Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Based on the play by Noel Coward, Blithe Spirit is the story of a novelist who invites a medium for a séance in the hopes he can find inspiration for his next novel only to receive an unexpected visit from his deceased first wife. Directed by David Lean and screenplay by Lean, Ronald Neame, and Anthony Havelock-Allan, the film explores a man who gets more than he bargains for in his quest to find inspiration where he is reintroduced to his late first wife. Starring Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond, Margaret Rutherford, Hugh Wakefield, Joyce Carey, and Jacqueline Clarke. Blithe Spirit is a witty and whimsical film from David Lean.
The film revolves around a novelist who is looking for inspiration for his next book where he invites friends for a séance that would unfortunately unleash the spirit of his late first wife who would haunt only him. It’s a film that play into idea if ghosts are real where a man gets more than he bargains for as he doesn’t just have to deal with the presence of his first wife but also cause trouble in his current marriage. Even as his old wife doesn’t like the new wife at all as she will do whatever to get her husband back. The film’s screenplay which features some narration by Noel Coward play into a man dealing with death in a humorous way as he’s made a new life for himself with a wife that is actually supportive of his work. The séance was meant to be a chance for Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison) to get an idea of what goes on thinking either nothing or little will happen.
Instead, the appearance of his late first wife Elvira (Kay Hammond) would appear as his current wife Ruth (Constance Cummings) think it’s all in his imagination as he had drank a lot that night and was behaving erratically. While the script did make some changes from Coward’s play, it does retain some of its dialogue where it quite racy as it relates to the many things Elvira says and her commentary towards Ruth which Ruth cannot hear. Ruth would eventually turn to the medium Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford) who is this very eccentric individual yet knows what she is doing no matter how many skeptics refuse to believe her. A series of odd events occur where it would be Madame Arcati would be integral to the plot in not just summoning the spirit of Elvira but also the dead to leave Charles alone.
David Lean’s direction is quite straightforward as it maintains a sense of theatricality for a lot of the interior scenes as much of it shot at Denham Studios with some exterior locations in the British countryside. There aren’t a lot of wide shots in the film as Lean would favor intimate shots with some medium shots to capture multiple characters in a frame and a few close-ups. Lean’s camera movements and the way he would capture some unique special effects in how Elvira would appear in some scenes or how she would prove that she is a ghost. Lean would create some unique camera angles while trying to find ways to maintain the liveliness of the humor. Especially in the film’s climax where Madame Arcati tries everything she can to reveal Elvira and send her back to the world of the afterlife. Overall, Lean creates a fun and charming comedy about a novelist who deals with the ghostly presence of his late first wife.
Cinematographer Ronald Neame does incredible work with the film‘s Technicolor cinematography as it‘s rich with vibrant colors for many of the interiors as well as some of the exterior scenes in the film as it is a major highlight of the film. Editor Jack Harris does excellent work with the editing as it‘s very straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into its humor. Art director C.P. Norman and set decorator Arthur Taksen do fantastic work with the set from the living room where the séance is conducted to the home that Madame Arcati lives in. Costume designer Rahvis does brilliant work with the dresses that the women wear including the clothes that Charles wears.
Makeup artist Tony Sforzini and hair dresser Vivienne Walker do amazing work with the look of Elvira in her ghostly state as well as the hairstyle she had to add to her unique presence. The special effects work of Tom Howard is terrific with its usage of backdrops for some of the exterior driving scenes as well as some other effects to play into Elvira‘s ghostly appearance. Sound recorders John Cook and Desmond Dew do superb work with the sound as it play into the things that Charles would hear as well as some of the things that happen at the séance. The film’s music by Richard Addinsell is wonderful for its score as it’s very upbeat in its light-hearted orchestral setting to play into the film’s humor.
The casting by Irene Howard is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Hugh Wakefield and Joyce Carey as the Bradmans who are guests at the séance that wonder if anything happens is true and Jacqueline Clarke as the maid Edith who would play a crucial role for the film’s climax. Margaret Rutherford is phenomenal as Madame Arcati as a medium who is quite odd yet so full of charm and wit as this weird woman who is able to communicate with the dead. Kay Hammond is delightful as Elvira as Charles’ late wife who has been brought back as a ghost to try and win him back as well as provide snide commentary toward his new wife.
Constance Cummings is remarkable as Charles’ current wife Ruth as a woman who is baffled by her husband’s behavior as she wonders if Elvira is alive wanting to haunt her as it’s a very fun role that has her the butt of all jokes. Finally, there’s Rex Harrison in a sensational performance as Charles Condomine as a novelist whose attempt to have a séance in his home leads him having to deal with his dead first wife where Harrison provides some dry wit in his commentary as he just exudes charisma and a sense of command in his performance.
Blithe Spirit is a phenomenal film from David Lean that features a great cast and a very entertaining story based on Noel Coward’s play. It’s a film that play into the idea of the dead coming back as well as what a man does to try and move on with his life while working on a novel. In the end, Blithe Spirit is a spectacular film from David Lean.
David Lean Films: In Which We Serve - This Happy Breed - Brief Encounter - Great Expectations (1946 film) - Oliver Twist (1948 film) - The Passionate Friends - Madeleine (1950 film) - The Sound Barrier - Hobson’s Choice - (Summertime (1955 film)) - The Bridge on the River Kwai - Lawrence of Arabia - Doctor Zhivago - Ryan's Daughter - (Lost and Found: The Story of Cook’s Anchor) - A Passage to India - (The Auteurs #75: David Lean)
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