Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. United Kingdom, 1945. Two Cities Films, Noel Coward-Cineguild. Screenplay by David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan, based on the play by Noel Coward. Cinematography by Ronald Neame. Produced by Noel Coward. Music by Richard Addinsell. Production Design by C.P. Norman. Costume Design by Raemonde Rahvis. Film Editing by Jack Harris. Academy Awards 1946.
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 details he wants to observe for a book he is writing. The soiree includes Harrison’s wife (Constance Cummings), their friend the doctor (Hugh Wakefield) and his wife (Joyce Carey), 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 (Kay Hammond), 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.