For those lucky enough to have seen it, The Ghost and Mrs Muir is gentle comedy classic of the forties. It's often compared to Pandora and the Flying Dutchman although the latter is a much darker film and practically devoid of humour. The two films do, however, share similar elements plot-wise; mainly that one of the leads is alive and one is dead. :)
It's a story with some Wildean or Shaw-esque moments concerning a young widow who takes a house on the coast with her daughter and servant despite being warned against the property by the estate agent. Desperate to start a new life for herself without repression, she soon learns that the place is haunted by the previous owner; a sea captain who is initially none to pleased to find her in his house. Eventually they befriend each other and when Mrs Muir encounters some financial difficulties, they write a book together - a biography of his life.
I don't want to say any more incase I spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, but it has many wonderful attributes - Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison and George Sanders are wonderful in it, and a very young Natalie Wood acts as Mrs Muir's daughter. There is also a beautiful score by Bernard Herrmann which is worth watching the film for all in itself.
Anyway, to the costumes. I'll just do a really quick overview notes on most of the costumes with some screencaptures I took from a (pretty rubbishy quality) print I have of the film. The costumes are a lovely blend of turn of the century and forties fashion which are cleverly integrated so the overall effect is of period dress. The official costume designer on the film was Eleanor Behm but the costume designer for Gene Tierney's wardrobe was Oleg Cassini, who happened to be her husband at the time. There might have been a collaboration between the two designers, although somehow I doubt it.
Click on any of the pictures for larger versions.
Gene Tierney in her mourning clothes. This is a boned bodice and skirt. It's very harsh, restraining and stiff design, almost armour-like in its fit which fits in with Mrs Muir's feeling of oppression at this point.
A long cape with slit sleeves which are edged in pom pom braid over a black travelling suit with braid on the lapels. The hat is so sweet and quirky while still having the pretensions of being a mourning hat with a veil. I don't know why it makes me laugh. It suits Mrs Muir - it's so perky. There's something humourous about it. Many mourning hats look quite terrifying.
This is a costume I couldn't get very good captures of. It's a plain mourning dress with a lace collar and cuffs.
She's ditched her widow's weeds now and is wearing a blouse with a lace collar and a high waisted plaid skirt. The skirt is interestingly cut at the back and seems to be piped at each seam.
A lovely suit with jet buttons. The skirt is cut in a similar if not the same way as the plaid skirt above.
Another nice blouse with some frou frou going on. That is a technical term. Yes.
This is probably the most famous costume as there were lots of stills taken of Gene wearing this suit. It's a wool with a small check and pom pom braid edging. The cut around the shoulders is reminiscent of both the wide forties shoulder and the cut of a Victorian cape so it's a very clever design. There is a comment in the film about the impracticability of her hat.
A light cotton summer dress with gorgeous tucks at the back which ease out to a wide, floaty skirt. Again, the design is both forties and Victorian/Edwardian with the fullness at the bust and sleeves and a closely fitting waist so it has that S-shape while still being something that viewers of the forties would think of as being a romantic dress.
This dress has an interesting texture to the sleeves if you can see the slightly corrugated look to it. A pretty lacework yoke keeps the design very conservative and true to a typical period day dress. In fact it's really only the undergarments that make the bodice of this dress look forties.
Appliqued suit of a bolero jacket and matching skirt with a silk blouse. The shoulders are emphasised slightly more than would be period but that's the forties influence.
I love this dress. It reminds me of a chemise à la reine as it's so light and pretty. It looks like a sheer silk with some stiffness so it will hold that sleeve shape.
That plaid skirt earlier on in the film has a matching jacket! It's really beautifully tailored and it could easily have fit in with forties fashions. It's only the skirt shape and length which ties it down to the turn of the century. The contrast velvet lapel is a nice touch as is the mixing of fabrics - plaid, lace and velvet.
While researching for this post I found a moan on IMDB about how the costumes late on in the film don't look like the teens/twenties clothes of when it was set, but look like forties fashions. This isn't necessarily true. You have to watch these films bearing in mind that authenticity wasn't a major concern at the time. The suit in question had a dropped waist, so it referenced the twenties. People had a visual trigger to let them know that a considerable amount of time had passed. Her daughter's suit is very forties looking, but again, there's a reason for that. I think it's to make her look much younger than her mother.
You had designers like Adrian who would go out of their way and fight with Studio Heads to make the costumes look period, but overall it was fairly rare and costume designers were encouraged to design clothes which would be attractive to the general population. Most viewers were content with designs that referenced the period, but for instance the corseted shapes of the Victorian era were not considered attractive and this was figured into designs.
You can't overestimate the importance of fashion in films during this period. Costume designs often set a trend. These films weren't historical documentaries, they were stories from the Dream Factory leading right into the 60s and beyond. Just look at Elizabeth Taylors costumes in Cleopatra in 1963 - never have there been such un-Egyptian looking clothes. The original designs were scrapped and redesigned for costumes that were not as historically accurate.
We shouldn't watch old films with an overly critical and scrutinising eye. I liken it to when a candle is lit in a dark room in old films and it's like ten 60 watt bulbs have been turned on. It's so we can see what's going on. The storytelling is the important thing. The fact that the costumes are inaccurate says a lot about the film industry at the time and the psychology and needs of the film going public.
End rant. :) Hope you enjoyed the post.