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This article is about the 1945 film. For the play on which it was based, see Blithe Spirit (play).
Blithe Spirit

DVD Cover
Directed by David Lean
Produced by Noël Coward
Written by David Lean
Anthony Havelock-Allan
Ronald Neame
Noël Coward
Starring Rex Harrison
Constance Cummings
Kay Hammond
Margaret Rutherford
Music by Richard Addinsell
Cinematography Ronald Neame
Editing by Jack Harris
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) 14 May 1945 United Kingdom
3 October 1946 United States
Running time 96 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Blithe Spirit (1945) is a British fantasy comedy film directed by David Lean. The screenplay by Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Ronald Neame, and Noël Coward is based on Coward's 1941 play of the same name. Its title is derived from the line "Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! Bird thou never wert" in the poem "To a Skylark" by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Contents

Plot

Seeking material for his fictional exposé of a criminal psychic, novelist Charles Condomine (Harrison) invites eccentric medium Madame Arcati (Rutherford) to his home to conduct a séance. As Charles, his bride Ruth (Cummings), and their guests the Bradmans restrain their laughter, Madame Arcati performs peculiar rituals and speaks with a propensity for clichés. Upon its conclusion, Arcati obviously is concerned about an unexpected turn the session has taken, although the author and his guests are dubious anything extraordinary occurred.

Unknown to everyone, Madame Arcati has accidentally summoned the spirit of Charles' first wife Elvira (Hammond) during the séance, whose voice Charles can now hear, and Arcati faints during her trance. After Madame Arcati and the Bradmans have left, and Ruth has retired for the night, Elvira takes visual form. Charles, who is the only person capable of seeing Elvira, becomes both dismayed and amused by her sudden and unexpected presence. Complications ensue when Ruth becomes aware of the presence of the ghost; Elvira behaves as a poltergeist.

Eventually, the author’s fascination wanes — especially when he learns Elvira has been plotting his early demise. But the spirit miscalculates and ends up dispatching Ruth instead, after which Charles is haunted by both wives.

Though initially unable to help, and offended when Ruth tells her of Charles' motives, Madame Arcati uncovers a means to rid his household of both spirits. She appears to be successful, with the aid of the maid Edith, who turns out to be psychic and can see both deceased women. It soon becomes obvious one or both spirits have remained in the house. He quickly decides to escape the premises, but the plot to bring Charles into the spirit world has continued; his escape fails and he joins Elvira and Ruth as a spirit.

Production

As with most of Coward’s work, Blithe Spirit is renowned for its dialogue. During an argument with Ruth, Charles declares, "If you're trying to compile an inventory of my sex life, I feel it only fair to warn you that you've omitted several episodes. I shall consult my diary and give you a complete list after lunch." The line, considered extremely risqué by censors, was deleted from the US release.[1]

Although it received positive critical reviews, the film was a box office failure on both sides of the Atlantic. Coward himself was dissatisfied with the result, reportedly asking Lean, who initially had resisted directing a comedy, "How the hell did you fuck up the best thing I ever did?" The film though, is widely regarded as a classic now.[1]

Cast

Critical reception

Variety observed, "Inasmuch as this is largely a photographed copy of the stage play . . . the camerawork is outstandingly good and helps to put across the credibility of the ghost story more effectively than the flesh and blood performance does. Acting honors go to Margaret Rutherford as Mme Arcati, a trance medium who makes you believe she's on the level. There is nothing ethereal about this 200-pounder. Her dynamic personality has all the slapdash of Fairbanks Sr in his prime."[2]

Daniel Etherington of Channel 4 rated it 3½ out of five stars and commented, "Like a quintessentially English, supernatural take on the contemporaneous American screwball comedy, Blithe Spirit is a joy, sharing with its US counterparts fast, witty dialogue that has its origins in stage performance. Although the theatricality arguably hampers the film . . . the verve of the performances, in tandem with the striking Technicolor cinematography Oscar-winning special effects, elevates it . . . Rutherford almost steals the show, playing the kind of charismatically eccentric grand dame that would define her career."[3]

Awards and nominations

Tom Howard won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Although the film is primarily a comedy, it was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation but lost to The Picture of Dorian Gray.

DVD release

On 7 September 2004, MGM released the film on DVD as one of eight titles included in the David Lean Collection. Playable in all regions, it is in fullscreen format with subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

References

  1. ^ a b Vermilye, Jerry, The Great British Films. Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press 1978. ISBN 080650661X, pp. 79-81
  2. ^ Variety review
  3. ^ Channel 4 review

External links

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