High Spirits is another fine example of how excellent production values, earnest performances and a genial air can make even the most problem riddled film enjoyable.
The studio, infamously, took Spirits away from director Jordan in the editing and the resulting version isn’t his intention. The narrative is disjointed–characters get lost, their arcs collapse, in the case of the hotel employees… they don’t even get established.
The film has an utterly wonderful comic performance from Peter O’Toole near its center. Eventually, O’Toole has to give up the spotlight to Steve Guttenberg, who isn’t nearly as funny (or as good). Guttenberg’s generally likable, thanks to having an fire-breathing dragon of a wife (Beverly D’Angelo) and a pleasant way about him. Terrible outfit though. Spirits has great photography from Alex Thomson, a nice score from George Fenton, lovely Anton Furst production design and lame eighties costuming from Emma Porteus. Why Guttenberg’s wearing a heavy wool coat around indoors half the movie is beyond me.
Jordan’s direction is decent but not exceptional. The special effects and Thomson’s photography make the film after a certain point, especially the effects.
Besides O’Toole, the best performance might be Liam Neeson’s hilarious turn as a horny ghost. As his wife–and murder victim (not to mention Guttenberg’s romantic interest)–Daryl Hannah is good. She doesn’t have a lot to do though. D’Angelo’s on the low side of mediocre.
Regardless of Jordan’s original intent, High Spirits is often rather funny and exquisitely well-made. It’s fine.
Written and directed by Neil Jordan; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Michael Bradsell; music by George Fenton; production designer, Anton Furst; produced by David Saunders and Stephen Woolley; released by TriStar Pictures.
Starring Daryl Hannah (Mary Plunkett Brogan), Peter O’Toole (Peter Plunkett), Steve Guttenberg (Jack Crawford), Beverly D’Angelo (Sharon Brogan Crawford), Jennifer Tilly (Miranda), Liam Neeson (Martin Brogan), Peter Gallagher (Brother Tony), Ray McAnally (Plunkett Senior), Martin Ferrero (Malcolm), Connie Booth (Marge), Donal McCann (Eamon), Mary Coughlan (Katie) and Liz Smith (Mrs. Plunkett).