Raising the dead can be a bit of a bother, yet there are points both for and against such a project, some of which are elucidated in 1945's Blithe Spirit. Directed by David Lean from a play by Noel Coward, a snooty upperclass couple find themselves inconvenienced when a seance summons the spirit of the husband's dead first wife and the spirit decides to take up permanent residence. It's a very funny film and actually quite eerie in moments thanks to some darkly shaded Technicolor and a committed performance from Margaret Rutherford as the medium.
We meet Charles (Rex Harrison) and Ruth (Constance Cummings) engaging in gentle, sophisticated banter about his first wife, Elvira, as they dress for a dinner party.
CHARLES: I remember her physical attractiveness, which was tremendous, and her spiritual integrity, which was nil.
RUTH: Was she more physically attractive than I am?
CHARLES: That's a very tiresome question, Darling, and fully deserves a wrong answer.
RUTH: You really are very sweet.
CHARLES: Thank you.
RUTH: And a little naive, too.
RUTH: Because you imagine that I mind about Elvira being more physically attractive than I am.
Perhaps Ruth really can take the high road about Elvira's beauty when the woman is dead and gone but it becomes a decidedly more sensitive subject when Charles is constantly conversing with the invisible woman returned to the land of the living. For some reason, only Charles can see Elvira (Kay Hammond).
I love how she's introduced, first as a voice only Charles can hear and then a heavy wind causes the curtains to billow out and from between them she glides into the room in a diaphanous evening gown.
She's a bit green, too, from makeup and lighting. She proceeds to smugly chide Charles on various matters from the gardening to the decorating, both unmitigated disasters, as far as she's concerned, and Ruth is at fault. It takes a floating vase to prove to Ruth that Elvira isn't a product of Charles' drunkenness but after this Ruth very soon seeks out Madam Arcati, played by Margaret Rutherford, for assistance in sending Elvira back from whence she came.
Rutherford is so good in this, so full of eccentric enthusiasm, coming off as someone who's spent far too much time alone studying an esoteric subject. Among other things, it brings a fascinating sense of credibility to what she's doing and supports some curious opening title cards:
When we are young
We read and believe
The most Fantastic Things
They seem more appropriate for a Jean Cocteau film than this concoction of dry, high brow lunacy. Somehow these two contradictory elements, the fantastic and the ironic, play off each other pretty well in this movie.
Blithe Spirit is available on The Criterion Channel.
Twitter Sonnet #1454
Remembered steps were blue and envy green.
Above the floor assistants pin the chart.
Entire forests laze in Sally's bean.
The slackest tree could win a soil heart.
The moving camp required boats and rafts.
Gorillas slept in placid groves and rooms.
The flimsy limbs dissolved for shoddy grafts.
Above the din a somber tuba looms.
The global glob was something full and blank.
Elusive stats report the glad annoyed.
To float the data minds profoundly sank.
We fly abreast of clear and foggy void.
The end was never clear in runny print.
The air itself repulsed the kindly meant.