There’s an admirable modernity amidst the old-fashioned elegance of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), a romantic ghost story with a strong-willed young widow and the salty but gentlemanly spirit of a sea captain. Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, a veteran screenwriter and producer whose wit and way with strong, striking characters guided his direction, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was his fifth directorial effort but the first to pull all of his strengths together in such a charming and evocative way.
Gene Tierney is Lucy Muir, a beautiful young widow with a little girl (played by Natalie Wood) living in the oppressive home of her nervous, clingy mother-in-law and disapproving sister-in-law, a severe spinster whose every comment carries a critical judgment. Lucy is as independent-minded as a woman can be in turn-of-the-century England, an era when horse-drawn carriages still outnumber buggy-like motorcars, and this single mother chooses to leave London for the quaint little town of Whitecliff-on-the-Sea and Gull Cottage, a handsome old home perched on a cliff overlooking the coast. Tierney was more movie star than nuanced performer but she musters a quiet strength for this character. “Haunted. How perfectly fascinating,” she smiles as she makes her mind up, and soon she makes the acquaintance of its former owner Captain Daniel Gregg, played with a gruff, flinty manner by Rex Harrison.
Their first meeting is magnificent. On a stormy night, Lucy wanders downstairs into the kitchen with a single candle casting long shadows across the wall and highlighting those famous Tierney cheekbones that helped make her a glamorous leading lady in Laura and Leave Her to Heaven.