Criterion Sunday 154: The Horse’s Mouth (1958)

Having never heard of it before it popped up on our Criterion watching project, this is a perfectly likeable colour film about a colourful character who paints colourful works of art and injects a bit of épater into those bourgeois lives he drifts through (well, more upper-class really), but I’m not sure what deeper meaning it really captures. The one the filmmakers presumably intend — that art is valuable, damn everything — comes through clearly though, and Alec Guinness in the lead as dishevelled painter Gulley Jimson is as ever reliable, not unlike the Meryl Streep of his day, all accents and imposture in the service of wit and well-crafted journeyman material. It has its diversions, and is pleasing on the eye.

Criterion Extras: There’s a short interview with Ronald Neame from before he died (around when the DVD was released, presumably), who is a genial host and tells of the film’s production. There’s also a trailer. However, the standout extra is a short film which was shown with the feature at its original New York run in the late-1950s, a short film by D.A. Pennebaker called Daybreak Express. For all its five minutes running time, it is far the superior work. It’s a jaunting work of jazzy cinematic propulsion, like a city symphony made my Soviet constructivists with a penchant for Duke Ellington. Rich and resonant colours, bold modern architecture, a train ride from the city to suburbs both exceeding that experience but also encapsulating it.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Ronald Neame | Writer Alec Guinness (based on the novel by Joyce Cary) | Cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson | Starring Alec Guinness, Kay Walsh | Length 97 minutes || Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 23 April 2017

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Criterion Sunday 32: Oliver Twist (1948)

© The Criterion Collection

After Great Expectations of a few years earlier (reviewed last week), comes another David Lean adaptation from the works of Charles Dickens and it is far superior. Guy Green outdoes his earlier cinematographic efforts with vast inky pools of blackness from which characters emerge into a shadowy, grey lost world, immured deep in England’s memory, as orphan Oliver is born at a workhouse to a mysterious woman who dies in childbirth, and inducted into a life of poverty and hard grind. It all resolves itself neatly by the end, but it’s given vivacity by the acting, particularly Robert Newton as a frantic Bill Sikes, Kay Walsh as his moll girlfriend, and of course the young John Howard Davies as Oliver. Nowadays the film is most known for Alec Guinness’s creepy comedic turn as Fagin, though I feel Criterion’s liner notes suggesting it’s not anti-semitic because he’s never called a Jew within the film is somewhat disingenuous: it’s clearly a caricature and a fairly unflattering one at that. Still, Fagin is a fairly small element within the whole film, which remains impressive most of all for its beautifully filmed vision of a world that must have felt within reach in 1948 given the ravages of the era in which it was made.

Criterion Extras: Aside from those liner notes, there’s just a trailer and English subtitles, so this is a bare bones package.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director David Lean | Writers David Lean and Stanley Haynes (based on the novel by Charles Dickens) | Cinematographer Guy Green | Starring John Howard Davies, Kay Walsh, Alec Guinness, Robert Newton | Length 116 minutes || Seen at home (DVD), London, Sunday 5 July 2015