My Favorite Ghost Stories

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet (Act I, Scene v, Line 918)

I was at a writers conference this past weekend (Love is Murder in Chicago) and, on the first night, they had guest speakers from a paranormal investigative team. An extremely interesting topic with great examples of EVPs (Electronic voice phenomena), but the presentation itself was a little dull.

I believe in ghosts. There, I said it. Whether you agree or not is not important. I’ve never actually experienced a paranormal event, but I love ghost stories and when you hear stories of ghosts, there are things that just can’t be easily explained away.

And all that got me thinking about some of my favorite films that feature ghosts. I’m not a particular fan of horror-ish ghost stories. I prefer my ghosts to be more genteel and/or romantic and/or just plain funny.

In no particular order of importance, here are some of my favorites:

The Univited (1944) – Brother and sister Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) purchase a beautiful seaside home on the Devonshire coast, and the purchase cost is well below market value. I love the fact that we never see the ghost, but hear her sobs and her presence is always known by the aroma of mimosa. The home holds dark secrets but the film has a few lighter moments, too. And a bit of a surprise ending!

Topper (1937) – Cary Grant and Constance Bennett play George and Marion Kirby, a rich and carefree couple, who are killed when their car careens into a tree. They decide they need to do a good deed in order to get into Heaven and set their sights on helping the staid Cosmo Topper (Roland Young), the president of the bank on whose Board George was a director. They set out to infuse a little spontaneity and, well, “life” into his life.

The Canterville Ghost (1944) – Charles Laughton is the cowardly Sir Simon de Canterville who, in 1634, fled rather than fight a duel. Simon forever haunts the castle halls until a descendent can prove themself in combat. He hasn’t had much luck until a platoon of American soldiers, including Cuffy Williams (Robert Young), are billeted in the castle. Cuffy is Simon’s great-great-great-etc. nephew and agrees to perform a heroic deed — but can he? Also stars Margaret O’Brien as young Lady Jessica de Canterville.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) – you really can’t a better ghostly romance than this film. Widow Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) and her daughter rent Gull Cottage in Whitecliff. The house, they are warned, is haunted and Lucy does experience ghostly manifestations. But she refuses to be scared off and demands the ghost reveal himself and it is Captain Daniel Gregg (a very debonair Rex Harrison), the cottage’s original owner. At first, they are hostile towards one another, but they develop a mutual respect and admiration for each other.

Heart and Souls (1993) – A 1959 bus accident leaves four souls (Charles Grodin, Alfre Woodard, Kyra Sedgewick, and Tom Sizemore) attached to a young boy born that same night (who grows up to be Robert Downey Jr.). Years later, they discover that their special attachment to this human was intended to help them finish their business here on earth before moving on, but the amount of time they have to complete their tasks is growing short. Humor and pathos mix beautifully in this film.

If you don’t go for horror, what are some of your favorite ghost stories?

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