THE HORSE'S MOUTH (1958) [Feature]

UK (MIFF 1959 , Programme 1)
Director: Ronald Neame

In the first film he has scripted for himself, Alec Guinness chose to adapt for the screen this seemingly impossible novel, "The Horse's Mouth'" by Joyce Cary. The story purports to be written by Gulley Jimson, a perpetually hard-up, vagabond artist, who relishes his running battle with society in genera!, and the art world in particular. Underlying his eccentricity is a creative urge which causes him to lie, steal, and starve to enable him to paint. His only ally, against a hostile world grown tired of his tricks, is a barmaid called Coker. Her protestations and concern for his welfare are of no avail &ndash: Gulley feels responsible solely to his self-expression. and, craving for blank walls, he takes possession of an unsuspecting patron's flat, reducing it to a shambles in the process of creating a masterpiece. He ends by raising an army of art students and other helpers to assist him to realise his ideal &ndash: a vast mural. The site &ndash: the sole standing wall of a bombed-out chapel; only the act of creation matters to him, not its preservation. The picaresque ending (though not consistent with that of the novel) allows Guinness a Chaplincsque conclusion to the film.

There is great quality in the work of the supporting cast — Kay Walsh as the rough-tongued defiant Coker, and Renee Houston as the lush, easy-going Sarah, his former wife, are true to the novel's spirit. But the film's success hinges on the personal distinc¬tion of Alec Guinness's performance (for which he won the award for best actor in Venice last year) : a brilliant, clever and consistent interpretation of this unique character.

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