For Reel

Blithe Spirit (1945)
February 17, 2016, 12:16 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: David Lean
3 Stars
Blithe SpiritNoël Coward’s Blithe Spirit was an enormous stage hit during the war years, running for a record-breaking 1,997 performances in Britain in addition to a successful Broadway run. In his essay on the film for the Criterion Collection, Geoffrey O’Brien notes that the material, “may be defined as a very British sort of resistance literature, encouraging resistance to encroaching catastrophe by blithely ignoring it.” Indeed, the most radical thing about the film is its nonchalance in dealing with death and the loss of loved ones–as Londoners were mourning the loss of thousands, Coward has the gull to manifest ectoplasmic spouses that have only furthered their ability to nag. This David Lean adaptation was largely dismissed by those working on it, with Coward famously scoffing at it and star Rex Harrison claiming that Lean had no sense of humor. Even if the immediacy that critics talk about when writing about Coward’s stage plays is missing from the film–the repartee doesn’t so much come naturally as it feels calibrated–it does compliment the material with some extraordinary visual touches. Most memorable of all is the phosphorescent appearance of the dead–a preternatural jade green only offset by red lipstick and nail polish, with Charles’ (Harrison) first wife Elvira (Kay Hammond) looking like a posh Wicked Witch. Additionally, while the séance held by Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford) is wrought to appeal to Rutherford’s bumbling sense of comic timing, Lean and cinematographer Ronald Neame stage it with a genuinely ominous quality, with Rutherford’s commanding shadow and eery levitating tables actually evoking a feeling of the uncanny.

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