The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)

The Horn Blows at Midnight has four things working against it.  First, it is an explicit dream movie.  By “explicit,” I mean we know from the onset that it is a dream.  Athanael (Jack Benny) plays third trumpet in a band.  Just before the beginning of a live broadcast, he falls asleep and starts dreaming, and he does not wake up until the last few minutes of the movie.  In general, audiences do not like dream movies, presumably because it means that what they are watching is not really happening.  This is something of a paradox, because that is true of most movies, even those without dreams in them.  After all, Hollywood has sometimes been referred to as the “dream factory.”  Nevertheless, the audience can get into a movie they know to be fiction and experience it as something real, but when they know the movie is about someone’s dream, their ability to suspend disbelief is greatly strained.

Brief dreams are not a problem, of course, and they may even enhance our enjoyment of the movie, as in The Manchurian Candidate (1962).  It is the longer dreams that test the audience’s patience.  That is why most dream movies do not let the audience know until the end that what they are watching is a dream, as in The Woman in the Window (1944).  Even so, we feel somewhat cheated at the end.  Laura (1944) was originally intended to be a dream movie, and director Otto Preminger even filmed an ending making the dream explicit, but he wisely left it out of the movie.  In The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), we are never really certain whether the ghost is real or dreamt, and this allows us to tentatively accept what we are watching.

When a dream movie is explicit, the characters in real life usually show up in the dream, as in The Wizard of Oz (1939), where it is fun to see the parallels between the real characters and the ones in the dream.  And this leads us to the second thing that The Horn Blows at Midnight has going against it.  While a lot of characters that Athanael knows do show up in his dream, they do not do so in any interesting way.  The first and second trumpeter, who made sarcastic remarks about Athanael’s trumpet playing, are made to be bad guys in the dream, but that is about the extent of it.  Everyone else is just playing two parts.

A link between reality and the dream comes in some remarks Athanael makes in the beginning.  He tells the other two trumpet players that they will be punished someday for snitching on him.  When Elizabeth (Alexis Smith) tries to console him for having to be just the third trumpeter, saying that at least he is making money and eating, he replies, “I wish I’d never heard of food or money.”  He continues:  “It’s an ungrateful world, Elizabeth.  If I had my way, things would be different.  There’d be a lot of changes made.”

And that leads to the third weakness of this film:  it is a Heaven movie.  Apart from the movies, Heaven is a problem all in itself.  No conception of Heaven ever really sounds all that appealing.  Because it is hard to take Heaven seriously, movies about Heaven tend to be comedies, such as Stairway to Heaven (1947), though I have yet to find any of them very funny.  Even when they are dramas, they have a light touch, as in The Green Pastures (1936).  In Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) and its remake, Heaven Can Wait (1978), as little time as possible is spent in Heaven, because Heaven is boring.  In fact, in the movie Heaven Can Wait (1943), not to be confused with the previously mentioned movie by that name, we never even get to Heaven.  The protagonist spends most of his time in Hell recounting his sins.  Because this is a comedy, we are not supposed to take Hell any more seriously than Heaven, and thus the man who runs the place is not referred to as Satan, but only as “His Excellency.”  In general, Heaven movies suffer the same problem as dream movies, which is that audiences know that what they are watching isn’t real.  So, when the movie is a dream about Heaven, our credulity is really strained.

Anyway, Athanael dreams that he is an angel who plays the trumpet in the heavenly orchestra.  The dream is a wish-fulfilling fantasy, in which the “ungrateful world” he referred to earlier is selected for destruction, owing to its unworthy inhabitants, and he is to destroy it by blowing his horn exactly at midnight.  So, he is sent to Earth, in accordance with the general principle that it is better to move the story out of Heaven as quickly as possible.  As an angel, he knows nothing about food or money, as per his wish while he was still awake.  Actually, he knows nothing about sex either, which does provide for a few of the handful of laughs that this movie has to offer.

The bulk of the movie consists of the two trumpet players, now fallen angels, trying to keep Athanael from blowing his horn.  I suppose it is the height of absurdity to take this dream-Heaven movie seriously in any aspect, but this leads to the fourth thing working against this movie.  We are expected to pull for Athanael, even though he wants to destroy the world, while pulling against the two fallen angels, who are trying to save it, though for selfish reasons, of course.  If a man commits a murder, he is evil.  If he goes on a rampage and kills a dozen or so, he is a horrible mass-murderer.  And if he is like Hitler or Stalin, who were responsible for the killing of millions, he is a monster.  Athanael is trying to kill every last person on this planet, but since his orders come from Heaven, that is supposed to make it all right.  (It is to be noted, however, that the orders do not come from God, as if to hold him innocent, notwithstanding the fact that the Bible tells us that this is precisely the sort of thing God did in the past with the Flood and will do again on Judgment Day.)

I suppose Athanael is redeemed by the fact that in his wish-fulfilling dream, he falls to his death before he can blow his trumpet and end the world, after which he wakes up and starts playing his trumpet in real life.  But for the reasons given above, this movie cannot be redeemed by the few laughs that it affords us.

Laura (1944)

Lydecker’s Narration to Us

“I shall never forget the weekend Laura died.”  Thus begins the narration of Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), telling us how devastated he is by the horrible death of Laura (Gene Tierney), and how he is beginning to write her biography. Then he informs us that another one of those police detectives is waiting to talk to him.  That detective is Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews).  The two men could not be more different. Lydecker is soaking in his deluxe bathtub, fixed up so that he can type while he indulges in luxury. McPherson is the kind of guy who takes nothing but showers.  With a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, he smirks as he looks at all the expensive artwork that adorns Lydecker’s apartment, regarding it all as a bunch of knickknacks for the maid to dust. Lydecker was making him wait, to put him in his place, but becomes alarmed when McPherson cavalierly picks up an item that Lydecker regards as priceless, telling McPherson to be careful.

After that, Lydecker invites McPherson into the bathroom, at which point we see Lydecker’s old, scrawny body, which stands in contrast to what we imagine is McPherson’s young, muscular build. As Lydecker rises out of the tub, we see another smirk on McPherson’s face, as he notes Lydecker’s penis, which we can’t help but imagine as being little and wrinkled, as opposed to the big, swinging dick that McPherson lugs around.  McPherson asks Lydecker a few questions and then prepares to leave.  As Lydecker finishes getting dressed, he asks McPherson if he can accompany him, saying that murder is one of his favorite subjects to write about.  McPherson consents.

As they leave, we see that both men wear fedoras, but here too there is a difference. McPherson creases his hat in the teardrop style, which in the movies is characteristic of detectives, reporters, and gangsters; Lydecker’s fedora is in the center-dent style, with a crease down the middle, worn in the movies by businessmen and politicians.

Lydecker’s Narration to McPherson

Later in the movie, Lydecker’s narration is addressed to McPherson, instead of to us in the audience.  Lydecker tells him about how he met Laura and how they became good friends.  It takes the form of a flashback, as Lydecker tells how he became instrumental in advancing her career in advertising. And he tells of the men in Laura’s life.  First, she started seeing Jacoby, the artist that painted her picture.  Lydecker says he never liked the man, saying, “He was so obviously conscious of looking more like an athlete than an artist.”  Lydecker wrote a scathing column ridiculing the man and his art.  Laura had no respect for Jacoby after that.  There were other men, but her own discretion soon eliminated them.

But then she met Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) at a party thrown by Laura’s aunt, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), a rich woman upon whom Shelby was financially dependent.  Eventually, Laura became engaged to Shelby.  Determined to put an end to their plans to be married, Lydecker proves to Laura that Shelby has been unfaithful to her, fooling around with a model named Diane Redfern, while continuing his relationship with Ann as a kept man. Laura becomes so upset that she decides to go to her house in the country for a few days to think things over.  But that was the night she was murdered.

All this can be thought of as a narration within a narration, so there is no logical difficulty with that. Eventually, the movie becomes detached completely from Lydecker’s narration, either to us or to McPherson, for we see events unfold without Lydecker’s presence and without hearing his words. However, we can suppose that Lydecker is still narrating, after a fashion, telling us about events he only learned about secondhand or filled in with his imagination.

McPherson’s Dream

One night, McPherson is alone in Laura’s apartment, going through her letters, trying to figure out who murdered her.  He gazes at a portrait of Laura that is hanging on the wall.  He falls asleep in his chair. Suddenly, Laura walks in through the door.  This exemplifies the principle that if someone in a movie falls asleep in a chair, there is a good chance that what follows is a dream. Falling asleep in a bed doesn’t count, because that is too ordinary.  Furthermore, when a person falls asleep in a chair, he is fully dressed.  As a result, we cannot be sure whether he has awakened from his catnap, or whether he is dreaming.  It would be a stretch for someone to fall asleep in bed, and then have a dream that begins with his getting out of bed, taking off his pajamas, putting on his clothes, talking to people or doing stuff, after which he puts his pajamas back on, and then gets back in bed, so that when he wakes in the morning, we are not supposed to know whether he was dreaming or not.  There are a few movies in which that happens, however, as in The Night Walker (1964), in which Barbara Stanwyck keeps being awakened in the middle of the night, when she is in bed, and when she wakes up in the morning, she is not sure whether these nocturnal events really happened, or she merely dreamt them.  But with movies like that, the possibility that the protagonist was dreaming has to be obvious.  When someone falls asleep in a chair, that alone is sufficient to suggest the possibility of a dream.

Originally, McPherson’s dream was to have been made explicit in a final scene that was filmed but eventually cut.  That was a wise decision. Short dreams in a movie are fine, but people tend to feel cheated if they find out at the end of a movie that most of it was a dream, unless the movie is a fantasy. In other words, we never minded when Alice in Wonderland turned out to be a dream at the end, because the events after Alice goes down the rabbit hole are too fantastic to take seriously, and we are charmed by the idea that it was the dream of a little girl with an active imagination. It is for the same reason that we do not mind that most of The Wizard of Oz (1939) was just a dream.

But when it happens in a movie in which we are taking things seriously, we are irked by a dream ending. In the movie Woman in the Window (1944), a married man falls asleep in a chair.  After he supposedly wakes up, he meets a beautiful woman.  They go to her apartment, where he ends up having to kill her jealous boyfriend in self-defense.  This is followed by a coverup, blackmail, and finally suicide.  But instead of dying from the poison he consumed, he wakes up to find out it was all a dream, and he is still sitting in that chair.  Presumably, those who made this movie thought a dream ending would be better than an ending in which the protagonist commits suicide, but the movie is weaker for it.  In The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), a woman falls asleep in a chair, and so for the rest of the movie, we don’t know whether she was actually visited by a ghost or only dreamed him.  In this case, the movie never makes it obvious that she is only dreaming, allowing us to enjoy the story as though it really happened.  Either way, when a character in a movie falls asleep in a chair, what we see from then on is probably a dream, whether this is made explicit or not.

Because Lydecker dies, his narration, which began at the beginning of the movie, is problematic. How can he be telling us a story in which he dies in the end? It has been done, of course, notably in Sunset Blvd. (1950), but we are supposed to be amused by the absurdity of listening to William Holden tell us his story as he floats drowned in a swimming pool with that dumbfounded look on his face. In Laura, on the other hand, we just might think it was a goof to have the narrator begin a story in which he ends up dead. But if the second half of the film is only a dream, then Lydecker never dies, and his narration only applies to the first half of the film, the half that is real.

A Case of Identity

In his early discussion with Lydecker, McPherson says that Laura was killed with a shotgun loaded with buckshot, but no mention is made of what part of her body was shot. Even the second time the shotgun murder is mentioned, when McPherson is interviewing Ann, who identified the body, nothing is said in that regard. In fact, Ann is so casual about her ability to identify Laura that we would assume Laura was shot in the chest, if we thought about it at all.  It is not until almost the end of the movie, when McPherson has discovered the shotgun hidden in the clock, and he realizes that Lydecker tried to kill Laura out of jealousy over Shelby, that he mentions that the woman Lydecker thought was Laura, Diane Redfern, was shot in the face with both barrels.  (She and Shelby were using Laura’s apartment to have sex while Laura was out of town.)

This raises the question as to exactly how Ann could have identified the body. Normally, when someone is murdered, the police take the body to the morgue.  So, I figured that Ann was brought to the morgue, and she identified the body there.  But how could she have known whose body it was, when it had its face blown off?  Then Ann says of Bessie, Laura’s maid, “I’ll never forget her scream when she saw Laura lying there.”  Does that mean they were both in the morgue at the same time?  Or perhaps the idea is that the police, contrary to what is usual, brought Ann over to the apartment where Diane’s body was still lying on the floor, and that’s where she identified it as Laura. In that case, her identification was inferred:  the body was of a young woman, wearing Laura’s negligee, and lying on the floor in Laura’s apartment. And then Bessie came walking in, saw what she thought was Laura’s body, and screamed.

That would be fine, except that it was Bessie that found the body in first place.  She tells McPherson that in order to protect Laura from any scandal, she hid a bottle of cheap scotch and wiped the fingerprints off the glasses before the police arrived.  Bessie is a white Uncle Tom, a woman who wants nothing more out of life than to serve her master.  In any event, this means she was already there when Ann was brought to the apartment to identify the body that Bessie had presumably already identified, saying it was that of Laura.  But in that case, Ann would not have heard Bessie scream, her initial shock having long since passed.

Whatever the case, this delay in giving us this crucial piece of information about a shotgun blast to the face is to keep us from becoming suspicious, because whenever someone in a movie supposedly dies, but either the corpse is never found, or it has been disfigured beyond recognition, then you can give long odds that the person in question is not really dead.  An example of a missing corpse is Mr. Lucky (1943), where Cary Grant is thought to be dead because the ship he was on was torpedoed during the war, and his body was never found.  Naturally, it turns out that he survived. Another example in which the body was never found is My Favorite Wife (1940).  As an example of a disfigured corpse, there is Once Upon a Time in America (1984), in which the face of James Woods has supposedly been severely burned, so we suspect right off that he is not really dead.  But the most ludicrous example is Murder Is My Beat (1955), where a murdered man is found with his face in the fireplace.  And since his hands are in the fireplace too, he cannot be identified with fingerprints either.  The detective may not realize that the corpse is of a different man than the one he thinks, but we are under no such illusion.  Therefore, if McPherson had said early on that Laura’s face had been blown off, we would have guessed right away that the woman was really someone else. Of course, once Laura returns, right after McPherson has fallen asleep, and we realize that it was another woman who had been shot, we infer that the blast must have disfigured her face.


Just before McPherson falls asleep in Laura’s apartment, he gets a visit from Lydecker, who has found out that the detective put in a bid for Laura’s portrait, and thus realizes that McPherson has fallen in love with her.  “You better watch out, McPherson,” Lydecker says to him, “or you’ll end up in a psychiatric ward. I don’t think they’ve ever had a patient who fell in love with a corpse.”

More than a few movie critics have referred to McPherson as being a necrophiliac.  To me, a necrophiliac is someone who is aroused by a corpse and wants to have sex with it, like those characters in Maniac (1934) that work in the morgue, and seem delighted when the fresh corpse of a good-looking woman is brought in.  I should think that just being aroused by a painting of a beautiful woman who happens to be dead doesn’t qualify.  And yet, I have encountered this elsewhere.  On one occasion, when I commented on how sexy I thought Maureen O’Sullivan was playing Jane in Tarzan and His Mate (1934), going about all scantily clad in her loin cloth, the guy I was talking to said, “Ew!  But she’s so old!”  A few years later, I made a similar comment, and the woman I was talking to recoiled, saying, “But she’s dead!”  They think I’m weird.  The feeling is mutual.

Anyway, Lydecker is not only amused by the idea of a McPherson’s falling in love with someone who is dead, but also by the incongruous notion that someone as refined as Laura could fall for the likes of McPherson, who is low class and crude. He contemptuously asks McPherson if he has ever dreamed that Laura was his wife, indicating how ill-matched they would have been.

This is not the first reference to dreaming, nor is it the last. Some references are minor: Lydecker refers to Shelby’s dreams, and Laura talks about her dreams of a career when she was growing up. More significantly, after McPherson figures out that Lydecker is the killer, he tells Laura to forget the whole thing like a bad dream. And during Lydecker’s radio broadcast, he quotes the poet Ernest Dowson, who speaks of life as emerging out of a dream and then closing within a dream.  The theme song to this movie later had lyrics written for it by Johnny Mercer, the last line of which says that Laura is only a dream.


Because McPherson has fallen in love with Laura, his dream is the fulfillment of a wish, the wish that Laura were still alive so that he could possess her.  But there might be another wish-fulfillment aspect to this dream:  homophobia.  When I first saw this movie in the late 1960s, back when I was in college, I never suspected that half the movie was a dream.  But another thing I never suspected was that anyone in the movie was a homosexual.  As far as I could see, Lydecker was in love with Laura; Shelby was engaged to marry Laura, but fooling around with Diane; and Ann was in love with Shelby—all heterosexual relationships.

I knew there was such a thing as homosexuality, of course, but I figured it was rare. And what there was of it was informally segregated.  My fraternity brothers, as part of my education as a pledge, told me about a diner and a nightclub that were strictly for homosexuals.  They didn’t call them “gay bars,” of course.  For that matter, they didn’t use the word “homosexual” either.  But the point seemed to be that the homosexuals had their world, and we had ours.

As a result, I never suspected that anyone I knew was a homosexual, unless I heard a rumor to that effect, and even then I didn’t half believe it.  More to the point, though I had seen lots of old movies on the late show, yet I never saw one where I thought to myself that one of the characters was a homosexual.  It would not be until I saw The Boys in the Band (1970) that I was aware of homosexual characters in a movie.  In that movie, a straight character is educated about the various forms of homosexuality, and I was almost as ignorant on the subject as he was.  Even now, I mostly know that old movies featured queer flashes and homosexual themes because I read about them.  In particular, I have read that Clifton Webb was a homosexual and that Vincent Price was bisexual.  As for Judith Anderson, though I have not read anywhere that she was a lesbian, yet her iconic role in Rebecca (1940) would apparently forever leave her with homosexual connotations.  Of course, just because an actor is a homosexual, that does not mean he is playing one in a movie.  But many critics seem to believe that the subtext of homosexuality in Laura is present through the characters portrayed by these three actors.

Roger Ebert even said that the movie would make more sense if Laura was a boy.  I suppose that could be the basis for a remake.  In that case, McPherson could find he is having strange thoughts while looking at the portrait of this boy, as it stirs feelings in him he doesn’t understand.  But that’s as far as I’m going to go with that.

The point of all this is that I still do not see the any homosexuality in this movie, and on my own, I would never suspect any.  But always endeavoring to have an open mind, I am willing to consider that the movie is rife with homosexual undercurrents.  So, let us assume as much and see where it takes us.

To a presumed homophobe like McPherson, it must have seemed to him that Laura lived in a world teeming with homosexuals, something he detested.  At one point during the dream phase of the movie, Shelby puts his hand on McPherson’s shoulder as he starts to walk away, and McPherson turns and punches him in the gut.  The first few times I saw this movie, I thought he disliked Shelby because he was something of a gigolo, being kept by Ann, who regularly gave him money.  But if we assume that McPherson is seething with contempt and hatred for Shelby because he is a homosexual, then his brutality makes sense that way too.  When this movie was remade for television in 1968, Shelby was played by Farley Granger, another actor known for having homosexual relationships, and who played a homosexual in Rope (1948), although I would never have guessed that about him or the role he played either.  Just something else that I would not have known had I not read about it.

Needless to say, McPherson has Lydecker killed off in his dream for the same reason. It must have been maddening to him that Laura seemed to have an affinity for homosexuals, and his dream allows him to give vent to his violent impulses.  Ann is let off easy, however, for the simple reason that heterosexual men, even those that are homophobic, never really mind lesbians, as long as they are lipstick lesbians, of course. In fact, your typical pornographic movie, intended for male heterosexuals, will usually have at least one scene in which two women have sex.  That way the men in the audience get to see two naked women instead of just one.  But such a movie will never have a scene in which two men have sex.  Those scenes belong strictly in the male homosexual subgenre of pornography.  Once again, they have their world, and we have ours.


Furthermore, we might interpret Lydecker’s motive as heterophobia, disgust at the thought of men and women having sex.  We never have the impression that Lydecker wants to have sex with Laura, which is consistent with his being a homosexual.  Rather, he seems to regard her as part of his expensive collection of beautiful art objects, the epitome of which are two pendulum clocks, the only two of their kind in existence.  He gave Laura one of them while keeping the other, symbolic of the bond between them. While McPherson is snooping around in Lydecker’s apartment, it occurs to him that the clock might have a secret compartment, one in which a shotgun might be hidden.  He can’t figure out how to unlock it, however, so he just kicks it in, shattering the glass door.

This crude treatment of something beautiful is just what Lydecker imagines McPherson’s treatment of Laura will be.  When it becomes clear that Laura is in love with McPherson, he says to her, “With you, a lean, strong body is the measure of a man, and you always get hurt.”  Shortly thereafter, he says, “If McPherson weren’t muscular and handsome in a cheap sort of way, you’d see through him in a second.” When Laura tells Lydecker she doesn’t think they should see each other anymore, he says, “I hope you’ll never regret what promises to be a disgustingly earthy relationship.”

Having failed to kill Laura to keep her from marrying Shelby, Lydecker decides to kill her now to keep her from presumably marrying McPherson.  In explaining to Laura why he is going to kill her and then himself, while holding the shotgun on her, he says: “The best part of myself—that’s what you are.  Do you think I’m going to leave it to the vulgar pawing of a second-rate detective that thinks you’re a dame?  Do you think I could bear the thought of him holding you in his arms, kissing you, loving you?”  She manages to push the shotgun away and run for the door, just as McPherson and the other detectives have broken in.  One of the detectives shoots Lydecker, while a final blast from the shotgun destroys the other clock.


Because the explicit dream ending was cut from the film, the movie presents itself to us as a story about things that actually happen, and thus we are able to enjoy it that way.  It is only upon reflection that we may conclude that the last half of the movie was a dream.

And we can also enjoy the movie even if we think everyone is heterosexual, which is still the way I experience it.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum was published just before the turn of the twentieth century, and years later was made into the classic movie The Wizard of Oz.

In the introduction to his book, Baum says that while children have always loved fairy tales, “the time has come for a series of newer ‘wonder tales’ in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale.  Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.”  Therefore, he says this book “aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.”

It is not clear that his tale is as much of a break with the past as he imagines.  In place of the dwarf, we have the Munchkins.  The Good Witch of the North and Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, would seem to fall into the fairy category.  However, I really have to wonder about his claim to have left out the “heartaches and nightmares.”  The Wicked Witch of the West seems comparable to the one in the story about Hansel and Gretel or Sleeping Beauty.

In both the book and the movie, the moral of the tale is that there is no place like home.  And in both the book and the movie, home is dreadful, though each in its own way.  In the book, Dorothy lives with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em in a pitifully small house of just one room.  Outside the house, things are just as bleak:

When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.

As for Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, things are even worse:

When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child’s laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy’s merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.

Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.

The only friend Dorothy has is her little dog Toto, who makes her laugh and whom she loves.  It is interesting that Baum made Dorothy an orphan, when it would have been just as easy to make her the daughter of Henry and Em.  In a lot of fairy tales, such as the one of Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel, there is a stepmother, with the suggestion that the child or children are unloved and unwanted.  Once again, Baum does not seem to have distanced himself from the traditional fairy tales as much as he imagined.

I don’t know if tornados were called “cyclones” in Kansas in the nineteenth century, but that is how the book refers to them, one of which suddenly starts coming their way.  There is a trap door in the house leading down to a small hole to hide from such cyclones.  Dorothy tries to follow Aunt Em down the hole, but the house is lifted into the air before she and Toto can get down there.  Eventually, it drops the house down into the Land of Oz.

Because the house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her, the Munchkins she ruled over are most grateful.  The Good Witch of the North gives Dorothy the silver shoes that the Wicked Witch used to wear.  Then she tells her that if she wants to go back to Kansas, she will have to follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City where the Wizard of Oz may be able to help her.  Later, after she has met the Scarecrow, who decides to accompany her in hopes that the Wizard will give him a brain, he asks her why she wants to go back to Kansas:

“I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas.”

“That is because you have no brains” answered the girl. “No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”

The Scarecrow sighed.

“Of course I cannot understand it,” he said. “If your heads were stuffed with straw, like mine, you would probably all live in the beautiful places, and then Kansas would have no people at all. It is fortunate for Kansas that you have brains.”

I suppose it makes sense that a little girl like Dorothy would feel that way, for young children are terrified of being separated from their parents.  But if she were a few years older, a teenage Dorothy would probably have said, “Kansas sucks.  I’m never going back.”  In any event, the ultimate moral of many fables and fairy tales is that we should accept our place in life, an agreeable sentiment for most people, inasmuch as they have no choice.

In the end, the Wizard of Oz agrees to take Dorothy back to Kansas, but his hot-air balloon accidentally leaves without her.  Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, tells her that she need only click her silver shoes together, and she can go back to Kansas whenever she wants.  Too bad the Good Witch of the North didn’t know about that, or Dorothy could have gotten back to Kansas that afternoon.

But at least that makes sense.  In the movie, there is only one good witch, Glinda (Billie Burke), the Good Witch of the North.  When the Scarecrow asks her why she didn’t tell Dorothy (Judy Garland) before that she could go back to Kansas any time she wants, Glinda replies, “Because she wouldn’t have believed me.  She had to learn it herself.”  In other words, we are being asked to believe that if Glinda had told Dorothy that she could return to Kansas right away, something like the following conversation would have taken place:

Glinda:  Now that you are wearing the ruby slippers, you can go back to Kansas any time you want by clicking your heels together.

Dorothy:  I don’t believe you.

Glinda:  Just try it.  You’ll see.

Dorothy:  No!

Glinda:  Well, in that case, I guess you’ll have to follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City and ask the Wizard of Oz for help.  He might be able to get you back to Kansas.

Dorothy:  Sounds good to me.

Anyway, in the book, Dorothy clicks her heels and winds up back in Kansas, telling Aunt Em, “I’m so glad to be at home again.”

As an aside, before Dorothy leaves the Land of Oz, each of her three friends, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion, end up ruling over some of the inhabitants of Oz, with the suggestion that this is a happy ending for them and for those that are to be ruled over.  All four witches ruled over some portion of this land, at least until the wicked ones were dispatched.  And, of course, the Wizard ruled over Emerald City before he left.  In short, there is no such thing as democracy in the Land of Oz, nor any hint that having a democratically elected leader would be desirable.  Here, too, we find that Baum is in line with traditional fairy tales, which always seem to take place in a kingdom, not in some democratic republic.  When the traditional fairy tales were first told, kingdoms were the norm.  But as Baum was an American citizen claiming to present a modern fairy tale, one about a girl living in Kansas, we can only assume that his reason for not making the Land of Oz be a democratic republic is that he believed that being ruled over by an absolute monarch is something dreamy and wonderful.  A lot of people seem to feel that way.

In many ways, Dorothy’s home in the movie is a better place than the one in the book.  Uncle Henry and Aunt Em seem nice enough, even if they are too busy saving chicks to listen to Dorothy when she tries to talk to them in the opening scene.  And we get the sense that there is a town nearby, within walking distance, so the farm is not so isolated.

However, there is one sense in which home is worse.  There is a Miss Gulch (Margaret Hamilton) in the movie, whom Toto has bitten.  As a result, she has gotten an order from the sheriff to take possession of Toto and have him “destroyed.”  Toto manages to escape, but Dorothy realizes that Miss Gulch will be back.  As a result, she decides to take Toto and run away from home.  But at the end of the movie, she seems to have forgotten all about that.  She talks as though it was foolish of her to run away from home:

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any farther than my own backyard.  Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.

But her “heart’s desire” was to save the life of her little dog.  As Dorothy lies there in bed, saying how she is never going to run away again because there’s no place like home, we know that Miss Gulch will be back the next morning with that same court order to take Toto away.

In the book, Dorothy’s adventures in the Land of Oz really happen, but in the movie, it is all a dream.  When the cyclone hits, Dorothy is knocked unconscious, and Oz is just a place she dreams about.  The three hired hands that work on the farm in the movie become the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion; Miss Gulch becomes the Wicked Witch of the West; and Professor Marvel becomes the Wizard of Oz.

Margaret Hamilton said that when her agent told her that MGM wanted her for The Wizard of Oz, she was thrilled, since that was her favorite book as a child.  But when she asked what part she would be playing, he said “The Witch.  What else?”

But maybe the answer to his question, “What else?” should not have been as obvious as he thought it was.  When Dorothy first lands in the Land of Oz, Glinda arrives and asks Dorothy, “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”  Dorothy denies being a witch at all, saying, “Witches are old and ugly.”  Glinda laughs, saying that she is a witch.  Dorothy apologizes, saying, “But I’ve never heard of a beautiful witch before.”  Glinda replies, “Only bad witches are ugly.”

Apparently, that is what Margaret Hamilton and her agent assumed as well, otherwise, she might have asked him, “Which witch?”  And that raises the question, why not have Margaret Hamilton play Glinda and let Billie Burke play Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West?  Some might argue that it would be too much to expect a child to understand that someone who is ugly may be good and kind, while someone who is beautiful may be evil and cruel.  But notwithstanding Baum’s remark that children do not need to be taught a moral in a modern fairy tale, would not this be the most important lesson a child could learn?

In any event, some people might suppose that Toto is safe, arguing that Miss Gulch died during the cyclone, because she also corresponds to the Wicked Witch of the East, who died when the farmhouse landed on her. And just for good measure, as the Wicked Witch of the West, she dies again when Dorothy throws a bucket of water on her.  Well, Dorothy may have killed off Miss Gulch as a witch in her wish-fulfilling dream, twice even, but that is no reason to think the real Miss Gulch is dead.  In the dream, the farmhouse had been picked up by the cyclone and had landed on the Witch, crushing her.  But nothing like that happened to the farmhouse in the real world. So there may be no place like home for Dorothy, but it’s the dog pound for Toto, at least for a few days until he is put to death.

As noted above, the sister of the Wicked Witch of the East, the Wicked Witch of the West, threatens Dorothy and her friends until Dorothy accidentally throws water on her, causing her to melt. Once the Witch is gone, her minions, the Winged Monkeys, are quite happy about the situation. It turns out that they were not evil themselves, but only did the Witch’s bidding because they were afraid of her. Now that she is dead, they can be good Winged Monkeys.

Condensing all the evil into a single person, the Wicked Witch of the West, and then eliminating that person is all right for a fantasy movie, but it is simplistic thinking like that that has serious consequences in the real world. I suspect that George W. Bush and his advisers believed that Saddam Hussein was a “Great Man” like the Wicked Witch, and that all they had to do was get rid of him, and the citizens of Iraq would start singing “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” as they established a Jeffersonian democracy.

In the book, we soon realize that the Scarecrow, who hopes the Wizard of Oz will give him a brain, is actually smart; that the Tin Woodman, who hopes the Wizard can give him a heart, is actually kind; and that the Cowardly Lion, who hopes the Wizard can give him some courage, is actually brave.  They just lack self-confidence.  So, the Wizard gives each of them something that will make them feel better about themselves:  some bran mixed with pins and needles to stuff in the Scarecrow’s head; a heart made of silk and stuffed with sawdust to place in the Tin Woodman’s chest; and a bowl of liquid from a green bottle for the Cowardly Lion to drink.

In the movie, instead of relying on the power of suggestion, the scriptwriters took a slightly different tack, one that contradicts the Great Man theory referred to above, implying instead that no one is any better than anyone else. Because the Wizard of Oz is a fraud with no special powers, he cannot give the Scarecrow a brain, the Tin Man a heart, or the Cowardly Lion some courage. But being a fraud, the Wizard believes that the people who are supposedly intelligent, philanthropic, or brave are also frauds themselves. College professors are no smarter than anyone else; they just have diplomas. Philanthropists are no more generous than anyone else; they just have testimonials. Heroes are no braver than anyone else; they just have medals. So, he gives the Scarecrow a diploma, the Tin Man a testimonial, and the Cowardly Lion a medal. And now they are just as smart, generous, and brave as any of those so-called college professors, philanthropists, or heroes.  I suppose this must be reassuring to those that are not all that smart, charitable, or brave, which would presumably include most of the people that watch this movie.  In a way, this is a piece with the no-place-like-home theme.  Just as the latter is intended to make us accept our lot in life, so too is the depreciation of professors, philanthropists, and heroes intended to make us accept who we are.

Once the Scarecrow gets his diploma, he believes the Wizard and thinks he is just as smart as all those college professors. Suddenly inspired, he enunciates what he takes to be a theorem of geometry: “The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side. Oh joy, rapture! I’ve got a brain!”

It sounds as though the scriptwriters were thinking of the Pythagorean Theorem, which applies to right-angled triangles, not to isosceles triangles. But even if we allow for that correction, substituting “right-angled” where he says “isosceles,” it is still wrong. It is not the square roots of the sides that are related in that way, but the squares, to wit: The square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.  In fact, it does not matter what kind of triangle we are talking about, there is no triangle that satisfies the condition that the sum of the square roots of two sides will equal the square root of the third.  It is an impossible triangle.

As the Pythagorean Theorem is something known by most high school students, let alone by college professors, maybe a diploma counts for something after all.  Fortunately, even if you do have a brain, you can still enjoy The Wizard of Oz, provided you don’t use it too much while watching this movie.


And if you think I’ve been taking this movie way too seriously, now I’m really going to cross the line.

To be proven:  There is no triangle such that the sum of the square roots of two sides is equal to the square root of the third.

Assume there is such a triangle of sides ab, and c:

√a + √b = √c

Square both sides:

(√a + √b)² = (√c)²

Expand the binomial:

a + 2√a•√b + b = c

Now, it is clear that

a + 2√a•√b + b > a + b

And for any triangle, the sum of the lengths of any two sides is greater than the length of the third:

a + b > c

Combining the two, we get the following:

a + 2√a•√b + b > a + b > c

Therefore, by transitivity:

a + 2√a•√b + b > c

But this contradicts the conclusion arrived at above that the two quantities were equal.

a + 2√a•√b + b = c

Therefore, by reductio ad absurdum, there is no such triangle.  Q.E.D.

Vertigo (1958)

Unless a movie is a fantasy, like The Wizard of Oz (1939), people tend to feel they have been deceived if they find out that most of a movie has just been a dream.  To keep the audience from feeling cheated in this way, some movies will be ambiguous as to whether what we are seeing is reality or a dream, and this is the case with Vertigo.

The movie begins with a close-up of a woman’s face. The camera moves in even closer on her eye, in which we begin to see swirling animation along with the opening credits. Moving into her eye suggests that we have moved into her subjective state, allowing us to see what she is imagining or remembering. And the animation is a further indication that what we are seeing is not real. One might be justified, even at this early stage, in wondering if the movie that follows is a woman’s dream.

After the credits, the movie jumps right into a chase sequence on the rooftops of tall buildings, when police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) slips and finds himself hanging from the gutter above the city street below, which causes him to have vertigo. A uniformed policeman tries to pull him to safety, but slips and falls to his death. When the scene ends, Ferguson is still hanging there, and we do not see him being rescued, nor is there any reference to his being rescued afterward, leading some critics to argue that the rest of the movie is his hallucinatory dream while he remains suspended.  However, my preferred point at which this movie becomes a dream is in neither of these two scenes, but comes somewhat later.

Presumably, then, Ferguson is rescued, but he is forced to retire on account of the acrophobia resulting from the incident on the rooftop.  In a subsequent scene, we meet Midge. In her conversation with Ferguson, whom she calls “Johnny” or “Johnny O,” we find out that they were engaged for three weeks while they were in college, but that she broke off the engagement, even though she says that she never married because he is the only man for her. From the surreptitious glances she gives him as they talk, we suspect there is more to the story than Ferguson is aware of. Barbara Bel Geddes, who plays Midge, is a nice looking woman, but she has no sex appeal. We can easily believe that she broke off the engagement when she realized that he had no passion for her. Platonic relationships are often characterized by saying that the man and woman are like brother and sister, but several remarks suggest that she is more like a mother to him. This implies that there is something naïve and inexperienced about Ferguson, as when they talk about braziers, and she says, “You know about those things. You’re a big boy now.”  Ferguson is a middle-aged bachelor. Today, a man who has been a lifelong bachelor would be assumed to have had sexual relationships along the way. But in 1958, when this movie was made, it was not uncommon for bachelors to be virgins, and that is probably the case with Ferguson.  This makes it easy to believe that he might become madly and obsessively in love with Madeleine (Kim Novak) later on in the movie.

This Madeleine with whom he eventually falls in love is the wife of an old friend, Gavin Elster, who asks Ferguson to follow her around. He is worried about her because she goes into dream-like trances, which he believes have something to do with her obsession with her great-grandmother, Carlotta Valdes, who committed suicide.  Ferguson reluctantly agrees to follow her.  When Madeleine tries to drown herself in the bay, he rescues her.  Eventually, however, she manages to kill herself by leaping from a bell tower.  Ferguson was unable to stop her because his vertigo prevented him from keeping up with her as she ascended the stairs.  He feels responsible, and he ends up having nightmares, in which he sees himself falling the way Madeleine did. As a result, he winds up in a mental institution, in a catatonic state.

Supposedly, he gets out of the mental institution, discovers a woman named Judy, who looks like Madeleine, and begins trying to make the resemblance even greater by getting her to dye her hair and wear it like Madeleine, to dress like Madeleine, until he eventually discovers she really is Madeleine. Or rather, that the real Madeleine was murdered by her husband, and that Judy helped him do it by pretending to be Madeleine. When Judy got to the top of the bell tower, Elster was already there with his dead wife, whom he threw off the tower.  In the process of discovering that this is what really happened, Ferguson forces Judy to go back to the mission with him and once again ascend the stairs of the bell tower.  This leads to a climactic scene in which Judy accidentally falls to her death, which apparently cures Ferguson of his vertigo.

Though the movie can be understood realistically in this way, there is a good reason to suspect that the second half is just a dream. In any movie you have ever seen in which someone is in a hospital, there is almost always a getting-out-of-the-hospital scene, as in The Glass Key (1942), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), and The Godfather (1972). But there is no such scene in this movie. And considering that Ferguson was in a psychotic state, the need for a getting-out-of-the-hospital scene would be even greater than in the examples just given, where only physical conditions were involved.

Instead, we get a discontinuous transition.  We see Midge in Ferguson’s hospital room, where he is staring off into space, oblivious to her presence.  She leaves the room and stops by the psychiatrist’s office, where she tells him that she does not think Ferguson is ever coming back.  Then she walks away, down the hall, where darkness slowly closes in around her, almost as if this were the end of the movie.  Suddenly, we see Ferguson outside the building where Madeleine once lived, and the fact that he had once been under the care of psychiatrists is never even referred to during the rest of the movie.

Alfred Hitchcock, who directed this movie, could have made it explicit that what follows is a dream by the well-known method of closing in on James Stewart’s eyes, allowing the image of his eyes to be slowly replaced by an overlapping image of Stewart standing outside Madeleine’s apartment.  But, as noted above, the audience would have lost its patience having to watch the entire second half of the movie while knowing it was just a dream.  Instead, Hitchcock allows us to watch the movie under the assumption that the entire movie depicts events that are actually happening, while at the same time giving us hints that at least some of the movie is a dream:  the closeup on the eye of a woman (Madeleine? Judy?) during the opening credits; Ferguson’s hanging from the gutter without being rescued; Madeleine’s dream-like trances; Ferguson’s nightmares; and the absence of any scene showing us that he has recovered from his catatonic trance and is being released from the hospital.

Other than Vertigo, there is one other movie in which there is no getting-out-of-the-hospital scene.  In the movie Four Daughters (1938), John Garfield plays a character who dies in a hospital.  But in the remake, Young at Heart (1954), Frank Sinatra, who played the corresponding character, Barney Sloan, did not like the unhappy ending, and so he insisted that Barney live instead.  The result is a tacked-on happy ending, in which Barney goes from dying in the hospital to suddenly being home and in great health.  Whether intended or not, one cannot help but interpret this final scene as Barney’s wishful dream in the hospital in the last moments of his life.  And considering that Barney had been gloomy and miserable throughout the movie, the fact that the final scene shows him playing the piano, happy and content, even further invites the dream interpretation.

In any event, by regarding the second half of Vertigo as a dream, the movie as a whole becomes more realistic. The murder plot revealed in the second half is far-fetched and would have been extremely difficult to arrange. Elster would have had to get his wife to wear the same clothes that Judy was wearing that night, find some reason to get her up to the bell tower, break her neck, and then wait for Judy to arrive before throwing the real Madeleine out of the tower.  And then he would have to hope that Ferguson would not look at the body and discover that it was a different woman.  There are easier ways for a man to get rid of his wife than that. The idea that Madeleine was mentally unbalanced, had found out about her great-grandmother and become obsessed with her story, leading her to commit suicide, is much easier to believe.

Furthermore, the Judy of the second half of the movie appears to be lower class, whereas the Madeleine of the first half strikes us as middle class.  We would have to believe that Elster was like Professor Higgins to Judy’s Eliza Doolittle of My Fair Lady (1964), but that once the murder was accomplished and Judy was abandoned by him, she lapsed back into her lower-class mannerisms.

Finally, Midge is not seen in the second half of the movie. She represents rationality and common sense, as well as being the woman Ferguson should have married. Her absence in the second half of the movie is an indication that only irrational forces are at work in his wish-fulfilling dream. By dreaming that the woman he loved really did not die that night, that she was involved in a murder plot to kill the real Madeleine, he absolves himself of any responsibility for her death.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

Whatever our opinion of love and marriage, we usually agree as to how a movie depicts them, whether it represents them as something desirable, as is usually the case for romantic comedies, or something to be avoided, as is often the case for films noir.  An exception to this is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947).  Most people think of this movie as romantic, which is to say, as one that represents love as something beautiful.  It is a story about a woman who falls in love with the ghost of a sea captain.  And though she cannot marry him, of course, yet he is the man with whom marriage would have been ideal.  In reality, this movie has a dark view of love and marriage, and is quite cynical at its heart.

When the movie begins, Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney), a widow, decides to move into a house with her daughter and her maid.  She is made aware that previous occupants moved out, claiming the house to be haunted, but she is undeterred.  One day, she sits in a chair and falls asleep.  Now, it is axiomatic that when a character in a movie falls asleep in a chair, there is a good chance that what follows is a dream (falling asleep in a bed is too ordinary to have any significance). And so, we immediately become suspicious, especially when the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison) makes an appearance. Is the ghost real, or is she just dreaming him?

In any event, they get acquainted. And when she finds she is hard pressed for money, she becomes a ghost writer for this ghost, telling his story as a sea captain.  When she meets Miles Fairley (George Sanders) at the office of a book publisher, she finds herself attracted to him, and they start seeing each other.  Captain Gregg decides to take his leave. He tells her while she is asleep that he is only a dream, and that she wrote the book herself. Now, is this a real ghost telling her this, or is she just dreaming that a ghost is telling her he is a dream?

Years later, she sits in the chair and falls asleep again, and so once again we wonder if what follows is another dream or if we are still in the first one. The scene that does follow is one in which she finds out her daughter Anna is about to be engaged. Anna and Mrs. Muir have a talk in the kitchen, where it turns out that when Anna was a child, she had seen the ghost of Captain Gregg too, and they discuss whether they both saw a real ghost or simply had the same dream.

This is followed by another scene many years later, in which Anna writes that her daughter, Little Lucy (“Lucy” being the same first name as Mrs. Muir), has married a captain (an airplane captain, but you get the idea). Mrs. Muir is tired and decides to take another nap in that same chair. She falls asleep and dies. Or she falls asleep and dreams that she dies. Or she is still in the first dream, and only dreams that she sat in the chair and died?  And by now we are completely confused as to what is real and what is a dream.  In any event, she is now a ghost and is finally united with Captain Gregg.

However we interpret this movie, it has a rather paradoxical attitude about marriage. On the one hand, it follows the usual Hollywood line for that period that marriage is essential for happiness. On the other hand, there is an undercurrent throughout the movie that marriage is not conducive to happiness, that it is something to be avoided. In the opening scene, Mrs. Muir announces to her mother-in-law and sister-in-law, with whom she is living, that she is going to get her own place and move out. Her in-laws object, suggesting that it would be indecent. To this, Mrs. Muir responds, “I’ve never had a life of my own. It’s been Edwin’s life and yours and Eva’s, never my own.”  Since there is no indication that her husband was a bad man, the implication would seem to be that there is something oppressive about marriage itself, that it involves the sacrifice of one’s life for the sake of others.  In fact, she later admits to Captain Gregg that Edwin proposed to her just after she had read a romantic novel, and thus she got her own feelings for Edwin confused with the feelings elicited by the book.  The suggestion is that love and marriage sound good when we read about them in romance novels, but they are something quite different in real life.

After Mrs. Muir rents the house, Mr. Coombe, the man who brokered the deal for her, comes to visit her intent on proposing marriage, saying that she needs the “protection of a man,” which is absurd, coming from someone like him, with his high-pitched voice and nervous manner. Captain Gregg is disgusted, referring to him as a “herring-gutted swab,” and gets rid of him by causing Coombe’s car to start rolling away by itself.

As mentioned above, after Mrs. Muir writes the book about Captain Gregg’s adventures, she takes it to a publisher, where she meets Miles Fairley and soon falls in love with him. We are suspicious of him, because he is played by George Sanders, who often plays characters that are smarmy and decadent. She intends to marry him, but it turns out that he is already married with children. Worse yet, his wife knows that Fairley does that sort of thing to women on a regular basis, and it seems to be no big deal to her.

In a subsequent scene, however, Mrs. Muir tells Anna she saw Fairley years later at a dinner party, where he cried because his wife had finally had enough and left him. She also mentions that he was “bald and fat.” But if Fairley had turned out to be a decent man, and had married Mrs. Muir, he would still have become bald and fat, because that happens in marriage.  And so, if the deterioration of Fairley’s looks causes Mrs. Muir to be thankful she did not marry him, does it not follow that the inevitable deterioration of a man’s looks is a good reason for her not to marry anyone at all?

This theme of deterioration is reinforced by analogy with a post.  An old man carves Anna’s name into a post on the shore, and he tells her it will be there forever and a day. And yet, as the years pass, we see it slowly rot away and fall over. Is this not a metaphor for marriage, which begins with the illusion that love will last forever, only for it to slowly decay and fall apart?

Now, we know that the idea is that for a woman to be happy, she must marry the right man, and the right man in this case is Captain Gregg. And so, at the end of the movie, when she dies, and she and Captain Gregg are together again, apparently forever, we know that she is finally happy. And she and Gregg both have their good-looking, youthful appearance, forever apparently. In other words, Gregg will never become “bald and fat.”

The three real men in Mrs. Muir’s life, her husband Edwin, Mr. Coombe, and Miles Fairley, were not suitable for her for different reasons, and only a dream-ghost was the right man. In short, real people can never measure up to what we find in romantic fiction or in our dreams.  The further implication of this story is that a truly happy marriage is itself a dream, and that in real life, one is better off remaining single. As Mrs. Muir says to her daughter, “You can be much more alone with other people than you are by yourself, even if it’s people you love.”