To get background for a new book, novelist Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison) and his second wife Ruth (Constance Cummings) light-heartedly arrange for local mystic Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford) to give a séance. As Charles, Ruth, and their guests, the Bradmans, restrain their laughter, Madame Arcati performs peculiar rituals and speaks with a propensity for clichés. Upon its conclusion, Madame Arcati obviously is concerned about an unexpected turn the session has taken; although the author and his guests are dubious anything extraordinary occurred.

Unknown to everyone, Madame Arcati has accidentally summoned the spirit of Charles' first wife Elvira (Kay Hammond) during the séance, whose voice Charles can now hear, and Arcati faints during her trance. After Madame Arcati and the Bradmans have left, Elvira takes visual form. Charles, who is the only person capable of seeing Elvira, becomes both dismayed and amused by her sudden and unexpected presence. Complications ensue when Ruth becomes aware that Charles’ first wife is now occupying the same house as she. Charles desperately asks the help of Madame Arcati to rid him of Elvira, especially when he learns that Elvira has been plotting to kill him so he will spend eternity with her and not his current wife, Ruth.

However, Madame Arcati cannot seem to get rid of Elvira as easily as she made her appear. Meanwhile, Elvira, still plotting to kill Charles, miscalculates and ends up killing Ruth instead. Unfortunately now, both his wives haunt Charles.

Though initially unable to help, Madame Arcati uncovers a means to rid his household of both spirits. She appears to be successful, with the aid of the maid Edith, who turns out to be psychic and can see both deceased women. But it soon becomes clear, that they were not able to rid the house of the spirits, and now both women want Charles dead.

Oscar
1 Nomination
1 Award
Best Special Effects

Golden Globes
0 Nominations
0 Awards
“Blithe Spirit” was David Lean’s only comedy, although he did collaborate with Noel Coward on three more of his works. While he shot this in Technicolor, he decided with cinematographer Ronald Neame not to use double exposure to create Elvira’s manifestations. Instead, he ordered an enormous set that allowed Kay Hammond’s ghost to move freely around in each shot, specially lit so that her green make-up and grotesque wig were aglow, along with her red lips and fingernails. The result was a visually startling comedy of sexual manners.

As with most of Coward’s work, “Blithe Spirit” is renowned for its dialogue. During an argument with Ruth, Charles declares, "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." The line, considered extremely risqué by censors, was deleted from the US release.

The one ingredient that makes this a classic is none other than Margaret Rutherford, that indefatigable dowager of British eccentricity in its fullest bloom. In every one of her screen appearances, the great, unsurpassed Margaret erupts from the screen like a juggernaut. As the ludicrously inept medium Madame Arcati, she is simply magnificent. If there was just one reason for watching “Blithe Spirit”, it is simply to enjoy seeing Margaret Rutherford doing what she does best – bringing down the house. She is pure Heaven.

Although it received positive critical reviews, the film was a box office failure on both sides of the Atlantic. Coward himself was dissatisfied with the result, reportedly asking Lean, who initially had resisted directing a comedy, "How the hell did you fuck up the best thing I ever did?" The film though, is widely regarded as a classic now and is definitely worth watching, if only for Margaret Rutherford!