Movie: The Spirit Is Willing (1967)

Pity the poor moviegoer who paid to see The Spirit Is Willing in the theater in 1967.  A comedy in only the loosest sense of the word, everything about it is straight out of a sitcom from the era.  The jokes are lame.  The sets are artlessly lit.  Every outdoor shot with any of the cast is accomplished via rear projection.  The only thing differentiating it from what somebody at the time could have seen at home is this is in widescreen.

Sid Ceasar plays a beaten down shlub with a bad back and who is forever worrying about his job.  Vera Miles plays his wife in a role where she is given nothing to do but be his straight man (straight woman?).  Barry Gordon plays their cynical, smart-alec son who thinks his father should buy him a car.  Scratch what I just said about this being a sitcom—this is a bad comic strip, like The Lockhorns.

This trio is vacationing in an old New England house that just happens to be haunted by the ghosts of a comely young lass, the older man she is forever seducing and his older wife who is homely and extremely jealous.  These three are stuck in an eternal loop of domestic violence where the ghost husband and wife are forever trying to hurt each other.  Except they’re ghosts and they can’t seem to do any damage to each other with the real-world objects they can interact with, for whatever reason.  They can pick up stuff and throw it, but the items go right through their intended target. I would be willing to set aside logic if any of their antics were funny, except they aren’t.

A source of additional chaos is John McGiver as a rich asshole who has long since had designs on Miles, and continues to pursue her even when she’s married to Caesar.  The ghosts seem to be confined to the house except when the script needs them to cause chaos on his boat. 

The music in this is immediately reminiscent of similar scores for The Addams Family and The Munsters: poppish, but heavy on the harpsichord.  So, it was no surprise Addams Family patriarch John Astin has a small role in this.  He plays the psychiatrist at Caesar’s employer, sent to determine if that employee is going crazy.  I was very surprised a company that manufactures toilets would have a full-time, in-house shrink, but I wasn’t around at the time this was made.  Maybe every company had such a position, though I doubt it.

The actor given the most to do here is Jill Townsend.  She does triple-duty, playing the youngest of the ghosts, as well as two flesh-and-blood characters: a love interest for Gordon and the town librarian.  There’s no reason for her to play these multiple roles, though she fares well in each—however limited each may be. 

I found it a hair creepy she, as the love interest, is interested in Gordon romantically, as that character seems to be older than him.  It’s probably only by a couple of years, but a few years at the ages they’re supposed to be is the equivalent of a decade or two between adults.  Even weirder, I’m pretty sure Gordon was older in real-life than Townsend, so this is all kinds of messed up.

William Castle was the director of The Spirit Is Willing in 1967.  He owned the movie rights to a popular novel that would be adapted for the screen and released that next year.  Fortunately, he only was the producer for that movie, as the studio insisted somebody else direct.  Thus, Roman Polanski helmed Rosemary’s Baby, for which we should all be grateful.

Dir: William Castle

Starring Sid Ceasar, Vera Miles, Barry Gordon, Jill Townsend

Watched on Mill Creek blu-ray