This movie is possibly one of the hardest I have ever chosen to review. It’s unique in such a way that this review will be very short, and a review that has spoilers will be slightly longer. Author Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison), is having a séance to do research for his latest book. He is quite hoping to prove that mediums are a hoax. It is his great misfortune that he finds a medium with some ability Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford) whom accidentally summons the ghost of his first wife Elvira (Kay Hammond). Hijinks ensue as he tries to banish her ghost. Some interesting choices they made for this movie include that Charles Condomine is the only one whom can see Elvira. This leads to hilarious moments where his second wife Ruth (Constance Cummings) thinks he is talking to her and being quite the cad! When Elvira is first summoned there is a strong wind that blows open the garden doors. Elvira is shown in an off green dress, and has heavy make-up on to match, to help us distinguish her from the living. In many scenes there also seems to be a light shining on her to indicate her otherworldly origins. If the lights are off, it is very obvious this light exists, in some better lit scenes it’s harder to tell if the light is there. The majority of the movie takes place in Charles’ country home, there are a few scenes at Madame Arcati’s, and several in Charles’ car. This movie was hysterical. My children, aged 3 and 6 watched with me and giggled at some of the things that were tried in order to banish the ghost! This ends the spoiler free review.
As stated previously, Charles is the only one who can see Elvira, so Charles has Elvira perform some ghostly tasks in Ruth’s presence to prove that he is in fact being haunted, and not a jerk, or going crazy. It is interesting to note the differences in attitude that Charles has between his first wife and his second wife. This is something he ponders out loud throughout the movie, but as an outsider, it almost seems like Charles married Elvira with a specific purpose. This would either be to gain her family connections to further his authorship or possibly as a trophy wife, since they went to many parties and he indicates that he and Ruth do not attend parties as he and Elvira used to. I’m not completely convinced whether these parties were Charles’s idea to further his authorship or if they were Elvira’s to get out of a house where she was often ignored by a husband lost in his work. Either way, it is extremely clear that his first marriage had mistakes on the side of both parties; married young, partied hard, he ignored her often (Elvira says even during the parties he was off talking about his books), and they were very comfortable saying things to each other that I would not say to someone I loved. In contrast, his marriage to Ruth he describes his marriage to Ruth as, “I grew up.” Ruth admits to pursuing him, to having admired him from afar while he was with Elvira. She waited the appropriate amount of time before pulling him out of his funk and inserting herself into his life so fully that he couldn’t imagine life without her. Truthfully, I don’t think poor Charles should’ve married at all. While Charles and Ruth seem content, Ruth comes off as scheming. Some of the lines she says in relation to Elvira indicate she never liked Elvira and might even seem like they are in competition even though Elvira is dead.
Ruth becomes possibly even more invested in ridding their house of Elvira then Charles resulting in her consulting Madame Arcati without him. She learns that a malevolent spirit might try to kill someone in an attempt to have them join them in the afterlife. Ruth becomes convinced that this is in fact what Elvira is trying to do as she comes home to find the gardner (unseen and unnamed), in an ambulance, the maid Edith (Jacqueline Clarke) has a concussion in the back, and the cook (Marie Ault) has a bandaged foot and her bag indicating she is quitting with no notice. Charles himself has a strained arm and has to wear a sling. Ruth gets a private moment with Charles and conveys her concerns and that she is going back to see Madame Arcati to find a solution. She takes the car, upon which discovery Elvira becomes very upset. Charles realizes Ruth was right Elvira was trying to kill him and rushes out to warn her. She can’t hear him and he gets a call a short time later saying that Ruth has died in a car accident near their home. A strong wind opens the front door. Elvira names her (Ruth), and says, “Ow!” acting struck. It becomes clear that Ruth is now haunting Elvira who is haunting Charles.
Madame Arcati contacts Charles saying she has sensed that something has changed. Charles insists everything is fine. Elvira convinces Charles to reach back out to Madame Arcati and have her send her home. Madame Arcati only succeeds in making Ruth visible to Charles. They return to Charles’s home and start performing banishment rituals.
I do not wish to give away the whole movie but I did find it hard to discuss this without being able to discuss some of the other things that had happened in the movie. I do believe that one should never mock spiritualist. Charles entered into the séance with ill intentions, which undoubtedly led to some of his misfortunes. Madame Arcati clearly has enough skill to get herself into trouble, but perhaps isn’t as skilled as she claims, leading to many of the funny moments in the film. There are many sidesplitting moments and I hope everybody seeks it out for a good laugh. My son (6) said it was spooky while giggling which means it had a few suspenseful moments for him. This isn’t scary and is safe for a multitude of audiences to enjoy.