Alec Guinness, a few years after The Ladykillers, plays dedicated painter Gulley Jimson, introduced getting out of prison and shooing off devoted fan Nosey. Jimson is a gruff-voiced wreck, living on a leaky boat at the docks, spending his days at the bar run by Cokie (Kay Walsh, Guinness’s costar in Oliver Twist and Last Holiday) or harassing a man who owns some of his work (Ernest Thesiger of The Old Dark House in one of his final roles) until he can afford enough paint to create more.
Jimson is extremely interested in feet:
Gulley and Cokie:
“Of course you want to be an artist. Everybody does once, but they get over it, like measles and chicken pox.” Jimson compares his artistic drive to a sickness – more like a drug addiction, taking down everyone around him in his weird quest to create (and sometimes destroy) new works. He finds a rich holidaying couple interested in art and installs himself in their apartment, selling their furniture to buy paints and food, as a similarly obsessed sculptor (Michael Gough, of Horror of Dracula the same year) takes the apartment below. Then he orchestrates a huge wall painting using art students to finish on schedule before the wall is to be demolished, and finally collapses it himself as the students clash with the construction crew.
The author gave his beloved creation a Catch-22 ending – Jimson escapes, sailing out of the harbor, contemplating new works on ever-larger canvasses.
I noticed an awkwardly dubbed line in the apartments, and even figured out that the sculptor was originally telling Nosey to “drop dead”. IMDB says the actor playing Nosey did drop dead a few days after shooting, hence the line change.
Film Quarterly liked it: “Guinness’ screenplay and performance amount to a rare comic achievement that speaks of serious things from behind surface flippancies and outrageous hokum.”
Also on the disc:
Daybreak Express (1953, D.A. Pennebaker)
New York train ride, jazzily edited and set to a train-sounding tune by Duke Ellington, really wonderful.