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"Burning bright" indeed
on 26 September 2005
I recently purchased this film from Amazon as well as "The Alec Guinness Collection" which includes Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) plus four others: The Man in the White Suit (1951), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Captain's Paradise (1953), and The Ladykillers (1955). Frankly, I was amazed how well each of the six films has held up since I first saw it.
This film is based on a novel by Joyce Carey, The Horse's Mouth. Guinness wrote the screenplay which was nominated for an Academy Award. The director was Ronald Neame who also produced it. Special credit should also be given to the cinematographer, Arthur Ibbetson, who brilliantly captures the beauty of London while sustaining the viewer's focus on both the splendor and squalor of Gulley Jimson's passions. For me, Guinness' portrayal of that aging and impoverished but obsessed painter gives a whole new meaning to the word "eccentric." As in the novel, the spirit of William Blake is very evident. Art is Jimson's religion for which he is not only willing but eager to make whatever sacrifice may be necessary, his or another's. There are both lambs and tigers in Blake's world. As portrayed by Guinness, Jimson seems to combine their dominant characteristics in his own personality and behavior.
Members of the supporting cast are outstanding, notably Mike Morgan (Nosey) and Kay Walsh (Coker) who remain devoted to Jimson throughout his constant use and abuse of them. I hasten to add that, after recently watching this bittersweet film again, I found its several comic moments hilarious. The best of Guinness' comic films always include special "touches" which enrich their appeal. Whether it was his idea or Neame's (or theirs together), clever use is made of Sergei Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kije" suite throughout the film. I am unable to explain why so few people who claim to be "film buffs" know about this classic...nor why even fewer people have seen it.