Blithe Spirit (1945)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

, 1945, Screenplay by , , , based on the play by Cinematography by Ronald Neame.  Produced by Noel Coward.  Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by .

Noel Coward’s charming play, still his most beloved and popular, is translated to the big screen by David Lean. Novelist Rex Harrison has invited a local curiosity to come over for dinner, a medium (Margaret Rutherford) in whose abilities he doesn’t believe but whose techniques he wants to observe for a book he is writing.

The soiree includes Harrison’s wife (), and their friends, a doctor () and his wife (), all of whom can barely contain their ridicule when the kooky lady shows up, does her funny little tricks and then leaves in a whirlwind. They assume they have been exposed to nothing more than child’s play, but while getting ready to turn in for the night, the host couple are upset by the sudden apparition of Harrison’s deceased first wife (), who appears only to him and causes him ire while Cummings sees nothing and believes her husband to be drunk or worse.

Now the author has a sassy, edgy poltergeist (rendered by beautifully painting the actress a dazzling shade of green) following him around and trying to take his affection away from his current spouse, while his living wife visits Rutherford in the hopes that she can undo her mess.

Lean has opened up Coward’s play beyond its one setting but hasn’t actually opened up the action, it feels contained and stagy despite including scenes in other locations. The director’s change to the play’s original ending will annoy fans of the original (Coward himself was not a fan), but the beautiful cinematography and the exquisite cast, all of whom gleam in their evening wear (and Rutherford looks that much more wonderfully ridiculous in contrast), will help soothe the wound.

Initially unsuccessful on both sides of the ocean when it was first released, it has become something of a beloved classic amongst its cult of fans.

The Criterion Collection:  #606

Academy Award:  Best Special Effects


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