was mainly to score some sympathy points from us. Despite a nascent change of heart he is fundamentally a common criminal and that I suppose is something he comes to realize through the night. Not a real person, just a criminal.

If this destruction of a character, I did not really like to begin with, is the object of the film then it does a pretty good job. You might say that this is an English film and that it would therefore be naturally inclined against IRA terrorism, but I still think it is quite clear-sighted to see these bandits for the vermin they are rather than soldiers in a war and so I cannot really consider this a political film against the republican cause in NI, rather it is a film against terrorism in general and that actually makes it relevant even today.

As already mentioned James Mason is Johnny McQueen. He is charismatic and it is always a pleasure to watch him and especially hear him. He is one of those British actors who are blessed with a very pleasant voice. I cannot help comparing him to Sam Neill (although he is not English at all) both in looks and intonation. Trouble is that no matter how much I like James Mason and how good he is at being lost and lonely in the Belfast night his character is just not likable. Will he make it out of town? Will he manage to avoid the police and survive his wounds? Parts of me hope that he will not and instead I am rooting for the police inspector. I am not sure if that is the intension. Somehow I think the swan song of this gangster is at the heart of the film and that criminal or not he is a human being in bad need of help.

“Odd Man Out” is called a film noir. I think that is stretching the definition a bit. It is dark and brooding. It is fatalistic and with an antihero at the center of things. But it lacks a crucial element: Where is the gorgeous femme fatale?  

Wednesday 7 May 2014

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
Here is a movie I went into absolutely blank. Usually I can and do read up on the movie of the night in the Book, but not this one. The Danish edition I have has replaced it with a Danish movie and the latest (10th) edition has removed it altogether. That is not a very promising start. Two different sets of editors have decided that this movie might not be that important after all.

Well, it may not be “Gone with the Wind”, but maybe my total unpreparedness for the movie made me quite receptable. I did find this movie very entertaining and rather charming.

“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” does a bit of theme surfing at the opening. When Lucy Muir (pronounced Mrs. Miur) in the shape of Gene Tierney arrive at the desolate Gull Cottage by the sea with her daughter Anna (Natalie Wood as child Anne and Vanessa Brown as adult Anna) and maid Martha (Edna Best) they find a haunted house. We get some effective horror effects and a creepy ambience and I mentally prepared myself for this sort of film.

It is hardly a spoiler to say that there is a ghost in the movie and that this ghost is rather important. It may however be a surprise that the ghost is supposed to be real. At least that is the premise of the story. Usually ghost in older movies are explained as an illusion or fantasy, but this one is the real thing. Cottage Gull IS haunted.

At this point the movie changes gear because our ghost turns out to be a boisterous sea-captain about as harmless as Casper, The Friendly Ghost. When Lucy stands up to the ghost instead turning tail is becomes clear that this is a comedy rather that a horror story. Watching Lucy face off this blistering old fart of a ghost is actually quite hilarious.

Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison) used to own the house and is keeping everybody away through his haunting. He wants it turned into a home for retired seamen and Lucy better leave like all the rest. But Lucy has other plans. She is a recent widow to a man she did not love and an escapee from her horrible in-laws. She wants to live in this house so the captain better get used to this.

It turns out that these two characters actually like each other and gradually the movie takes a second turn into romance territory. A love story with a ghost… hmm… I think I have seen that before. The difference here is that there is a gentle touch to the story. We are in Victorian days at the turn of the century and in England no less so even relationships between people of body and flesh have a certain platonic and hands-off feel to them. A relationship to a ghost is really not that different. But more importantly there is little of the over-the-top melodrama and that love-beyond-death drivel those stories are usually dribbling with. This is largely due to the captain’s direct and no-nonsense attitude and Lucy’s backbone.

Their project together becomes a book that Lucy writes about the life of Captain Gregg. It is a brash and masculine book and not at all what you would expect from an English lady. This of course makes it a success so Lucy get the economic basis for staying in the house, but I think the underlying idea is that Lucy is projecting a suppressed side of her into the book. Subconsciously she wishes she was out there on the high seas, away from a demeaning and chastened life and since she otherwise keep herself under tight reins she must have another outlet.      

Curiously this is also the road the movie takes when Lucy later on meets a real flesh and skin man. Although Captain Gregg is initially opposed to this guy he eventually chooses to disappear from her life convincing her that he was indeed just a figment of her mind, a fantasy she was living. Interesting how the symbolism of the film thus becomes literal.

Speaking of this new man he is a real jackass. Miles Fairley (George Sanders) is writing children books under the name “Uncle Neddy”. Just listen to that name. So creepy. We know he is slime, Anna and Martha know he is slime, Gregg hates his guts, but Lucy is enamored by his sleek manners. I suppose he appeals to her rebellious Victorian mind with promises of erotic adventure the same way that the ghost and the book offered an escape to the high seas. In the end however Fairley is also an illusion and luckily she gets out of that one unharmed. Unfortunately it also means that she now resigns herself to her little Victorian prison/heaven in blissful solitude.

I liked this movie more than I expected and it is still growing on me. The more I think of the character Lucy the more interesting she becomes. Her attempts to get out of her shell are poignant and told with a subtlety that seems more in character of British films than American films and certainly light years better than “Peter Ibbetson”.

Gene Tierney I last saw in “Laura”. What a remarkable difference! Though I truly liked “Laura”, I felt that Tierney was wrongly casted for that movie. For “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” however she was perfect. I read that she eventually suffered misfortune professionally and personally, but this movie is long before that happened. Poor girl.