Art Seen: The Horse’s Mouth (1958, Ronald Neame)
Saturday, August 16 & Sunday, August 17; Brunch | Buy Tickets
Sage-like English actor Sir Alec Guinness would have been 100 years old in 2014. Over his 86-year life, he fought in World War II, won a Tony for his stagecraft, and starred in sixty-two screen and television roles. He was nominated for six Oscars. He won two.
Guinness starred in many a fine picture, and everyone has their particular favorites (Always Star Wars, forever Star Wars), so ahead of our special screening of one Guinness’s lesser known works, The Horse’s Mouth, our blog editors Caryn Coleman (@caryn_coleman) and Kris King (@KrisKingTornado) decided to go through his career and talk about their favorites.
The D’Ascoyne family; Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949, Robert Harner)
One man, eight roles. In Kind Hearts and Coronets, 35-year-old Guinness plays every member of an English duchy: the family D’Ascoyne. To accomplish this feat, Guinness goes from an young man to an old man, plays a sea captain, and even swaps genders. He also dies eight times. The film follows an upstart aristocrat, ninth in line to the D’Ascoyne dukedom, and who must Game of Thrones his way through the family to gain the title. It’s a comedy!
Sidney Stratton; The Man in the White Suit (1951, Alexander Mackendrick)
In this Ealing Studios produced man-on-the-run comedy, Guinness stars as Sidney Stratton, an oddball inventor who cooks up a miracle fiber while slaving away at a Textile mill. Using a cockamamie, burbling doodad to produce the stuff, Stratton makes a glow-in-the-dark, white suit from the fiber, which repels dirt and lasts an eternity. The suit’s white because the fiber resists dye, it glows because it’s radioactive. But once his employers realize the economic ramifications of a product that never wears out, they attempt to destroy invention and maybe even take out Stratton for good measure.
Col. Nicholson; The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, David Lean)
Guinness took home an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of imprisoned British officer Col. Nicholson in this World War II classic. An embodiment of stuffy British resolve, Nicholson is as heroic as he is foolish. At first, he’s prickly with his Japanese captors, but once assigned the job of building a bridge for the Japanese army, his national pride takes over and he insists upon building the best damn bridge in the world.
During production, Guinness became concerned that Nicholson’s character was Anti-British, which caused a heated rift between the actor and director David Lean. The result is something of a marvel, a character both respectable and despicable; a man who wants to do right by God and country, but becomes too blind with pride to know the way.
Gulley Jimson; The Horse’s Mouth (1958, Ronald Neame)
Based on the Joynce Carol novel, The Horse’s Mouth was the only film Alec Guinness wrote the screenplay for and was a bit of a project of love. He brilliantly plays the complicated character of Gulley Jimson: a passionate yet ill-mannered painter in the pursuit of creating the perfect mural painting. Truly one of the more memorable characters and one of the best portrayals of an artist in film.
Prince Faisal, Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean)
Yes, Alec Guinness plays an Arab prince, Prince Feisal, in the sweeping portrayal of T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, but his poise pulls it of. As always, he delivers the epic lines like this: “Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution.”
Bensonmum; Murder by Death (1976, Robert Moore)
The butler did it! Aside from having one of the best film titles in history and starring Peter Falk as some early version of Columbo, Murder by Death also includes an older looking Alec Guinness as the blind butler Bensonmum. Guinness may take a back seat to the others in this this hilarious ‘dinner and a murder’ flick but he certainly steals the show.
Obi Wan Kenobi; Star Wars (1977, George Lucas)
According to an entry from his personal diaries, Alec Guinness once met a young fan who claimed that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times. Guinness asked the boy to, please, never watch the film again.
Guinness had a complicated relationship with Star Wars. Early interviews revealed him charmed with the film’s simplicity, but as the Star Wars Empire marched on, he obviously became more and more disquieted by its popularity. His critiques of the film often seemed rather stuffy — “a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities” — and he mostly seemed annoyed that his legacy became so closely associated with the wizened Jedi knight Obi Wan Kenobi.