The Horse's Mouth (film)

name = The Horse's Mouth

caption = The Horse's Mouth US Theatrical Poster
director = Ronald Neame
producer = John Bryan
writer = | writer = Joyce Cary (novel)
Alec Guinness (screenplay)
screenplay = Alec Guinness
starring = Alec Guinness
Kay Walsh
Renee Houston
Mike Morgan
Robert Coote
music = Adapted from Sergei Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kije"
cinematography = Arthur Ibbetson
editing = Anne V. Coates
distributor = General Film Distributors (1958) (UK)
United Artists (1958) (USA)
released = 1958
runtime = 97 minutes
country = UK
language = English
budget = ?
amg_id = 1:23184
imdb_id = 0051739

"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.


Gulley Jimson is a brilliant, lovable but unscrupulous painter living in a dilapidated London houseboat, forever scheming to have the chance to paint his eccentric version of Biblical stories. The film begins with his release from a one-month jail sentence for threatening his sponsor, Mr Hickson. Coker, an older lady friend, watched over Jimson's boat whilst he was in prison. Jimson lives a very unconventional life, sacrificing comfort and security in the single-minded pursuit of his artistic vision. Throughout the film, Jimson exploits his friends, patrons and acquaintances without the slightest qualm, as he searches for the perfect wall on which to paint. Jimson finds himself followed by an aspiring young artist, Nosey Barbon (Mike Morgan), whom Jimson continually berates to keep him from becoming an artist with such lines as "But why go and live in an asylum before you're sent for?" At one point, Jimson executes a canvas called "The Raising of Lazarus" on the wall of the flat of a potential client. In the process, he pawns the valuables in the residence, inviting models to pose for drawings of their feet, and welcoming a sculptor whose importation of a large block of concrete destroys part of the flat's floor.

The film reaches its climax as Jimson finds a blank wall of a condemned building on which he can execute his largest work, "The Last Judgement". He recruits local youngsters to help with completing the painting, to the objections of the local council official who is to oversee the building's demolition. After the painting is completed, 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 in protest, Jimson runs back to his boat and sets sail down the Thames, before Nosey and Coker can stop him.


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, many of his lines in the film were dubbed by another actor. [cite article | author=Matthew Sweet | title=Ronald Neame (2003 interview at the National Film Theatre) | url= | work=British Film Institute | date=19 October 2003 | accessdate=2008-01-11]



This film has been characterized as "one of the best films ever about a painter" [ [ Rotten, The Horse's Mouth (1958), Ken Hanke - Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)] ] . 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 [ [ The Apollo Guide, "The Horses Mouth" review, by Scott Weinberg] ] . Henry Goodman has written of the idea of the artist as destroyer with reference to this film. [cite journal | url= | last=Goodman | first=Henry | title=Film Reviews: "The Horse's Mouth" | journal=Film Quarterly | volume=12 | issue=3 | pages=44–46 | date=Spring 1959 | accessdate=2008-01-11]


External links

*imdb title|id=0051739|title=The Horse's Mouth
* [ Criterion Collection essay by Bruce Eder]
* [ Criterion Collection essay by Ian Christie]
* [ Criterion Collection essay by Ronald Neame]

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