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Blithe Spirit

Blithe Spirit, starring Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond, Margaret Rutherford

Synopsis of Blithe Spirit

 David Lean’s delightful film version of Noël Coward’s theater sensation stars Rex Harrison as a novelist who cheekily invites a medium to his house to conduct a séance.  He hopes that the experience will inspire a book he’s working on. Things go wrong when she summons the spirit of his dead first wife, a severe inconvenience for his current one.

Review of Blithe Spirit

Blithe Spirit is a “ghostly” comedy – almost Topper with a dark twist.  It begins with novelist Charles Condomine (a young Rex Harrison) having a seance.  Not that he expects anything other than fakery.  He’s writing a novel, and he simply wants some details on a fake seance.  However, the zany Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford) is a well-done medium, which is rare.  She actually manages to bring his dead first wife’s spirit back.

Blithe Spirit, starring Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond, Margaret RutherfordThe ghostly first wife (Kay Hammond) loves and misses him — and doesn’t approve of his new wife (Constance Cummings).  And Rex Harrison appears mad to others, since he’s the only one who can see and hear the ghost.  And the ghost plans to be reunited with him — by murdering him.  For the kindest of reasons, of course!  However, the best-laid plans of ghosts and men go astray, and she accidentally kills the new wife, instead.  Who is understandably upset, and starts making Kay’s “life” as miserable as possible.

After another visit from Margaret Rutherford, both ghosts are now visible to Rex Harrison — and both stuck on Earth, unable to go on to Heaven.  The attempts at trying to send them back by Rutherford are hilarious, and well worth watching.  I’ll not give away the ending, other than to say that it’s both logical and unexpected.

Editorial review of Blithe Spirit courtesy of Amazon.com

The Noel Coward/David Lean combination which turned out such dramas as Brief Encounter and This Happy Breed sets its sights on the viewer’s funny bone with Blithe Spirit. Rex Harrison plays a novelist, newly married to straight-laced Constance Cummings. While researching a book on spiritualism, Harrison is teased and tormented by the mischievous ghost of his first wife, Kay Hammond. Believing that Hammond wants to ruin his marriage, Harrison enlists the services of local medium Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford in her funniest performance). When Arcati fails to exorcise Hammond’s spirit, Harrison decides to kill himself so that he can be reunited with her and spare wife number two the aggravation of being haunted.

But Harrison’s plans go awry: His second wife is killed, and now he has two playful spirits on his hands! Technicolor is used throughout Blithe Spirit, with the ghosts’ shimmering paleness providing contrast to the plain, everyday colors of Harrison’s conservative country home. Blithe Spirit was later transformed into the Broadway musical High Spirits, with the original script bent out of shape to turn the character of Madame Arcati (played by Beatrice Lillie) into the leading role.