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The Horse's Mouth

The Horse's Mouth US Theatrical Poster
Directed by Ronald Neame
Produced by John Bryan
Written by Alec Guinness
Joyce Cary (novel)
Starring Alec Guinness
Kay Walsh
Renee Houston
Mike Morgan
Robert Coote
Music by Adapted from Sergei Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kijé"
Cinematography Arthur Ibbetson
Editing by Anne V. Coates
Distributed by General Film Distributors
Release date(s) 1958 (1958)
Running time 97 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Horse's Mouth is a 1958 film directed by Ronald Neame. Alec Guinness wrote the screenplay from the 1944 novel The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary, and also played the lead role of Gulley Jimson, a London artist.

Contents

Synopsis

The film begins with the release of the eccentric painter Gulley Jimson (Alec Guinness) from a one-month jail sentence for telephone harassment of his sponsor, Mr Hickson (Ernest Thesiger). Nosey Barbon (Mike Morgan), who wants to be a protégé of Jimson, greets Jimson at Wormwood Scrubs, but Jimson tries to discourage Nosey from pursuing painting for a living. Jimson makes off with Nosey's bike to make his way back to his houseboat, which Coker, an older lady friend, has been attending in Jimson's absence.

Jimson tries to borrow money from Hickson and Coker (Kay Walsh), but Hickson sets the police to trace the phone call back to Jimson. Jimson and Coker later visit Hickson to try to secure advance payment for the early Jimson works. However, after Jimson has tried to steal works from Hickson's place and Coker has stopped him, Hickson and his secretary have called the police to have them ejected. Jimson breaks a window, and he and Coker escape out the servant's entrance.

Jimson follows up on a note from A. W. Alabaster (Arthur Macrae), secretary to Sir William (Robert Coote) and Lady Beeder (Veronica Turleigh), who are interested in acquiring early Jimson works. One of the early works is in the possession of Jimson's ex-wife, Sara Monday (Renee Houston). Jimson and Coker try to secure an agreement with Sara Monday to obtain that early painting, but are unsuccessful.

When Jimson visits the Beeders, he sees a blank wall in their residence, and is immediately inspired to paint "The Raising of Lazarus". He learns that the Beeders are leaving for 6 weeks, and takes advantage of their absence to execute the painting. An old artistic rival, Abel, a sculptor, intrudes on Jimson to bring in a large block of concrete to fulfill a sculpture commission for British Rail. In the process, Jimson pawns the Beeder's valuables, and Abel (Michael Gough) and Jimson inadvertently destroy part of the Beeder's floor when the concrete is accidentally dropped whilst suspended. After Jimson has completed the painting, the Beeders return, and after their shock at seeing the painting, they walk towards it and fall through the hole on a carpet that had covered the hole.

When Jimson returns to his houseboat, he sees Coker there. She was fired from her barmaid job after her name got into the papers following the incident at Hickson's residence, and has nowhere else to live. Later that evening, she tells him that Hickson is dead, which surprises Jimson. She also says that Hickson has bequeathed his collection of Jimson's works "to the nation". Those works are displayed at the Tate Gallery, which Jimson himself visits. In the long line to the exhibit, Jimson sees Sara Monday. He then maneuvers to try to recover that one early work still in her possession. She seems to agree, and gives Jimson a roll tube. When he arrives back at the houseboat, however, Coker and Nosey see that the roll contains only toilet paper, without the painting there. Jimson returns quickly back to Sara's house, with Nosey following him. Jimson and Sara struggle for the painting, and in the struggle, Sara falls backwards and knocks herself out. Jimson and Nosey escape the scene.

Afterwards, Jimson and Nosey seek shelter in an abandoned church. Nosey then sees the side of the building, a totally blank wall, and points it out to Jimson. Jimson is immediately inspired to execute his largest work, "The Last Judgement". Finding out that the church is condemned to be torn down within a fortnight, Jimson, Nosey and Coker recruit local youngsters to help with completing the painting, to the objections of the local council official who is to oversee the building's demolition. Jimson even recruits Lady Beeder to participate, in spite of the injuries caused to her after Jimson's and Abel's actions in their residence. The painting is completed on the scheduled day of demolition. After the demolition crew warns everyone to stand back, a bulldozer comes crashing through the wall and destroys the painting. Jimson himself drove the bulldozer, feeling it necessary to destroy the work before anyone else does. As Jimson's admirers pelt the council official and demolition crew in protest, Jimson runs back to his boat and sets sail down the Thames, before Nosey and Coker can stop him.

Production

The film featured an Academy Award-nominated screenplay by actor Alec Guinness. Guinness' screenplay generally follows the book it was based on, but Guinness focused on Jimson's character and what it means to be an artist, rather than the social and political themes the book explored. He also deviates from the book's ending, where Jimson had suffered a stroke and was no longer able to paint.

The expressionistic "Jimson" paintings featured in the film were actually the work of John Bratby, a member of the English provincial realists artist known as the Kitchen Sink school.

Mike Morgan fell ill with meningitis shortly before filming ended and died before its completion. As a result, another actor dubbed many of Morgan's lines.[1]

Cast

Actor Role
Alec Guinness Gulley Jimson
Kay Walsh Miss D. Coker
Renee Houston Sara Monday
Mike Morgan Nosey
Robert Coote Sir William Beeder
Arthur Macrae A.W. Alabaster
Veronica Turleigh Lady Beeder
Michael Gough Abel
Reginald Beckwith Capt. Jones
Ernest Thesiger Hickson
Gillian Vaughan Lollie

Criticism

This film has been characterized as "one of the best films ever about a painter"[2]. Scott Weinberg of the "Apollo Guide" describes Guinness’ performance as "a devilishly enjoyable character study" that "ranges from ‘mildly dishevelled’ to ‘tragically exhausted’" and also praises Ronald Neame's direction[3]. Henry Goodman has written of the idea of the artist as destroyer with reference to this film.[4]

References

External links

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