In spite of its box-office success (highest grossing in 1990) and its many award nominations and critical acclaim, I found “Ghost” trite, overreaching, unoriginal, disjointed, too graphic, (thus no trailer that I will put on this site), and often coarse. I was bored.
I didn’t like the cast, which also starred Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg. In most of his movies, the late Patrick Swayze is worth watching just because he’s Patrick Swayze, not for any Oscar-winning performances. In other words, it wasn’t exactly romance he exuded — it was sex appeal and personality. Same for Demi Moore, although hers was not so much personality as screen presence. “Ghost” is a movie made to appeal to Harlequin Romance readers. In other words, instead of Cupid’s arrow, they used a blunt instrument. Did I mention it was also soppily maudlin?
“Always” on the other hand, is classy, if not original. It took the bare bones of the 1943 World War II romantic drama (“A Guy Named Joe”; starring Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunn) and put a great new body on dem bones. And whoever would have thought of Richard Dreyfuss as the leading man in a romance? But did he ever pull it off. Beautifully. Breathtakingly. I melted. Dreyfuss used subtlety to bring his character to a three-dimensional reality. And Dreyfuss, or at least director, Stephen Spielberg, understood that REAL romance is all about tapping into that ethereal — and often illusive — element that evokes a visceral response. The look on Dreyfuss’s face, like there is no other woman in the world but Holly Hunter, is a look no woman in the world can resist.
The main common denominator between “Always” and “Ghost”, is that there is . . . well . . . a ghost. I have always been suspect of “Ghost” as copycatting, since it followed “Always” (1989) by one year (1990). Another similarity is that the ghost in both movies comes to the aid of the loved one. In the case of “Always”, Pete Sandich (Richard Dreyfuss) must convince his girl, Dorinda Durston (Holly Hunter), to let go of the past so she will have a future, and in the end to actually save her life. In “Ghost” Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) must also save the life of his girl, Molly Jenson (Demi Moore), but he must be more aggressive. He must save her from the same killer who murdered him. A third similarity is the main supporting character, who is brash but loveable, and who is an essential friend/ally. In the case of “Ghost” it is Whoopi Goldberg as Oda Mae Brown. In “Always” it is John Goodman. John Goodman is funny and delightful as well as a seriously good friend to the lovers. Whoopi Goldberg just got on my nerves — bad.
In the case of the leading characters, Holly Hunter’s exquisitely petite figure and down-to-earth femininity trumps Demi Moore’s overt carnality hands down. The unlikely teaming of Hunter and Dreyfuss works because they knew how to make it work. There was electricity when they looked at each other. They are both strong characters in their own right — Dreyfuss as a hotdogging, living on the edge, aerial firefighter, and Hunter as a plucky little fireball. I have watched their dance scene over and over, Dreyfuss’s exquisitely soft voice adding a mellowness that I just knew spanned time and eternity. Add in the theme song, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by the Platters, and you’ve got a mix that will melt steel. I can’t even describe the look on Dreyfuss’s face, which reflects all the depth of love she had always wanted to see in life — Holly with that thousand-yard stare that lets us know she is looking deep within, holding and savoring every nuance of him in memory. My Gosh! There is no better love scene in all of romantic history.
Though a possible new love interest comes into the picture in the form of green-but-eager-to-learn firefighter Ted Baker (Brad Johnson), who is an undeniable physical hunk, I would still choose Richard Dreyfuss over him any day. Dreyfuss is the soul of romance.
And though I know this is just my opinion on the two films, I have noted through the years that my copy of “Always” gets borrowed a lot — often by the same people who want to watch it again. I have also noted that men will willingly watch “Always”. Some of them even want to watch it again. But I don’t have a copy of “Ghost” to compare these notes with.
Here are two New York Times Reviews — one of “Ghost” and one of “Always”. I think they mostly agree with my view.
Note: It was the deaths of those 19 young Yarnell, Arizona, firefighters that reminded me again of “Always”. I can’t help but think these true heroes probably watched and enjoyed this film, because in all ways it showed great respect and admiration for a job in which men literally walk through fire to serve and protect.