THE HORSE'S MOUTH
Review by Michael Jacobson
Alec Guinness, Kay Walsh, Renee Houston, Mike Morgan, Robert Coote,
Veronica Turleigh, Michael Gough, Ernest Thesiger
Director: Ronald Neame
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: June 4, 2002
world needs artists!”
too. But don’t go putting
yourself into an asylum any sooner than you have to!”
artist’s problem would seem to be that no matter how talented he is, there is
a world of a physical universe that exists between his imagination and his
canvas. “Why doesn’t it look
the way it did in my head?” Gulley Jimson (Guinness) pines at one point.
Of course, for a character like him, it may be the least of his problems,
but it’s the only one he sees.
Jimson may be lamenting his efforts, Guinness is in top artistic form in Ronald
Neame’s film The Horse’s Mouth. Guinness
himself adapted the screenplay from Joyce Cary’s novel, in addition to making
the lead role one of his most memorable performances in a distinguished career.
His vision of Gulley is comically sympathetic.
He goes from seeming merely eccentric to dangerously off-balanced, yet we
always like him and root for him. We
may not want to spend time with him, but we’ll always enjoy his company as
long as we’re safe on our side of the screen.
story is motivated by character instead of plot…there is no real structural
outline; merely the antics of Gulley Jimson as he goes about his business.
The picture uses his character to slyly comment on classes,
relationships, and of course, art. Gulley
is revered by some, like the stuttering would-be student Nosey (Morgan) and
reviled by others, like his one-time patron Hickson (the delightful Thesiger). Others seem to love and loathe him simultaneously, like his
long-suffering girlfriend Coker (Walsh), whose efforts to help him are often
thwarted by his own self-centeredness.
the memorable episodes are Gulley and Coker attempting to collect a debt from
his ex-wife Sara (Houston) that he really isn’t owed, Gulley’s funny and
inept phone calls to Hickson, and two scenes involving his painting.
One is when he takes it upon himself to decorate a blank wall in a rich
couple’s apartment, even though the wall is only blank because a tapestry has
been temporarily removed. In a
struggle with a sculptor (Hough), the apartment inadvertently becomes a duplex,
leaving the perplexed couple with that sinking feeling…I will say no more.
other sequence involves Gulley’s attempt to save a chapel by collecting a
troupe of supposed “students” to help get his design on its great wall,
thinking no one would tear it down if it were a great work of art!
But business and politics go on, leaving Gulley with only one final,
touching, amusing alternative.
about artists and their art have always been fascinating to me, be they
interpretive like Jean Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet or firm character
studies, like Lust for Life. The
Horse’s Mouth makes its points as well, but subversively, through comedy
and eccentricity. Gulley, in the
end, is his own man. As an artist,
he seems to defy typical traditions of class and societal relationships.
Which is why the conclusion is so fitting, I think.
the end, a painter’s got to paint…and what good is a blank wall,
delivers another quality transfer for a classic film here.
While I still consider their DVD of Mon Oncle the standard for
1950s color films, The Horse’s Mouth is quite good in its own right.
Colors are bright and well rendered from start to finish, and the print
is in considerable shape for its age: only
a small handful of noticeable spots or marks here and there.
Fades, as is often the case, are the hardest to restore, and those are
the instances where the source limitations are most apparent…but they only
serve to prove how well the studio’s transfer, supervised by Ronald Neame,
most mono mixes, this is a serviceable but unremarkable mix.
Dialogue is well serviced, as is the musical score, but dynamic range is
mediocre at best. No complaints,
and no praises either.
disc features an original trailer, a short modern interview with Neame, and the
short film “Daybreak Express” by D. A. Pennebaker, which originally ran on
the bill with The Horse’s Mouth during its first run in New York.
Pennebaker also introduces his film, for a nice touch, and the picture
itself is quite interesting in a visual sense…sort of a love letter to the
geometry of the city. It merits the
extra ½ star in this category.