First, there is Bernard Herrmann's gorgeous score. If nothing else, I could watch this film for one of the most beautiful, romantic and entrancing scores ever composed for a film. With "Vertigo" and "Psycho", it is one of Herrmann's masterpieces. Watching the film again, I realised how much of the film's magic it is due to its music.
I say magic, and really don't use the word lightly. This arguably one of the finest, most beautiful and certainly one of the loveliest films ever produced in Hollywood. I am left wondering if there is anything wrong with it - which probably there is, as nothing is perfect; but right now I am still basking on this feeling of falling in love all over again. Like love, I can't explain it all, but I will do my best.
I first came to this film in a screening in 1999 at the Portuguese
Cinematheque, where has been regularly screened, as it was one of its late director
favourite films. I have seen it a few times over the years (although
not lately), shared it once with a friend in Bristol on a faulty DVD and
had a few misses as well, chiefly missing a screening during a weekend
in Paris cause I got ill.
It was directed (but not written) by Joe Mankiewicz, who brings an atypical balance of comedy, romance and other-worldliness. It is funny and touching, but you wouldn't describe it as a romantic comedy (although it might have been one if it had been filmed ten years earlier). This is a story of a young widow (Gene Tierney), who in search
of independence from her nagging in-laws ends in a cottage by the sea
in turn of the century England. In this cottage, she finds a ghost of
the previous owner (Rex Harrison) who helps her find her independence, both financially
and as an individual. George Sanders completes the leads and a very young Natalie Wood
plays Tierney's daughter.
Tierney is perfect. I really can't find another word for her performance. As good as she was in "Laura" and "Leave Her to Heaven", she is even better here. She refuses to let Mrs Muir to be an object of pity, instead showing the character's strength and making you fall her over and over again. She also has the help of two fine actors - Harrison and Sanders - as the two men of her life; one alive (Sanders) and one dead or imagined (Harrison); with Harrison giving a career high performance in my opinion (with a confidence on screen that was lacking in some of his earlier British films). All three actors are actually key in Mankiewicz oeuvre; if Tierney has her summit here, Harrison would achieve it in "Cleopatra" and Sanders as the unforgettable Adison DeWitt in "All About Eve".
Charles Lang got an Oscar nomination for best Black and White cinematography. The only one that film got. Not one for Tierney, not one for Herrmann. Didn't they hear how wonderful it was? Every time I hear it, it transports me back to that cottage by the sea, surrounded by fog, and in it, a young widow is waiting for the ghost of a captain. And I'll fall in love all over again.