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Blithe Spirit (1945)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Blithe Spirit (1945)
35mm, Technicolor, 96 mins
Directed byDavid Lean
Production CompanyTwo Cities Films
ProducerNoël Coward
Adapted for the Screen byDavid Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan
Based on the play byNoël Coward
Photographed byRonald Neame
Music byRichard Addinsell

Cast: Rex Harrison (Charles Condomine); Constance Cummings (Ruth Condomine); Kay Hammond (Elvira Condomine); Margaret Rutherford (Madame Arcati); Joyce Carey (Mrs Violet Bradman)

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A harmless séance at the home of novelist Charles Condomine and his wife Ruth summons up the ghost of Charles' glamorous first wife Elvira.

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Blithe Spirit (d. David Lean, 1945) was the second of three Noël Coward adaptations produced by Lean's new company Cineguild. Ronald Neame, co-founder of the company alongside producer Anthony Havelock-Allan, was again the director of photography, and the film was another Technicolor production. Coward himself performed the witty introductory voice-over. With its cast of distinguished comedy actors, the film did well with post-war audiences, but Coward professed himself disappointed with the result, although Lean had warned him that 'high comedy' was not really his forte.

The film is stylish. The action is set at the Condomines' comfortable upper middle-class home in Kent, and great care was taken to ensure the right look for the set. An actor like Rex Harrison was quite at ease in the world of the play, but Lean himself reportedly found it not to his own taste. The special effects are convincing and Lean's lighting and framing give it visual interest. The action is stagey, so all depends on the cast and they play wonderfully, even though Harrison was considered by some to look too young for the role of the middle-aged Charles. Kay Hammond and Margaret Rutherford had created their roles on the stage; the play premiered at London's Piccadilly Theatre on 1941 and was still running when Coward invited Lean to make a film version.

Hammond, in her floaty green chiffon gown, green hair and pale make-up, is a sexy and mischievous Elvira, employing her throaty, theatrical drawl to good comic effect. The American actress Constance Cummings' Ruth, by contrast, is brisk and sensible. Margaret Rutherford's performance of Madame Arcati has passed into theatre legend and she recreates the role of the eccentric and rather incompetent medium effectively for film. Her joy at the realisation that she has actually managed to summon up a spirit is beautifully judged.

Janet Moat

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Video Clips
1. The séance (2:35)
2. Beastly hallucinations (4:39)
3. Attempted exorcism (2:21)
Original Poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Carey, Joyce (1898-1993)
Coward, Noël (1899-1973)
Harris, Jack (1905-1971)
Harrison, Rex (1908-1990)
Kalmus, Natalie (1887-1965)
Lean, David (1908-1991)
Neame, Ronald (1911-2010)
Rutherford, Margaret (1892-1972)
Cineguild Productions
Two Cities Films