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The Horse's Mouth (Criterion Collection) (1958)

Cast: Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Kay Walsh, more...
Director: Ronald Neame, Ronald Neame
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Studio: Criterion
Genre: Comedies, Foreign, British Comedy, Screwball, UK, Criterion Collection
Running Time: 95 min.
Languages: English
Subtitles: English
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The Horse's Mouth is an acting and a writing tour de force for Alec Guinness, who authored the screenplay in addition to starring in the film. Gulley Jimson (Alec Guinness) is an aging artist with a reputation as a genius, though he lives an impoverished life. Jimson has reached the point in his life where he no longer feels any need to moderate his irascible persona -- he has a taste for alcohol and a tendency toward boisterous spirits where the ladies are concerned -- in search of canvasses to paint and commissions that will allow him to live comfortably, and Guinness lives the role to the hilt. Released from jail for some indiscretion, he immediately begins harassing his wealthiest patron, Hickson (Ernest Thesiger), for money. When that fails, he insinuates himself into the home of a would-be patron, Sir William and Lady Beeder (Robert Coote, Veronica Turleigh), and manages to destroy their home and that of their downstairs neighbor with a huge block of stone and some help from a sculptor friend (Michael Gough). Courted by a potential buyer, he is desperate to retrieve one of his early works from his former wife, but even that prospect is closed off to him. Finally, with help from his young admirer, Nosey (Mike Morgan), his friend, Coker (Kay Walsh), and some art students eager to work with the legendary Gulley Jimson, he begins painting his largest canvas of all. The painting is completed and promptly destroyed. Jimson finally takes off in his wreck of a houseboat for the open sea, eyeing the huge hulls of the passing ships as potential canvasses to paint. As he disappears up the river, Coker looks on in panic and Nosey calls after him, declaring his admiration for Jimson and who he is and what his work means -- knowing for certain that he can't be heard. ~ Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

Art About Art by talltale July 9, 2006 - 4:25 PM PDT
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful
Less a comedy (though it does offer a few laugh-out-loud moments) than a wonderful, truthful look at an imagined artist and his art in mid-century London, THE HORSE'S MOUTH remains one of the finest films about art and artists that I have seen. It gives both their due, while recognizing the often difficult personalites that our "creatives" possess. Alec Guinness is, as usual, superb in the lead. He also wrote the screenplay, which he adapted from Joyce Cary's novel. It's so good that it surprises me Guinness never wrote another. (The movie was a success in its day, but perhaps this fine actor was simply too inundated with acting roles to find the time.)

The excellent supporting cast, including Kay Walsh, Michael Gough, Robert Coote and Renee Houston, is splendid, too, while the workmanlike direction of Ronald Neame (his movies run the gamut from "Tunes of Glory " to "The Poseidon Adventure") brings the whole concept to fruition. Very few movies manage to do art justice, and this is one of those. A scene at the climax that features the destruction of a piece of art actually approaches the heartbreaking, and you don't encounter THAT very often.

Watch the interview with the director included the Special Features of this Criterion DVD (with, as usual, a beautifully restored print). The intelligent and self-effacing Mr. Neame is full of fascinating stories about the making of this wonderful film and its great cast members--saddest among them, young Mike Morgan (he plays the Guinness character's disciple), whose tale would perhaps--in today's era of modern medicine--have had a happier conclusion.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.22)
40 Votes
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