Joseph Mankiewicz's intriguingly contrary The Ghost and Mrs. Muir seems to be settling into the comfortable rhythms and cadences of a light supernatural comedy, but takes an unexpected right turn into more melodramatic waters for its final act. Its opening scenes are surprisingly spooky. Gene Tierney is the widow who moves with her young daughter (Natalie Wood) to a cottage on the coast, only to discover the shadows in her new abode are haunted by the spirit of the home's previous owner, beardy seaman Captain Greig (Rex Harrison), who proves determined to drive the newcomers out. Some form of détente is reached, but when Mrs. Muir is pursued by George Sanders as a (living, breathing) childrens' author, the ghost starts getting possessive.
Apparently left to play on the beach for the duration, Wood rather gets forgotten about (whatever else she is, Mrs. Muir is not much of a mother), and if the whole is intended as a proto-feminist fable - perhaps casting Tierney's budding writer as a new Virginia Woolf, seeking independence from men seeking all-too-earthly pleasures - I don't quite buy it. Nevertheless, the film remains an elegant and eminently sophisticated production, nudged along by a couple of truly stellar performances. Tierney is lovely, enough to balance out the misanthropy of the men around her and make doubly affecting the solitude she falls into, while Harrison, in a dream role for any actor who doesn't do early morning calls, manages to be both fantastically and winningly grumpy as the would-be captain of her heart.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is available on DVD through Twentieth Century Fox.