Blithe Spirit


1h 36m 1945
Blithe Spirit

Brief Synopsis

A man and his second wife are haunted by the ghost of his first wife.

Film Details

Also Known As
Esprit s'amuse, L' Esprit s
Genre
Comedy
Romance
Drama
Fantasy
Adaptation
Release Date
1945

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

Adapted from a play by Noel Coward, Charles and his second wife Constance, are haunted by the ghost of his first wife, Elvira. Medium Madame Arcati tries to help things out by contacting the ghost.

Film Details

Also Known As
Esprit s'amuse, L' Esprit s
Genre
Comedy
Romance
Drama
Fantasy
Adaptation
Release Date
1945

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Award Wins

Best Special Effects

1947

Articles

Blithe Spirit -


Written in less than a week during some of the darkest days of World War II, Noel Coward's lighthearted ghost story Blithe Spiritwas a huge success on the London stage, running for nearly two thousand performances, a record-breaking run that it held for three decades. In began in early May of 1941, when the German Blitzkreig air attack had been hammering England for months, and Coward's London office and flat had been destroyed. He had taken refuge at a picturesque resort on the Welsh coast, and after a few false starts sat down and wrote the play in a feverish few days. In July the play opened in London, and by November it was also playing to great success on Broadway.

No playwright was better at fast-paced verbal wit than Coward, and Blithe Spirit was just the kind of escapist entertainment that war-weary audiences craved. Charles Condomine is a mystery novelist who invites quirky medium Madame Arcati to conduct a séance at his home as research for a book he's writing. For the skeptical Charles, his wife, and another couple, the séance is just entertainment. But Arcati actually manages to summon the spirit of Charles's volatile first wife Elvira, and Elvira refuses to go back where she came from, bringing comic havoc to Charles's staid life with his current wife.

Hollywood was interested in making a film of Blithe Spirit, but Coward had been disappointed that censorship had dimmed the sparkle of the American film adaptations of his plays Private Lives and Design for Living. He spent the war years entertaining the troops and writing patriotic songs and films, but as the war wound down he finally turned his attention to the movie version of Blithe Spirit. Coward had worked with the team of director David Lean and writer-cinematographer Ronald Neame on two wartime films, In Which We Serve (1942) and This Happy Breed (1944), and he once again decided to entrust them with his work, not realizing that perhaps Blithe Spirit needed a lighter touch.

Neither Lean nor Neame were temperamentally suited for Coward's brand of high comedy. For them, filmmaking was a serious business. According to producer Anthony Havelock-Allan, Lean told Coward that he felt he wasn't right for it, but Coward insisted. "Blithe Spirit wasn't [Lean's] world, nor was it Ronnie's . As a result, it wasn't a happy picture," the producer told Lean biographer Kevin Brownlow. Fortunately, the film has the superb comic talents of Kay Hammond as Elvira and Margaret Rutherford as Madame Arcati, recreating the roles they had played in the original British stage production. Rex Harrison, who was serving in the Royal Air Force, was annoyed that Coward had pulled strings to make him available to appear in the film, and the notoriously prickly star was frequently at odds with Lean, challenging his critiques and claiming his own superior comic sense (which Lean never denied). Nevertheless, Harrison's brusqueness and exasperation in the role, however it was achieved, is quite effective. London-based American actress Constance Cummings plays the second wife, Ruth.

Technically, the production posed some unique challenges. The set had to be built "on an exceptionally large scale because of the ghost," Brownlow writes. "She had to be specially lit, and passing behind other players would cause terrible problems." On stage, the ghostly Elvira had been dressed all in grays and whites with white makeup. According to cinematographer Neame, Coward did not want a transparent ghost, he wanted her in shades of gray like in the play, lit with green (the film was in Technicolor). Neame recalled that Hammond wore "thick greenish gray makeup" and a green wig. For Neame, the film was technically one of his biggest challenges, but "it was worth it." Blithe Spirit won an Oscar® for its special effects.

Neame told Brownlow that Coward was not around for most of the shoot, and Neame and Lean sometimes had to rewrite the dialogue. When Coward saw the rough cut, he hated their rewrites, telling the director, "You've fucked up the best thing I ever wrote." Lean replied that he had warned Coward that funny was not among his skills. Blithe Spirit may have been a disappointment to Coward and some of the cast, but it got good reviews. Simon Harcourt-Smith of London's Daily Mail wrote that it "surpasses the most competent and effervescent nonsense that we have got from Hollywood in many a long year." The film performed well at the box office in Britain, but less so in America.

Lean biographer Gene Phillips writes that the film version of Blithe Spirit has outlived Coward's harsh criticism, and "remains a high-style British comedy, marked by subtle wit and impudent grace." Coward's play, of course, has had a long life, and is still being performed frequently. One notable revival toured the U.S. in 2014 with great success, starring the sublime Angela Lansbury, then eighty-nine years old, as a daffy Madame Arcati.

Director: David Lean
Producer: Noel Coward, Anthony Havelock-Allan
Screenplay: Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan, David Lean, based on the play by Noel Coward
Cinematography: Ronald Neame
Editor: Jack Harris
Art Direction: C.P. Norman
Music: Richard Addinsell
Principal Cast: Rex Harrison (Charles Condomine), Constance Cummings (Ruth Condomine), Kay Hammond (Elvira Condomine), Margaret Rutherford (Madame Arcati), Joyce Carey (Violet Bradman), Hugh Wakefield (Dr. George Bradman), Jacqueline Clarke (Edith, the maid)
96 minutes

by Margarita Landazuri
Blithe Spirit -

Blithe Spirit -

Written in less than a week during some of the darkest days of World War II, Noel Coward's lighthearted ghost story Blithe Spiritwas a huge success on the London stage, running for nearly two thousand performances, a record-breaking run that it held for three decades. In began in early May of 1941, when the German Blitzkreig air attack had been hammering England for months, and Coward's London office and flat had been destroyed. He had taken refuge at a picturesque resort on the Welsh coast, and after a few false starts sat down and wrote the play in a feverish few days. In July the play opened in London, and by November it was also playing to great success on Broadway. No playwright was better at fast-paced verbal wit than Coward, and Blithe Spirit was just the kind of escapist entertainment that war-weary audiences craved. Charles Condomine is a mystery novelist who invites quirky medium Madame Arcati to conduct a séance at his home as research for a book he's writing. For the skeptical Charles, his wife, and another couple, the séance is just entertainment. But Arcati actually manages to summon the spirit of Charles's volatile first wife Elvira, and Elvira refuses to go back where she came from, bringing comic havoc to Charles's staid life with his current wife. Hollywood was interested in making a film of Blithe Spirit, but Coward had been disappointed that censorship had dimmed the sparkle of the American film adaptations of his plays Private Lives and Design for Living. He spent the war years entertaining the troops and writing patriotic songs and films, but as the war wound down he finally turned his attention to the movie version of Blithe Spirit. Coward had worked with the team of director David Lean and writer-cinematographer Ronald Neame on two wartime films, In Which We Serve (1942) and This Happy Breed (1944), and he once again decided to entrust them with his work, not realizing that perhaps Blithe Spirit needed a lighter touch. Neither Lean nor Neame were temperamentally suited for Coward's brand of high comedy. For them, filmmaking was a serious business. According to producer Anthony Havelock-Allan, Lean told Coward that he felt he wasn't right for it, but Coward insisted. "Blithe Spirit wasn't [Lean's] world, nor was it Ronnie's . As a result, it wasn't a happy picture," the producer told Lean biographer Kevin Brownlow. Fortunately, the film has the superb comic talents of Kay Hammond as Elvira and Margaret Rutherford as Madame Arcati, recreating the roles they had played in the original British stage production. Rex Harrison, who was serving in the Royal Air Force, was annoyed that Coward had pulled strings to make him available to appear in the film, and the notoriously prickly star was frequently at odds with Lean, challenging his critiques and claiming his own superior comic sense (which Lean never denied). Nevertheless, Harrison's brusqueness and exasperation in the role, however it was achieved, is quite effective. London-based American actress Constance Cummings plays the second wife, Ruth. Technically, the production posed some unique challenges. The set had to be built "on an exceptionally large scale because of the ghost," Brownlow writes. "She had to be specially lit, and passing behind other players would cause terrible problems." On stage, the ghostly Elvira had been dressed all in grays and whites with white makeup. According to cinematographer Neame, Coward did not want a transparent ghost, he wanted her in shades of gray like in the play, lit with green (the film was in Technicolor). Neame recalled that Hammond wore "thick greenish gray makeup" and a green wig. For Neame, the film was technically one of his biggest challenges, but "it was worth it." Blithe Spirit won an Oscar® for its special effects. Neame told Brownlow that Coward was not around for most of the shoot, and Neame and Lean sometimes had to rewrite the dialogue. When Coward saw the rough cut, he hated their rewrites, telling the director, "You've fucked up the best thing I ever wrote." Lean replied that he had warned Coward that funny was not among his skills. Blithe Spirit may have been a disappointment to Coward and some of the cast, but it got good reviews. Simon Harcourt-Smith of London's Daily Mail wrote that it "surpasses the most competent and effervescent nonsense that we have got from Hollywood in many a long year." The film performed well at the box office in Britain, but less so in America. Lean biographer Gene Phillips writes that the film version of Blithe Spirit has outlived Coward's harsh criticism, and "remains a high-style British comedy, marked by subtle wit and impudent grace." Coward's play, of course, has had a long life, and is still being performed frequently. One notable revival toured the U.S. in 2014 with great success, starring the sublime Angela Lansbury, then eighty-nine years old, as a daffy Madame Arcati. Director: David Lean Producer: Noel Coward, Anthony Havelock-Allan Screenplay: Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan, David Lean, based on the play by Noel Coward Cinematography: Ronald Neame Editor: Jack Harris Art Direction: C.P. Norman Music: Richard Addinsell Principal Cast: Rex Harrison (Charles Condomine), Constance Cummings (Ruth Condomine), Kay Hammond (Elvira Condomine), Margaret Rutherford (Madame Arcati), Joyce Carey (Violet Bradman), Hugh Wakefield (Dr. George Bradman), Jacqueline Clarke (Edith, the maid) 96 minutes by Margarita Landazuri

Quotes

If you're trying to compile an inventory of my sex life, I feel it only fair to warn you that you've omitted several episodes. I shall consult my diary and give you a complete list after lunch.
- Charles Condomine

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1945

Re-released in Paris December 19, 1990.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1945