Blithe Spirit 1945 was a box office failure when it was first released, but the quintessentially English ghost story is now considered a classic. CHRISTINE MILLER reviews.
TITLE: Blithe Spirit
DIRECTOR: David Lean
CAST: Rex Harrison, Margaret Rutherford, Kay Hammond, Constance Cummings
Blithe Spirit 1945, directed by David Lean, was based on Noel Coward’s play of the same name. Like many now-classics, it flopped, somewhat tremendously, in both the UK and the States upon its release, but its enduring charm and wry wit has made it a firm favourite amongst many today.
English author Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison) is researching for his latest mystery novel, when he decides to invite the curiously eccentric medium Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford) to his home to lead a seance.
Initially finding Arcati’s conjuring practices all rather hilarious, Charles, his wife Ruth (Constance Cummings) and their friends George and Violet Bradman (Hugh Wakefield and Joyce Carey) struggle to contain their amusement.
It isn’t until Madame Arcati goes into a trance that Charles begins to suspect something unusual – he hears the voice of his long dead wife Elvira (Kay Hammond). Asking aloud who was speaking, Ruth replies to Charles that no one in fact spoke, and it becomes clear he is the only one able to hear the voice of Eliva. He composes himself and soon shrugs off his odd behaviour as merely a joke in front of the rest of the group.
Once out of the trance, Madame Arcati is adamant that she managed to conjure something – but this is quickly dismissed by the rest of the group. She departs, alongside the Bradmans, and Charles takes the opportunity to try to explain to Ruth about hearing Eliva’s voice, although she is quite unbelieving of the situation and retires to bed for the night.
Soon after Ruth’s departure it doesn’t take long for Eliva to physically manifest to Charles, in all her green-glowing glory. Charles, in typical stiff upper-lip style, finds the whole affair rather humorous, if somewhat bothersome.
With persuasion from Charles, Eliva is soon able to successfully prove to Ruth that she is in fact a ghost, by moving a vase with her invisible force. Ruth doesn’t hesitate to call on Madame
Arcati in an attempt to rid their marital home of Charlie’s mischievous first wife, however, Madame Arcati admits that she does not know how to banish Elvira.
Ruth soon begins to suspect that Elvira is plotting Charles’ death in order for them both to be reunited in the afterlife.
And indeed she is.
Elvira miscalculates spectacularly however, killing Ruth accidentally by tampering with the couple’s car, believing that Charles would be driving it. Ruth is understandably rather irked at the fact that she is now dead at the ghostly hands of Elvira, and torments Elvira to the point where she wants to leave the earthly plane.
Charles, now stuck in the middle of both ghosts who are still only visible to him, pleads with Madame Arcati for her help. After a variety of rituals, it is believed that both the spirits have departed the property – however this isn’t so…
By now exhausted by the whole episode, Charles decides to take a holiday. Travelling to his location a bit too excitedly, he has a car crash which kills him, and so he finds himself in the afterlife with his two wives.
For all of eternity.
Blithe Spirit 1945 trivia
- Eliva (Kay Hammond) was not shown in any of the original trailers for Blithe Spirit 1945 – rather doors were shown to be opening and closing of their own accord to indicate that Elvira was present.
- One scene that never quite made it to air in the USA (although it was passed by censors in Britain), begins during a particularly heated argument between Charles and Ruth. Charles states, in his plummy, cut-glass English accent: “If you’re trying to compile an inventory of my sex life [Ruth], 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 was deleted from the US cut, as it was considered too risqué for American audiences.
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