Most of the things I love the most were introduced to me by my Dad: golden oldie films (starring James Stewart, Cary Grant et al), Steeleye Span, Billy Bunter, Siamese cats and Leonard Cohen, to name but a few. This is why I call him my Sam-I-Am. As anyone who is a Dr Seuss fan will know, Sam-I-Am is constantly trying to get the main character in Green Eggs and Ham to try the titular dish. After much resistance, he finally does try them at the end of the book only to discover that he loves them, and is eternally grateful to Sam for introducing them to him.
Anyway, my Dad recently recorded Blithe Spirit for us to watch, and this film now falls into that category:
It’s a strange, quirky little film about a writer (Rex Harrison) who hires a medium to conduct a séance at his home as part of his research for his latest book. He’s also hoping to expose her as a charlatan. But during the course of the séance, the ghost of his first wife turns up, and stays on even after the medium and guests have gone home. Rex Harrison’s character is the only one who can see her – she remains invisible to his second wife – which makes for some interesting scenes, and great little moments where he’s addressing his first wife’s ghost, but his second wife thinks he’s talking to her (the best example being Rex Harrison’s indignantly delivered ‘I could drink you under the table!’ which, to the second wife, seems a completely unprovoked, unnecessarily antagonistic remark).
It’s an odd film in many ways. The green ghost make up is weird, but weirdly effective. And Rex Harrison’s character is so laid back that he seems completely unaffected by his first wife’s death or, indeed, by the startling turn that events take later in the film. But it has stuck in my mind, and I think I might have to get it on DVD. There’s a sort of charm to these old films that many modern ones lack entirely. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t have the special effects in those days, so the script had to be bloody good to pull the film off. Harvey, for example, is a beautiful little masterpiece of a film with one of the best scripts ever (but that’s a blog post for another time).
Another reason Blithe Spirit is so good is down to Rex Harrison’s performance. I think I would watch any film that had him in it. In fact I love his voice so much that I think I could listen to him delivering a law lecture, and I’d still enjoy it. There’s something almost mesmerising about how good he is – sheer mastery, that’s what I call it. I have, of course, seen him before in such classics as My Fair Lady and Dr Dolittle, but I’ve never seen him looking so young. Or so sexy. I mean, the man practically oozes class, sophistication and intelligence:
And here’s the one screenshot from the film I’ve been able to find:
Look at the way he wears that suit! Could any other man carry it off like that? I think not. The photo doesn’t really do him justice though. There’s just something about the way he moves, and the effortless, stiff upper lip way in which he delivers the quips. It’s simply an absolutely flawless performance. And it’s a delightfully funny, charming, odd little film. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.