Too Dry For Its Own Good
There are some films which really cry for remastering. This film was in Technicolor, but it's so faded that it looks colorized. On the other hand, I shudder to think how dreadful the ghost makeup would look in the original Technicolor scheme. Graham walked into the room midway through and demanded to know why there was a corpse in the room. The filmmakers decided that the way to have a ghost in the room was to paint the actress green with red lipstick and nail polish. It was decided that this was a better way to do it than double-exposing the film. I believe they felt it gave the ghost more range to interact with the other characters, which I suppose is true. But I have to say that I wouldn't have gone green for it. Grey, I think, would have been a far better choice.
Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison) is one of those drawing-room comedy types, a man who is quite well off despite having no discernible means of support. He is married to Ruth (Constance Cummings), but seven years previous, he was married to Elvira (Kay Hammond). (This is pronounced El-VEE-rah, and not like the Mistress of the Dark.) One night, he and some friends--Doctor (Hugh Wakefield) and Mrs. (Joyce Carey) Bradman--have in Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford), a local medium of the Dotty Old Bat variety. During their séance, she summons the spirit of Elvira, who proceeds to harass Charles. At first, of course, he must convince Ruth that Elvira is even there, because of course he's the only one who can see her, and in fine old Ghost Comedy fashion, everyone thinks he's nuts when he talks to her.
I don't know if this is how Noël Coward saw love, but I find it appalling. It's perfectly right and healthy that Charles remarries, if he feels he's no longer mourning for Elvira. It's also understandable for Ruth to worry about how his past with Elvira might influence his relationship with her. There is nothing wrong with that. It's even reasonable, I think, for a returned Elvira to be upset that Charles has moved on and married someone else. All of this I can get behind with no complaints. But the way these people handle all of their feelings is extremely distasteful. Elvira seems to think that it's Ruth's fault that Charles didn't spend his whole life grieving, that he remarried two years after becoming a widower. She's also a little eager to reclaim Charles, especially given what getting him back would entail. Neither woman much worries about his feelings one way or the other.
Another problem with the movie is that it simply has too many endings. It's only a little over an hour and a half long, but the last twenty minutes or so really seem to drag. It's almost as though Coward wasn't sure how he wanted it to end. And then when we do get through the various possibilities, it's perfectly predictable and yet contradictory of what we believe just happened. We might as well have cut the bit where maid Edith (Jacqueline Clark) is brought in to resolve the situation for some reason that I did not at all understand. It didn't make sense, and it really gets in the way of how the movie does end. And that ending frankly brings about a few more unpleasant connotations which I think we're supposed to brush off as lighthearted and wacky. Not, you know, sordid and bitter.
All in all, I am torn by this movie. It is amusing in places, and of course Rex Harrison excels at this sort of character. It's one of the reasons he was such an excellent Henry Higgins, even though he was starring in a musical without in so many words being able to sing. The medium becomes pretty entertaining as well, and I was glad she was a more major character than the completely innocuous doctor and his wife. However, taken as a whole, the movie didn't really do anything for me. I remember having seen this a long time ago, and I remember having quite liked it. Alas, these things do not always stay. After watching a few minutes of it, Graham suggested that it was something like a gender-reversed [i]Ghost and Mrs. Muir[/i]. This isn't quite true. For one, there isn't the complication of the daughter, and the second wife knows about the first wife going in. There are some other issues as well. On the other hand, I think I ought to have just watched [i]The Ghost and Mrs. Muir[/i] again.