I want to live in this movie.
I remember seeing it when I was about 10 or 11, on television, but I don't have many clear mental images of it. I knew there was a sea captain, and a lovely cottage by the seashore, and that it was a delightful movie and I liked it very much. But for some reason I never thought to rewatch it until last week!
What a terrible mistake that was. Because, you see, upon the second viewing I was utterly enraptured from the first haunting frames to the final credits. Lovely, romantic, melancholic without going overboard, bittersweet, charming--all the things I love best.
Gene Tierney is, of course, breathtakingly gorgeous and lovely as Lucy Muir. I wish I could be like her. I love her character--I think Lucy Muir is pretty much the epitome of turn-of-the-century loveliness--with spunk! She really represent the ideal of the time period.
Rex Harrison--well, I never cared for him as a person but as an actor, he's swell. And particularly on top of his game here; his voice suits the gruff sea captain to a T and he made me fall in love with the character. I love how he quotes "Ode to a Nightingale" and says he based his house on it...at least, I think that's what he says. I can't quite remember, I was too entranced and startled to hear the line "in faerie lands forlorn" because Nightingale is my all-time favorite poem and that's the last place I expected it to turn up. Quite the unexpected delight.
And what can be said of George Sanders, always brilliant as the charming cad, the oily "parlor snake"? Of course I don't like the characters he plays but I do happen to like him as an actor, very much...and I love his voice. Better than Rickman's. ;)
Shining brighter than any of the impressive leads, however, is the atmosphere of the film. It keeps you utterly under its spell. Something about the seaside is so romantic and captivating, I suppose...and now I'm starting to sound like Lucy Muir. ;) But it's true! I can't even put it into words, just...oh my goodness. I know, I sound like a romantic, sentimental sap. ;)
I think part of its charm is the fact that the screenwriter included so many of the quaint, prim Victorian attitudes and characterizations (for example: the fact that "blast" was considered a swear word makes it even funnier
every time the captain "indulges". I do not think it would be as funny
if they actually used a swear word) . This is not something you see really well done in any period film of today, which really takes away from the films in my humble opinion. The only possible exception I can think of off the top of my head is Sense & Sensibility (1995). They kept the patterns of speaking, the manners (courtesies upon entering & exiting the room, etc.) and a lot of other things that definitely seem outmoded and old-fashioned to us--but they fit the time period of the film. I think most modern filmmakers fear that if they retain the "old fashioned-ness" the audience won't relate as well to the characters...my theory is, as long as the emotions of the character are still emotions felt by people today, audiences will be able to relate. And keeping the "modes" of the time period only serve to add to the escapism effect that cinema (then and now) aims for. Just my little rant. ;)
I love how Lucy and Daniel never really say or do anything that lovers say or do...that is, their love is quite unrequited in a sense, as it is never consummated by physical touch of any kind, no matter how slight. I suppose you could say it is a love affair of soul or intellect only...and that only adds to the romance, rather than taking away from it. They never so much as touch one another's hand, and yet you can tell inexplicably how much they have grown to love the other person and how hard it is for them to move on and realize that their love can never be. Bittersweet romance, the kind I like best. ;) (Case in point: Roman Holiday!)
And one thing rarely seen in (any) film: truest love. The kind of love that does what is best for the other person because you care for them that much...even if "what is best" does not include you at all. Poor Captain Gregg. He truly, truly loved her, because he put her needs above both of their wants and his deepest longings, because he knew they could never be. True self-sacrifice. What a wonderful theme to see in a film.
Stagecraft: the costumes were lovely, I found myself liking them even though I've never had a fondness for turn-of-the-century fashion. I fell in love with the "garden" dress, the short-sleeved white one trimmed in flowers that Lucy wears when she meets the "parlor snake" on the cliff above the sea (the scene where he shows her the painting). It's so lovely! It's a dream of a dress and I am planning on making one just like it as soon as I can find some sheer material.
Also extremely notable was the incredible soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann. It is truly breathtaking. It sounds like the sea, bold, romantic, sweeping, melancholic, bittersweet. All the themes of the film, really. ;) I was quite surprised to hear the first strains of the soundtrack over the 20th C. Fox logo instead of the usual logo music--and I think this adds very much to the film's incredible atmosphere and the sense of "sweeping you away" from the very first frames. Gorgeous.
I would love to see this resurrected as a stage play. I think it would be quite good. As long as they keep the "Victorian-ness" of it (maybe nix a few of the remarks made about women; I don't see those going over very well) and let me play Mrs. Muir! Haha. But it would be delightful! I'm seeing Benedict Cumberbatch in some role...maybe George Sanders' although he would make quite a dashing Captain Gregg. Oh don't mind me, I'm seeing Benedict Cumberbatch everywhere these days. ;)
So, all in all...an utterly entrancing film, now my 2nd favorite (after Roman Holiday); definitely one I will return to again and again. Bravo.