The 90s On Netflix: Ghost (1990)
Mark Harrison | On 10, Jan 2020
Director: Jerry Zucker
Cast: Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn, Vincent Schiavelli
Watch Ghost online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
Do you remember the 1990s? Mark does. On Fridays, he flashes back to the golden decade of our childhood. From family-friendly films to blockbusters we shouldn’t have been watching, get ready for a monthly dose of nostalgia, as we put down our VHS tapes and find out whether the 90s on Netflix are still Live & Kicking.
At the start of the 1990s, it must have been crazy to think that Jerry Zucker was about to direct an Academy Awards favourite. Today, Adam McKay, Todd Phillips, and Jay Roach are among the big comedy directors who have consciously taken on more awards-worthy fare, but few of their more recent films are as crowd-pleasing as Ghost, the one-and-only dramatic effort from a director who also put his name to Airplane! and Top Secret.
Eventually scoring five Oscar nods (including Best Picture) and two wins (for Goldberg’s performance and Bruce Joel Rubin’s original screenplay) the film juggles various genres at once. After happy-go-lucky banker Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) is unceremoniously ghosted by a mugger, he discovers that the killer might also be after his girlfriend, Molly (Demi Moore). Unable to commune with any living person except Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), a spiritualist who’s never actually met a ghost until now, Sam fights to protect the love of his life and punish those who caused his death.
Honestly, it’s not the most unpredictable mystery film in the world – no movie has more than one nice-guy banker – but that all plays into the melodramatic magic realism of the script. The main thing that Zucker brings to the table from his spoofing days is pace, which here reads as intrigue. The film has a knack for making every gun laid in the first act go off in the third, with the watchable precision only a seasoned comedy maestro can bring to the proceedings.
Goldberg may have won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her turn as the unhappy medium, but for our money, it’s Patrick Swayze who gives the best performance in the film. The more you look back at the relatively few films he made, the more you realise he was a true one-off as a movie star – not only a dancer, a singer and a martial arts fighter, but also, like all the coolest people in the world, he was never afraid of looking silly doing it. Who else could lead both Dirty Dancing and Road House?
He’s not showcasing those skills here, but he’s still a compelling screen presence. It’s tough to imagine anyone other than Swayze getting away with the old-fashioned extended shots of Sam mugging at the mortal engines around him – indeed, with Zucker’s calibre, it could so easily have looked a bit Leslie Nielsen – but his conviction gives bittersweet emotional weight to what would otherwise be a fairly lightweight and accessible thriller.
But, like Titanic and various 1990s blockbusters that bothered to appeal to female audiences, the film has been retroactively written into the chick-flick canon when it’s well and truly got something for everyone. Whether it’s the montage in which Sam trains (in both senses of the word) with Vincent Schiavelli’s subway ghoul or the hilarious con job sequence with Goldberg’s Oda Mae stymying the bad guys, this has far more to it than the soppy yuppy love story newcomers might have been led to expect.
It’s a shame then, that pop culture has effectively boiled the film down to one iconic scene over the years. Everything from Wallace And Gromit to the Zucker-produced Naked Gun 2½ has lampooned the sexy, messy pottery scene to the point where one could easily expect it to take place after Swayze’s character becomes a ghost. Instead, the Unchained Melody of it all is over and done with early on, and the rest, although not uncharted territory, is worth revisiting.
Ghost is the sort of Best Picture nominee we don’t get any more, even with the expanded field of nominations in recent years – a smash-hit, effects-driven date movie that straddles countless genres, including comedy, tragedy, romance, murder mystery, and even adds a bit of existential horror for flavour. It helps that Swayze and Goldberg are perfectly keyed into the melodrama of it all, but Zucker brings it all together immaculately.
Next time on The 90s On Netflix…
“Hi, Curly. Killed anyone today?” “The day ain’t over yet.”
Ghost is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.