Blithe Spirit (David Lean, 1945)

“Too much guesswork and fake mixed up with it – even when the gift is genuine – and it only very occasionally is – you can’t count on it.”


As the summer holidays end – and the opportunity to watch multiple films on the same day I realise that I have managed to watch a bunch of films I had sitting on the shelf for a long time. The Shane Meadows films, some Pedro Almodovar and a few of the David Leans! I hope it continues and, with the nice quirky-ness of Blithe Spirit it puts me in a good place to continue the boxset. The film is a small scale Noel Coward play adaptation that, interestingly enough, had premiered recently on the West End shortly before David Lean and Coward worked together for the first time on In Which We Serve. As far as play adaptations go, this is one that clearly utilised the trickery-of-cinema to amp up the comedy and spooky-spirit tone of the play…

Influential Ghost’s

Its a strange set-up, Mr Condomine (Rex Harrison) conducts a seance with his wife and a couple of
friends and, for some reason we find out at the end,  he makes his ex-wife Elvira appear – but only to him. This sets the stage for lots of comedy as we cut between what Mr Condomine see’s – whilst his wife does not see her. The dramatic irony is used throughout the film and creates a fascinating dynamic as you completely appreciate the madness Rex Harrisons character fears, whilst his wife is simply frustrated at the issue. It all comes to a head as Elvira reveals herself by picking up items to prove her existence and, as Mrs Condomine see’s, she realises the situation. So the final act is about trying to make Elvira go back to where she came from.

Having recently analysed Ghost, I am sure that many semi-comedic Ghost-films owe something to Blithe Spirit. The dramatic-irony is compulsory in Ghost-films – Whoopi hearing but not seeing Swayze, etc. To go further, there are so many playful ghost-opening-doors and ghost-controlling-something sequences – playful and funny. Another strange reference is the persona of the Madame Arcati – old and accentric, she even cries out ‘Great Scott!’ …much like ‘Doc’ in Back to the Future. In fact ‘Madame Arcati’ would be a perfect partner to Christopher Lloyd’s ‘Doc’.

Never A Simple Yarn

Inevitably, Noel Cowards plays rarely have such simplistic stories without having some type of subtext or deeper meaning behind the premise. It is worth noting that Mr Condomine has had many relationships – and I quote:
“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.”
This indicates that everyone has history – and ‘baggage’ – and, though it might haunt you, it is how you treat the partner in your life that matters. Rex Harrison obsesses over Elvira when she first appears – negating the feelings of his wife – and though this eventually changes – he is constantly sidetracked and this inevitably affects his relationship. Even Mrs Condomine goes a little too far to get rid of his demons.

Fun For a Repeat

It is a fun film and David Lean clearly was keen to direct such a playful film – but to think that Lean moved from this to Great Expectations and then Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago is incredible. The fun this film offers is a far cry from the seriousness of Brief Encounter and The Passionate Friends. So… the question is, do you want to see British fun or would you rather skip it for the epic-classic or romantic-drama because this is neither. Yeah, I’ll say it – its not my bag and is merely a playful detraction from more interesting cinema by David Lean.
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