Blithe Spirit (David Lean, 1945)
David Lean is one of those “all the pros are really in love with this guy” directors whose films I rarely seem to get round to watching. This confuses me somewhat, because when I do watch a Lean film, I find it immensely enjoyable; I’ve only seen two so far, but Lawrence of Arabia, as of this writing, is sitting at #121 on my all-time top 1000 list, and Blithe Spirit entered the list at #541. Both are phenomenal pictures. A stage performance of Blithe Spirit had just closed its run right across the street from where I work a couple of weeks before I sat down to watch the movie; by the time it was over, I was kicking myself for not having gone to see the play. That strikes me as the best recommendation I can give the silly, wonderful thing.
Charles Condomine (My Fair Lady‘s Rex Harrison) and his new wife Ruth (The Criminal Code‘s Constance Cummings) have moved back into the old pile after the honeymoon. The only problem is, the ghost of Charles’ late first wife, Elvira (Two on a Doorstep‘s Kay Hammond), is still very much around and causing mischief for the happy couple. Charles, distressed by the goings-on, hires the medium Madame Arcati (the wondrous comic actress Margaret Rutherford) to get to the bottom of things—which just makes Elvira all the more determined to pursue her ulterior agenda…
As you can tell by the first paragraph, I am shockingly unfamiliar with the work of David Lean. But between this and Lawrence, which are such entirely different pieces of work, I find it hard to believe the man could have done anything wrong. Lawrence is a massive four-hour (admittedly quite doctored) biopic, epic in every way, dramatic and sweeping and saturated with those brilliant, brilliant colors. This movie is its polar opposite in every way—lean, slapstick, looking almost colorized, intimate and packed with impeccable comic timing. The ending is a bit of a downer—no, wait, that’s the wrong word for it. Compared to the rest of the movie, quality-wise, the ending is a bit of a downer; it’s the one place where Lean steps over the line from brilliant slapstick into cheesiness (it’s Jerry Lewis as opposed to the Preston Sturges of the rest of the film). But that doesn’t matter much, because the rest of it is so good. Well worth your time. *** ½