Monday, August 20, 2012

#606: Blithe Spirit

(David Lean, 1945)

Blithe Spirit is based on the play by Noël Coward and is only available in the recent boxset David Lean Directs Noël Coward, but it's also on Netflix streaming. It's also a complete joy from start to finish.

I'm a huge fan of both Lean and Coward, and Brief Encounter is one of my favorite movies in the Collection. But seeing Lean take on comedy is a bit of a surprise. What makes it work here is the fact that this film is so appealingly dry. The characters play their ridiculous scenario out with such unbelievingly straight-faced enthusiasm that the film is able to pull off such a ludicrous premise.

In this way, the film reminded me of one of my favorite cult classics from the 90s, Bob Balaban's My Boyfriend's Back. Though it's not close to touching Blithe Spirit's sly sophistication, that later film nevertheless walked the campy line with a smart take on the zombie/high school romance that treated a kid coming back from the dead as something perfectly normal. That's along the lines of what happens here, where a ghost appearing quickly turns into just another complication in a drawing room comedy. Blithe Spirit is also clearly reminiscent of the screwball comedies of the time, but I'm thankful Coward chose to keep this adaptation in England where its style of humor belongs, making it less like like the broad farce of Arsenic and Old Lace and closer in wit to another great Criterion title, Kind Hearts and Coronets. Blithe Spirit doesn't quite reach the highs of either of those classic comedies - the resolution is a bit of a letdown and while the final moment is clever, it lacks the true satisfaction that might have come from the play's more cynical ending. But this is still a total pleasure and highly recommended to anyone who loves screwball comedy.

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