The Ghost and Mrs Muir

Joseph L. Mankiewicz, USA, 1947, Swashbuckler Films


In England at the start of the 20th Century, the recently widowed Mrs Muir chooses to move far away from her the stiff formality of her late husband’s family. She goes to see a house which appeals to her, despite the protestations of her real estate agent. Mrs Muir’s obstinate nature comes to the fore as she undertakes this visit with great curiosity, almost as an act of defiance against the real estate agent’s wishes.

In this scene we see someone who already knows a space showing another person around it for their first time. Often resorting to comic archetypes, their characters contrast, one intrepid, the other fearful, serving to accent their movement through the space, creating dramatic tension, playing off between impulsivity and resistance. The camera goes ahead, as if waiting inside for the characters to arrive, first through the hall, then to the top of the stairs. It is as if the camera is offering us the house and its spirit’s perspective.  The characters move from room to room, eventually climbing up the stairs to the first floor, and into the bedroom, the most intimate and potentially scary location in the house. The ground floor, close to the exit offers a certain degree of security, but the presence of the first floor is identified right from the start, with the stairs which attract Mrs Muir straight away. She blows away the dust, the timeless signifier of an uninhabited house, just like the giant spiderwebs in the kitchen. A beam of light breaks through the darkness and draws our attention to a face, smiling enigmatically, almost alive. It has highlighted a portrait of the Captain, the former owner of the house, and, along with our heroine, we are invited for the first time to identify that there’s a real human presence in this place. The estate agent opens the curtains and reveals more of the room, bringing in more light. The significant presence of the windows in the space draws an interesting relationship between the interior and exterior world to life. We see seagulls and cliffs, with the telescope placed to make the most of the view out over the sea. All that’s missing is their former owner. The presence of the ghost, rudely snapped out of his routines, is revealed with greater clarity by the sound of thunderous laughter which shakes the room.