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The Horse's Mouth

7.01 h 31 min1958PG
Alec Guinness plays Gulley Jimson a vulgar, ill-mannered, but supremely dedicated painter who is in search of his artistic vision and determined to let nothing stand in his way to create perfect art. Next to Tony Hancock's The Rebel, this is one of the comic celluloid masterpieces of art for art's sake! Co-stars Renee Houston and Michael Gough.
Ronald Neame
Alec GuinnessKay WalshRenee Houston
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Supporting actors
Michael Gough
Screenbound Pictures
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4.3 out of 5 stars

97 global ratings

  1. 67% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 15% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 7% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 4% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 7% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United Kingdom

technoguyReviewed in the United Kingdom on 16 February 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
Knock out comedy gem
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The Horse’s Mouth from the novel by Joyce Cary, screenplay by Alec Guinness, is the epitome of all his superb cameo and character roles. He’d just won an Oscar for his last role in Bridge over the River Quai. He’d nothing to prove, so he wanted to take on this offbeat role as the artist Gully Jimson, a comic creation, the dedicated painter in search of his artistic vision. He portrays this ill-behaved, grumpy, impoverished temperament, who is indifferent to custom, but is a good artist inspired by William Blake. He takes a sardonic delight in flouting convention, damns the letter to elevate the spirit. He is often close to starving and is always in debt and preys on rich collectors, phoning them up and putting on funny voices, or sponges off his ex- wife, Sarah(Renee Huston), who sold off 18 of his paintings(keeping one for herself) for £400, while he was in prison. He also depends on Coker (Kay Walsh), barmaid of his local pub and has debts to her which he’ll pay off when he gets a commission. He lives on a moored houseboat which lets in water.

You can see how this film gave Guinness free reign to play a mad genius. In the role of the gravel-voiced savant you can see previous parts he’s played like Fagin, or the leading thief of The Ladykillers. This is a beautifully filmed romp, where old walls with paintings on them come tumbling down, or floors fall through, where he’s camped to paint a mural on a bare wall, while the rich collectors are away. The parts of London filmed by Ronald Neame sketch in the outer environment of a post-war world, with ruins, debris and building sites. Jimson regales how he avoided art when he was young because of his father’s bad experiences with the Academy of Art. He is no sentimentalist and disillusions his apprentice young Nosey about the artist’s life.He takes on major themes like The Raising of Lazarus or The Fall of Man in his work. The film is more light-hearted than the book, which covers serious themes. Jimson’s paintings were executed by John Bratby who did a remarkable job of translating novelist Joyce Cary’s written descriptions of the works into their visual equivalent. The music is taken from ‘Lieutenant Kije’ by Prokofiev, and is suitably rumbustious and larger than life. There’s little structure and plot, instead Neame bases the film on 3 main episodes in the novel. A very good and hugely entertaining film. Guinness's only written script was Oscar nominated.
One person found this helpful
Mac McAleerReviewed in the United Kingdom on 29 November 2020
4.0 out of 5 stars
A broad post-war farce that gets better on repeated viewings
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“I’ll tell you something straight from the horse’s mouth: you have to know when you succeed and when you fail and why. Know thyself, in fact. In short, you have to think.”

This post-war (1958) film was a personal project by Alec Guinness, based on the book [[ASIN:1839012455 The Horse’s Mouth]] by Joyce Carey (1944). The first impression is of a broad farce that seems dated, particularly in how the different classes are represented. The outside scenes filmed on the streets of London are interesting to anyone who knows London now. However, on subsequent viewings it becomes more interesting. The class divisions are broad brush elements of farce. Throwaway lines and actions missed in the first viewing become noticeable and appreciated. The datedness becomes interesting. Some of the dialogue is very quotable.

THE STORY: Alec Guinness plays an impoverished painter, Gulley Jimson, who brings chaos in his wake. He lives on a boat on the Thames. The film starts with his release from Wormwood Scrubs. He had served a month for the harassment of a rich art connoisseur who bought a collection of his paintings from Gulley Jimson’s ex-wife. Subsequent events include visiting this connoisseur’s home, partly destroying an apartment in an upscale mansion block whilst he paints a mural on a bare wall, gaining recognition with an exhibition at the Tate and organising a group painting of a mural on the wall of a chapel due for demolition. At the end of the film, Gulley Jimson travels down the Thames on his house boat towards Tower Bridge, no doubt for new adventures and new disruptions.

THE DVD allows the viewer to play the film or to move to a particular section of the film, but there are no other options. There are no setups such as subtitles and no extras giving a background to the film. The Gulley Jimson paintings in the film were by [[ASIN:1904750435 John Bratby]]. Throughout the film is an earworm taken from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé.
thevulturespeaksReviewed in the United Kingdom on 14 November 2019
4.0 out of 5 stars
A loose adaptation of the novel, but a very worthwhile and enjoyable movie nevertheless.
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Not quite the 'forgotten masterpiece' it is claimed to be, but an enjoyable and well-made comedy drama which captures London in the post-war years beautifully, with host of well-known names on the technical side and in the cast. Alec Guinness wrote the screenplay, and perhaps should have been cautioned that his performance as the sixty-something painter Gully Jimson, in particular the gruff voice and shuffling gait, was a bit OTT. Not up to Kind Hearts and Coronets very high standards; in particular his make-up is rather clumsy - though at times he does look very like Obi-Wan!
John WrongReviewed in the United Kingdom on 23 May 2014
5.0 out of 5 stars
Recommended Version
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If you know this film then you'll need no review. This is a nice DVD version - the Criterion Collection are normally a cut above the standard releases but many are only available in Region 1. This plays well on my Region 2 player - colours and crispness of image are superb. Alec Guinness and Ernest Thesiger on great form and great to see London in the 1950s.
5 people found this helpful
KRL100Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 09 September 2017
5.0 out of 5 stars
Comedy about a struggling artist
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This has been a favourite film of mine for years. One of those quirky offbeat comedies which used to be a hallmark of British cinema. The film has a slightly happier ending than the novel. Guiness gives a good perfromance as Gully Jimson a struggling artist.
One person found this helpful
Stephen Thomas James HarrisonReviewed in the United Kingdom on 27 May 2015
5.0 out of 5 stars
the horses mouth;incomparable.
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I have been trying for so long to purchase,purloin or copy this film for 3 &a half decades & I'm glad that search is over. This film is a snapshot of bohemian London before the sixties took over & as far as I am concerned one of Alec Guinness's best films ever.
4 people found this helpful
CommonManReviewed in the United Kingdom on 29 July 2017
5.0 out of 5 stars
Guiness at his best.
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A brillant film, Alec Guinness as good as you can ever hope to see him.
Great production quality.
One person found this helpful
Amazon CustomerReviewed in the United Kingdom on 28 December 2021
5.0 out of 5 stars
Good quality
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Pleased with film
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