Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Margaret Rutherford as Madame Arcati
BLITHE SPIRIT (1945). Director: David Lean. Based on the play by Noel Coward, who also produced the film.

To do research for his next book, writer Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison) and his wife Ruth (Constance Cummings) invite well-known psychic Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford) to dinner and a seance. Everyone at the dinner party thinks the madame is slightly nuts, and definitely a phony, but to Charles and Ruth's surprise she inadvertently manages to call back the spirit of Elvira (Kay Hammond) -- Charles' first wife, leading to expected -- and a few unexpected -- complications! One critic called the source material for the movie, the play of the same title by Noel Coward, "a wearying  exhibition of bad taste" and indeed it is the sort of dark comedy/farce in which tragic situations are milked for laughs and characters sort of suppress natural human emotions for the sake of the story. Many will feel there's a definite streak of [probably benign and possibly unintended] misogyny running through the movie as well. Harrison and Cummings are fine as the husband and his second wife, but Kay Hammond -- although her performance isn't bad -- has so affected and unnatural a voice, with its jutting lower lip and distasteful inflections, that she becomes positively repulsive as Elvira. Margaret Rutherford, on the other hand, is as delightful as ever as the medium and steals the movie from everyone else. Blithe Spirit is not exactly a laugh-riot [although any pathos the situations might have had goes unexplored] but it is amusing and entertaining. A bonus on the remastered DVD of the film is an interview with Coward scholar Barry Day, who provides much interesting information  on the background both of the play and movie, and also explores the many differences between the two -- and Coward's reaction to the film as well; Day is marvelous.

Verdict: Certainly worth a look. ***.

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