To research his new book, debonair writer Charles (Harrison) and his wife Ruth (Cummings) invite local spiritualist Mme. Arcati (Rutherford) to their home for a séance. A running joke in their village, Arcati nevertheless manages to summon the ghost of Charles’s first wife Elvira (Hammond). The brassy Elvira taunts Charles who alone is able to see and hear her. Arcati tries her best to rid the home of the snarky specter, but her haunting presence wreaks havoc with the exasperated couple.
Light and effervescent, Lean’s filming of Noel Coward’s buoyant stage play is a verbal and visual delight. Harrison and his female co-stars dash off the sparkling dialogue with airy aplomb and the irrepressible Rutherford steals every scene she’s in as the batty medium. Shot in glorious Technicolor, with Elvira appearing in ghastly green hues, the farce won an Academy Award for visual effects. Frothy and brisk, and replete with Coward’s trademark barbs and veiled sexual innuendo, “Blithe Spirit” is a rare comedy in Lean’s impressive oeuvre.