“ Genre: Comedy / Theatrical Release: 1945 / Universal, suitable for all / Director: David Lean / Actors: Rex Harrison, Kay Hammond, Margaret Rutherford, Joyce Carey, Constance Cummings ... / DVD released 2008-09-15 at ITV DVD / Features of the DVD: Black & White, PAL „
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Blithe Spirit was released in 1945 based on a play of the same name by Noel Coward. The film stars the fabulous Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond and Margaret Rutherford. This review is based on the black and white version.
Charles Condomine is a writer needing material for his next book who invites medium Madame Arcati to his home for a séance. With a room full of cynical guests and his second wife, Ruth, present, their cynicism does nothing to dampen Madame Arcati's over the top rituals. Perhaps the most cynical of the group, Charles is rather stunned as well as amused when his deceased first wife Elvira appears to him as a ghost that only he can see. Ruth is not impressed to have her husband's first wife in the house, especially as she can't see her but it doesn't take her long to work out Elvira's motives for appearing after all this time. Unfortunately things get a bit more complicated when Elvira's plan backfires and there are now two ghosts haunting the Condomine residence, much to the dismay of the remaining and very much alive Condomine! How is this ridiculous situation resolved to anyone's satisfaction? Or is it ever?
Can you imagine having the ghost of your spouse's late husband/wife appearing and trying to cause trouble or worse in your marriage? Would you not be furious with your spouse for putting you through this especially when the said ghost is not even visible to you?
I've watched this dark comedy several times over the years and having watched it again on TV recently found myself wanting to write my thoughts on it. I found Blithe Spirit to be a fabulously quirky film so much so that I'm ordering the DVD to keep in my permanent collection.
This is a black and white film which some people might not like the idea of. I grew up watching and loving black and white films and have enjoyed them throughout my teens, 20s, 30s and now even more so in my 40s. They do generally transport you back to a different era before crazy stunts and overly intrusive sound effects and CGI, etc, (which I don't have an issue with per se), a time when many things in life seemed simpler and films seemed to concentrate on good stories and good acting rather than all the new technology involved these days where film-makers constantly strive to out-do each other. There's nothing to be lost when immersed in a decent black and white film and for me, this film is a classic and has a couple of clever twists in the story which you don't really see coming!
Rex Harrison is hilarious as the sceptic of an author looking for new material to inspire his writing who suddenly finds his late first wife haunting him and even more shocking is that no one else seems to be able to see her. Even though she goes out of her way to scorn his second wife, he finds this rather amusing at first and plays along with her disruptive behaviour. Harrison was perfect in the role being dead pan and comical in equal measures. Constance Cummings as Charles' second wife Ruth looks suitably beautiful and played the role charmingly having had the more serious role through most of the film. Kay Hammond as the ghostly Elvira is quite funny and even though the entire film is in black and white Hammond is made up to look even more black and white than the other characters to give that ghostly impression. You wouldn't think much of the makeup for a ghost by today's standards, although of films I've seen in recent years, Gurinder Chadha's "It's a Wonderful Afterlife" had the same type of ghostly appearance which didn't look convincing being a film released in 2010! Anyway back to Blithe Spirit... Considering this film was adapted from a play the production team had more scope to make the ghost look "ghost-like", imagine having to make someone look like a ghost every day for a live performance! No matter what I say about the ghost make-up not being too convincing, the visual effects standards of the day back in 1947 won Blithe Spirit an Oscar for Best Effects and Special Effects.
Although reviews when the film was released and since raved about Margaret Rutherford's acting as the fake medium Madame Arcati, I found her acting to be rather mediocre personally. In every scene she appeared in she just came across as being over the top. I would add that I probably found Harrison's character the best in the film.
Although much of the film is set indoors with outdoor scenes few and far between, I didn't find the fact that most of the film is set inside the same house claustrophobic as one might imagine. The dialogue was so witty on the whole that it captures your full attention rather than noticing what's going on in the background.
I found Blithe Spirit to be an engaging comedy and hope to pick up the "Technicolor" version of the DVD to add to my permanent collection. A decent 4 out of 5 for me.
Release date: 1945
Director: David Lean
Producer/Writer: Noel Coward
Screen adaptation: David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan
Cast: Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond, Margaret Rutherford
Duration: 96 minutes
Blithe spirit is a black and white comedy released in 1945. This is a classic film featuring some great actors such as Rex Harrison, Kay Hammond and my favourite Margaret Rutherford, all classic actors of that era. The film is adapted from a play by Noel Coward another classic face of the era.
Blithe spirirt centres around Charles and his second wife Ruth. Charles wishes to write a new book and as research he recruits Madame Arcati a local mystic / medium to perform a seance.
His plan backfires as this conjures up his ex deceased wife Elvira who only he can see, this consequently makes him look a bit mad in everyones eyes.
His wife becomes increasingly frustrated by his odd behaviour, while his ex wife feels jealous of his new wife and sets out to cause mischief. Madame Arcati (Rutherford) is called back in to little avail which escalates the circumstances...
The acting is top class and one of Rex Harrisons best performances, the comedy element is increased by Margaret Rutherfords performance as the dizzy and a little eccentric Madame Arcati, the comedy is well thought out considering its dealing with the subject of death but it is portrayed in such a light hearted way that there is no danger of feeling saddened in any way.
This is a real must see for any black and white film fan particularly of this era, the story itself is very unique added with a great supporting cast makes this a must for your dvd collection.