Blithe Spirit (1945 film)

Last updated

Blithe Spirit
Blithe Spirit - UK film poster.jpg
UK film quad poster
Directed by David Lean
Screenplay byDavid Lean
Ronald Neame
Anthony Havelock-Allan
Based on Blithe Spirit
1941 play
by Noël Coward
Produced byNoël Coward
Starring Rex Harrison
Constance Cummings
Kay Hammond
Margaret Rutherford
CinematographyRonald Neame
Edited by Jack Harris [1]
Music by Richard Addinsell
Production
company
Distributed by General Film Distributors
Release date
14 May 1945
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish

Blithe Spirit is a 1945 British fantasy-comedy film directed by David Lean. The screenplay by Lean, cinematographer Ronald Neame and associate producer Anthony Havelock-Allan, is based on actor/director/producer and playwright Noël Coward's 1941 play of the same name, the title of which is derived from the line "Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! Bird thou never wert" in the poem "To a Skylark" by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The song, "Always", written by Irving Berlin, is an important plot element in "Blithe Spirit".

Contents

The film features Kay Hammond and Margaret Rutherford, in the roles they created in the original production, along with Rex Harrison and Constance Cummings in the lead parts of Charles and Ruth Condomine. While unsuccessful at the box office and a disappointing adaptation for the screen, according to Coward, who wrote the screenplay himself, it has since come to be considered notable for its Technicolor photography and Oscar-winning visual effects in particular [2] and has been re-released several times, notably as one of the ten early David Lean features restored by the British Film Institute for release in 2008. [3]

Plot

Seeking background material for an occult-based novel he is working on, writer Charles Condomine invites eccentric medium Madame Arcati to his home in Lympne, Kent, to conduct a séance. As Charles, his wife Ruth and their guests, George and Violet Bradman barely restrain themselves from laughing, Madame Arcati performs peculiar rituals and finally goes into a trance. Charles then hears the voice of his dead first wife, Elvira. When he discovers that the others cannot hear her, he evasively passes off his odd behaviour as a joke. When Arcati recovers, she is certain that something extraordinary has occurred, but everyone else denies it.

After Madame Arcati and the Bradmans have left, Charles is unable to convince Ruth that he was not joking. Elvira soon appears in the room, but only to Charles. He becomes both dismayed and amused by the situation. He tries to convince Ruth that Elvira is present, but Ruth thinks Charles is trying to play her for the fool, so becoming rather upset, she quickly retires for the night. The following evening, Elvira reappears, further confounding the situation. Relations between Charles and Ruth become strained until he persuades Elvira to act as a poltergeist and transport a vase and a chair in front of his current wife, Ruth. As Elvira continues her antics, Ruth becomes frightened and runs out of the room.

Ruth seeks Madame Arcati's help in sending Elvira back where she came from, but the medium confesses that she does not know quite how to do so. Ruth warns her disbelieving husband that Elvira is seeking to be reunited with him by arranging his mortal demise. However, ghostly Elvira's mischievous plan backfires; as a result, it is Ruth, not Charles, who drives off in the car she has tampered with and ends up dead. A vengeful Ruth, now too in spirit form, harasses Elvira to the point where she wants to depart the earthly realm.

In desperation, Charles seeks Madame Arcati's help. Various incantations fail, until Arcati realises that it was the Condomines' maid Edith who summoned Elvira. Arcati appears to succeed in sending the spirits away, but it soon becomes clear that both have remained. Acting on Madame Arcati's suggestion, Charles sets out on a long vacation, but he has a fatal accident while driving away and joins his late wives as a spirit himself.

Cast

Production

Coward had turned down offers from Hollywood to sell the film rights, stating that previous American versions of his plays had been "vulgarized, distorted and ruined". [4] The rights were instead sold to Cineguild, one of the independent companies supported by the Rank Organization. The film was shot in Technicolor and marked Lean's first attempt at directing comedy after working on two straight films In Which We Serve and This Happy Breed , both also written by Noël Coward. The film was shot at Denham Studios in May 1944. [5]

Nearby houses were used for exteriors: Denham Mount (Charles' and Ruth's home) [6] and Fairway in Cheapside (Madame Arcati's house); some filming was also done at Blacksmith's Lane. One source mentions a third location: "Condomine House, exteriors". [7] [8]

The play had been a major success, and Coward advised Lean not to jeopardise this with the adaptation, telling him "Just photograph it, dear boy". [9] In spite of this, Lean made a number of changes such as adding exterior scenes, whereas the play had been set entirely in a single room, showing scenes like the car journey to Folkestone which had only been referred to in the play. [10] Perhaps most importantly, the final scene, in which Charles dies and joins his two wives as a spirit, does not occur in the play, which ends with his leaving his house after taunting his former wives, of whom he is now free. Coward objected strenuously to this change, charging Cineguild with having ruined the best play he ever wrote. [11]

As with most of Coward's work, Blithe Spirit is renowned for its sophisticated dialogue. During an argument with Ruth, Charles declares, "If you're trying to compile an inventory of my sex life, I feel it only fair to warn you that you've omitted several episodes. I shall consult my diary and give you a complete list after lunch." The line, considered extremely risqué by censors, was deleted from the US release. [12]

Box office

According to Kinematograph Weekly the 'biggest winners' at the box office in 1945 Britain were The Seventh Veil, with "runners up" being (in release order), Madonna of the Seven Moons, Old Acquaintance, Frenchman's Creek, Mrs Parkington, Arsenic and Old Lace, Meet Me in St Louis, A Song to Remember, Since You Went Away, Here Come the Waves, Tonight and Every Night, Hollywood Canteen, They Were Sisters, The Princess and the Pirate, The Adventures of Susan, National Velvet, Mrs Skefflington, I Live in Grosvenor Square, Nob Hill, Perfect Strangers, Valley of Decision, Conflict and Duffy's Tavern. British "runners up" were They Were Sisters, I Live in Grosvenor Square, Perfect Strangers, Madonna of the Seven Moons, Waterloo Road, Blithe Spirit, The Way to the Stars, I'll Be Your Sweetheart, Dead of Night, Waltz Time and Henry V. [13] [14]

Critical reception

Although it received positive critical reviews, the film was a box office failure on both sides of the Atlantic, but it is now widely regarded as a classic. [12]

In 1944, Variety observed:

Inasmuch as this is largely a photographed copy of the stage play ... the camerawork is outstandingly good and helps to put across the credibility of the ghost story more effectively than the flesh and blood performance does. Acting honours go to Margaret Rutherford as Mme Arcati, a trance medium who makes you believe she's on the level. There is nothing ethereal about this 200-pounder. Her dynamic personality has all the slapdash of Fairbanks Sr in his prime. [15]

In 1982, Leslie Halliwell wrote:

Direction and acting carefully preserve a comedy which on its first West End appearance in 1941 achieved instant classic status. The repartee scarcely dates, and altogether this is a most polished job of film-making. [16]

In the 21st century, Daniel Etherington of Channel 4 rated it 3+12 stars out of five stars and commented:

Like a quintessentially English, supernatural take on the contemporaneous American screwball comedy, Blithe Spirit is a joy, sharing with its US counterparts fast, witty dialogue that has its origins in stage performance. Although the theatricality arguably hampers the film ... the verve of the performances, in tandem with the striking Technicolor cinematography Oscar-winning special effects, elevates it ... Rutherford almost steals the show, playing the kind of charismatically eccentric grand dame that would define her career. [17]

Awards and nominations

Tom Howard won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation but lost to The Picture of Dorian Gray .

Home media

Blithe Spirit was released on VHS on July 6, 1995. [18] In September 2004 MGM released the film on DVD in the US as one of eight titles included in the David Lean Collection. [19] Criterion released the box sets "David Lean Directs Noël Coward" on Region A Blu-ray and Region 1 DVD in the US in 2012, both of which contained Blithe Spirit. [20] This release features a new high-definition digital transfer of the BFI National Archive's 2008 restoration, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. In the UK the rights are owned by ITV and the film has been released three times on DVD, with the last release containing newly restored film and audio.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Margaret Rutherford</span> British character actress (1892–1972)

Dame Margaret Taylor Rutherford, was an English actress of stage, television and film.

<i>In Which We Serve</i> 1942 film by David Lean, Noël Coward

In Which We Serve is a 1942 British patriotic war film directed by Noël Coward and David Lean. It was made during the Second World War with the assistance of the Ministry of Information.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Penelope Keith</span> Actress; High Sheriff of Surrey; Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey

Dame Penelope Anne Constance Keith, is an English actress and presenter, active in film, radio, stage and television and primarily known for her roles in the British sitcoms The Good Life and To the Manor Born. She succeeded Lord Olivier as president of the Actors' Benevolent Fund after his death in 1989, and was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to the arts and to charity.

<i>Blithe Spirit</i> (play) Play written by Noël Coward

Blithe Spirit is a comic play by Noël Coward. The play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles's marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tammy Grimes</span> American actress (1934–2016)

Tammy Lee Grimes was an American film and stage actress.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ronald Neame</span> English film producer, director, cinematographer and screenwriter

Ronald Neame CBE, BSC was an English film producer, director, cinematographer, and screenwriter. Beginning his career as a cinematographer, for his work on the British war film One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1943) he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects. During a partnership with director David Lean, he produced Brief Encounter (1945), Great Expectations (1946), and Oliver Twist (1948), receiving two Academy Award nominations for writing.

<i>High Spirits</i> (musical)

High Spirits is a musical with a book, lyrics, and music by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray, based on the play Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward, about a man's problems caused by the spirit of his dead wife.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joyce Carey</span> English actress (1898–1993)

Joyce Carey, OBE was an English actress, best known for her long professional and personal relationship with Noël Coward. Her stage career lasted from 1916 until 1987, and she was performing on television in her 90s. Although never a star, she was a familiar face both on stage and screen. In addition to light comedy, she had a large repertory of Shakespearean roles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kay Hammond</span> English actress (1909-1980)

Dorothy Katherine Standing, Lady Clements, known professionally as Kay Hammond, was an English stage and film actress.

Sir Anthony James Allan Havelock-Allan, 4th Baronet was a British film producer and screenwriter whose credits included This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet and Ryan's Daughter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jayne Atkinson</span> British-American actress

Jayne Atkinson is a British-American actress. She is best known for the role of Karen Hayes on 24, as well as her Tony Award–nominated roles in The Rainmaker and Enchanted April. She has also appeared in the CBS drama Criminal Minds as BAU Section Chief Erin Strauss, the CBS drama Madam Secretary as United States Vice President Teresa Hurst, and in the Netflix political drama House of Cards as U.S. Secretary of State Catherine Durant.

Seana McKenna is a Canadian actress primarily associated with stage roles at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

Janie Dee is an English actress and singer. She won the Olivier Award for Best Actress, Evening Standard Award and Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Actress in a Play, and in New York the Obie and Theatre World Award for Best Newcomer, for her performance as Jacie Triplethree in Alan Ayckbourn's Comic Potential.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Judy Campbell</span> English actress (1916–2004)

Judy Campbell was an English film, television and stage actress, widely known to be Noël Coward's muse. Her daughter is the actress and singer Jane Birkin, her son the screenwriter and director Andrew Birkin, and among her grandchildren are the actresses Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon, the late poet Anno Birkin, the artist David Birkin and the late photographer Kate Barry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Noël Coward</span> English playwright, composer, director, actor, and singer (1899–1973)

Sir Noël Peirce Coward was an English playwright, composer, director, actor, and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called "a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise".

<i>This Happy Breed</i> (film) 1944 British film

This Happy Breed is a 1944 British Technicolor drama film directed by David Lean and starring Robert Newton, Celia Johnson, Stanley Holloway and John Mills. The screenplay by Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan and Ronald Neame is based on the 1939 play This Happy Breed, by Noël Coward. It tells the story of an inter-war suburban London family, set against the backdrop of what were then recent news events, moving from the postwar era of the 1920s to the inevitability of another war. Domestic triumphs and tragedies play against such transformative changes as the coming of household radio and talking pictures. The film was not released in the United States until April 1947.

Cineguild Productions was a production company formed by director David Lean, cinematographer Ronald Neame and producer Anthony Havelock-Allan in 1944. The company produced some of the major British films of the 1940s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Beryl Measor</span> British actress (1908–1965)

Beryl Measor was a British actress. She created roles in plays by Noël Coward and Terence Rattigan. In addition to her stage career she broadcast frequently on BBC radio and television, and appeared in several cinema films.

<i>Blithe Spirit</i> (2020 film) 2020 film by Edward Hall

Blithe Spirit is a 2020 British comedy film directed by Edward Hall and starring Dan Stevens, Leslie Mann, Isla Fisher, Judi Dench, Emilia Fox, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Adil Ray, Michele Dotrice, and Aimee-Ffion Edwards. The film was based upon the 1941 play of the same name by Noël Coward, adapted for the screen by Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard, and Piers Ashworth.

This is a list of works and appearances by the English playwright, actor, singer and songwriter Noël Coward.

References

Notes

  1. "Blithe Spirit (1945)". The Criterion Collection. 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2011.
  2. Street, Sarah (2010). "'In Blushing Technicolor': Colour in Blithe Spirit". Journal of British Cinema and Television . Edinburgh University Press. 7: 34–52. doi:10.3366/E1743452109001320.
  3. "David Lean". Sight & Sound . British Film Institute. July 2008. Archived from the original on 23 December 2009. Retrieved 24 December 2011.
  4. Phillips p. 76
  5. Phillips p. 79
  6. English Villa That Starred in 1940s Oscar-Winning Film
  7. Blithe Spirit (1945) Filming Locations
  8. Blithe Spirit (1945) Filming Locations
  9. Phillips p. 77
  10. Phillips pp. 77–78
  11. Neame, Ronald (2010). "The Golden Age: An Interview with Ronald Neame". Criterion Collection (Interview). Interviewed by Karen Stetler.
  12. 1 2 Vermilye, Jerry, The Great British Films. Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press 1978. ISBN   0-8065-0661-X, pp. 79–81
  13. Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 232.
  14. Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939–48 2003 p. 208
  15. "Blithe Spirit". Variety . 31 December 1944. Retrieved 6 September 2022.
  16. Halliwell, Leslie (1982). Halliwell's 100: A Nostalgic Choice of 100 Films from the Golden Age (1984 ed.). ISBN   0586084908 . Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  17. Etherington, Daniel. "Blithe Spirit Review". Channel4.com. Archived from the original on 10 May 2009. Retrieved 6 September 2022.
  18. Blithe Spirit [VHS], 6 July 1995, ASIN   6303579612
  19. David Lean Collection [DVD], ASIN   B001AHKH6E
  20. "David Lean Directs Noël Coward". Criterion.com. Retrieved 6 September 2022.

Bibliography