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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Ghostwriter On the Sly

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) on IMDb

Plot Overview

Around the turn of the 20th century London, England, a young widow Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) announces to her over­bearing in-laws Angelica Muir (Isobel Elsom) and Eva Muir (Victoria Horne), “It simply won't work my living here.” Where will she go? they wonder. “I've always wanted to live by the sea,” she replies.

With her young daughter Anna (Natalie Wood) and faithful char­woman Martha Huggins (Edna Best), they move into Gull Cottage at White­cliff-By-The-Sea, a residence built by its former owner sea Captain Daniel Gregg (Sir Rex Harrison) who'd met an untimely end. It sports a telescope trained on the sea, as well as sea decor pictures and model ships. And some­thing else.

There the widow's vivid dreams inspire her to write a book about Captain X, a swash­buckling tale that belies her inexperience on nautical matters. Literary circles yield male interest in this young widow, and her gullibility w.r.t men rivals her fancy that she'd been in communication with a ghost. How­ever, when Anna (Vanessa Brown) has grown up and claims to remember like ghostly visitations, we wonder now about super­stitions in the twentieth century.


The captain employs peculiar nautical terms when communicating with the ladies of the house. Martha's clean floor is, “Ship­shape, Bristol fashion”. “Sailors” instead are “seamen” (as opposed to “landsmen”). To Lucy's complaint about putting it in writing, the captain tells her, “It's a perfectly good word. Put it down the way I gave it to you.

This back and forth over language has one contemporary analogy at least in the trans­lation of our Bibles. To take one example, the ESV site describes its traditional roots: “The ESV Bible carries forward the trusted legacy of the Bible in English—the legacy established first in the Tyndale New Testament (1526) and the KJV Bible (1611).” Then they get to: “THE ESV AND THE KJV: A COMPARISON:”

The English language has changed over the centuries, and modern readers find the KJV's archaic words and sentence structures difficult to under­stand. Through­out the course of the twentieth century, it became clear that Bible readers needed a translation they could easily understand, resulting in a proliferation of Bible translations.
Here is where the rub comes in. All those archaic words and such. According to a lecture by Prof. George P. Marsh given in 1859 on the English Bible, (448–9)
the English Bible sustains, and always has sustained to the general English tongue, the position of a treatise upon a special know­ledge requiring, like any branch of science, a special nomen­clature and phrase­ology. The language of the law, for example, in both vocabu­lary and structure, differs widely from that of unpro­fes­sional life; the language of medicine, of meta­physics, of astronomy, of chemistry, of mechanical art, all these have their approp­riate idioms, very diverse from the speech which is the common heri­tage of all. Why, then, should theology, the highest of know­ledges, alone be required to file her tongue to the vulgar utterance, when every other human interest has its own approp­riate expression, which no man thinks of conforming to a standard that, because it is too common, can hardly be other than unclean?

While the preaching in my church has gone over to using modern versions, I compare them with my KJV as the preacher goes along, and I find it's not just the words but structure. He says some of his message is derived by the flow of the material. It's like the clocks in Gull Cottage that chime out ship's bells rather than the hours, the clash between Bible versions. One instance in particular relates to this movie.

The apostle Paul wrote an epistle to the Ephesians in Greek on some kind of scroll, covering sequentially a number of subjects. Later it was translated into English, and punctuation was added, in some cases sentences connected by conjunctions to accommodate Paul's lengthy thoughts on body life. Later, chapter numbers and verse numbering was added to help us find our place, and that's what we've got in the King James Version (KJV). Contrary to Marsh's good advice, the Bible was retranslated, the British version being the English Revised Version of 1885, and for the Yanks the American Standard Version of 1901. Not content with that, they further retranslated it into the Revised Standard Version (RSV) whose “first edition of the New Testament … appeared 11 February 1946” (Light­foot, 191), right before “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” was released May, 1947 (USA). Reading it out loud per the old custom one had to pause to catch his breath after finishing the body life section in Ephesians before beginning the one on married (family) life. The tendency has now been to chop up Paul's lengthy discourse on body life for easier assimilation. The NIV in 1973 took it an additional step and converted the last clause of Paul's discourse on body life, (Eph. 5:21) “Submitting your­selves one to another in the fear of God,” into a sentence and they then gave it its own separate paragraph by itself so one couldn't tell whether it belongs to the discourse (just ending) on body life, or to the next one on married life starting with a new subject and verb, (Eph. 5:22) “Wives, submit your­selves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” Prof. Light­foot describes “work on a revision … to improve the Revised Standard Version by (1) altering some of its para­graph structure and punctuation” (193). The NRSV takes what was a mere clause ending a sentence in a lengthy discourse on body life, (Eph. 5:21), and makes it into a separate sentence, then inserts it after the heading for the next section on married life. The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, on the other hand, seeking to modernize the KJV punctuation, places a paragraph start (¶) between these two verses.

At a friend's wedding the other day, the preacher quoted from the married life section that begins with, “Wives, submit.” The Greek term for submit (verse 22) is hupotassō a military term meaning to place one­self under the authority of. The earlier verse 21, “Submitting your­selves one to another” having to do with body life uses a different Greek term, the import being to cooperate in harmony within the body of believers. “The Ghost” movie places itself also right at this junction of verses when at its start the widow states she is no longer beholden to her in-laws now that her husband is dead. “I have my own life to live,” she tells them. While he was alive she had to follow him, but not now. In fact her daughter and grand­daughter will by the end of the movie take up joyfully with authori­tative husbands, a lieutenant and a captain of some vessel, presumably to submit per the apostolic instruction. Lucy will eventually find her­self engaged to suave suitor Miles Fairley (George Sanders) who if he seems a bit effeminate—he writes children's literature under the pen name Uncle Neddy—, he'll use the approach of the earlier verse 21, “Submitting your­selves one to another.”

Their mutual submission is clearly demonstrated at the start when unable to wait for his 11:00 appointment he offers it to the stone­walled lady giving her an in to the publishing biz. When it rains, he hails a cab for her, shares an umbrella and then the cab. He coinci­dentally finds him­self painting her portrait on the beach (“indecent” except “it's the twentieth century”), and before long Lucy's “been kissed in the orchard all over again” (how her first husband won her.) The thing about my buddy's wedding ceremony was the preacher told him now that his blushing bride is his woman, that meant no other women are his. For Miles, how­ever, having back­tracked to mutual submission, he then takes up body life as if Lucy were one of a body of women available for him (“It isn't the first time some­thing like this has happened.”)

Production Values

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” (1947) was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Philip Dunne wrote its screen­play adapted from the novel by R.A. Dick, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. R.A. Dick is a pseudonym for Josephine Leslie, and muir is Gaelic for "the sea."

It stars Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, and George Sanders. Sanders and Harrison are British, but Tierney is from Brooklyn. Gene Tierney is wonderful and charming with her peaches and cream look, and her acting had improved the more the studio used her. Also featured are Edna Best as Martha Huggins, Vanessa Brown as an Adult Anna Muir, Anna Lee as Mrs. Miles Fairley, Robert Coote as Mr. Coombe, Isobel Elsom as Angelica, mother-in-law, and Victoria Horne as Eva, sister-in-law. And there was a supporting performance of George Sanders doing a smarmy cad.

This movie from pre-rating days would probably count as a G today. Its "coarse" language is rather tame for late 20th c. audiences and beyond. Bernard Herrmann considered his musical score for this motion picture his best. I think it actually carried the picture showing us how to feel. He was used to producing for radio shows using small ensembles, so he continued in that vein, adding some strings when needed. For roiling seas music, he stole from his earlier work on “Wuthering Heights.” Charles Lang's black and white cinema­tography captured the sea­side atmosphere to a tee. His excellent use of shadows and light evoked the requisite mood(s).

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

Some people consider this to be one of the best movie romances of all time, and I can see why in an other­worldly kind of way. If you like old-time romances in black and white with a hint of mystery, you should be just fine with this one.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for general audiences. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good Date Movie. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture is taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software, Print.

Lightfoot, Neil R.. How We Got the Bible. New York: MJF Books, 2003. Print.

Marsh, George P. “Formation of our English sacred dialect.”
       Lectures on the English Language. London: John Murray, 1863. Print.
       ——available to read or download at www.bibles.n7nz.org.