Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jean Simmons: A Celebration (1929-2010)

In the days since Jean Simmons‘ death at age 80 on January 22nd, many appreciative comments have been written in the press. In honor of Jean Simmons, Turner Classic Movies has scheduled an evening of three of her best movies this Friday, January 29th, 2010. The scheduled films are as follows (all times shown are EST):


Great Expectations (’46): David Lean's definitive adaptation of Charles Dickens novel tracing Pip's odyssey from his encounter with Magwitch (Finlay Currie) to his rise to prominence in London gave John Mills one of his first leading roles as Pip. His bewitchment by the cruel Estella played by Jean Simmons is quite understandable, even if the spell is eventually broken. A beautifully filmed movie with cinematography by Guy Green that might make you wonder why David Lean ever thought he needed color, which was not needed to convey the teenage Simmons lush beauty either.

10:15 PM

Elmer Gantry (’60): Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis' once controversial 1927 novel was banned in Boston for its lacerating depiction of evangelical religion in America was adapted by director Richard Brooks, whose casting of Burt Lancaster and Shirley Jones won the actors an Academy Award as Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Jean Simmons' half believing, half artful Sister Sharon Falconer is the mercurial fulcrum at the center of the story. Ironically for the British born actress, her performance won a BAFTA as Best Foreign Actress in the UK. Simmons also found herself happily in love with the director, to whom she was married from 1960 to 1977.

12:45 AM

The Happy Ending (’69):

A disturbing film about a middle class wife and mother whose delusions and disappointments in life have led her to a futile existence fueled by drugs, alcohol and classic romantic movies on television. Simmons is exceptionally good as the leading character who ultimately turns her back on her life, though not without an emotional cost. The movie ends with Jean Simmons asking her contrite husband (John Forsythe) if he would marry her again if he had to do it over again. Filmmaker Richard Brooks, according to Jean Simmons, who was then married to the writer-director, wrote the movie in the hope that it might help his wife face her own issues with aging and alcohol. Ms. Simmons would triumph beautifully over both in real life, though this film, reflecting the upheaval of its time, is not quite as hopeful.

Remembered best for the big blockbusters she graced, such as The Robe (1953-Henry Koster), Spartacus (1960-Stanley Kubrick), and The Big Country (1958-William Wyler), the classic film noir, Angel Face (1951-Otto Preminger), and the prestigious adaptation Elmer Gantry (1960-Richard Brooks), I'd like to shine a small light on some of her less well known films, celebrating the "intelligent gravity" that she brought to them and her capacity for unearthing something untidily human in each of her characters--even amidst the glossiest films of her time. Rather than just reiterate the biographical details of the life of the girl from the North London town of Cricklewood, I would like to recall some of the elements that went into her exceptional blend of beauty and talent, as well as the singular intelligence that blazed from her arresting, changeable hazel eyes in her many roles.

Merry, fierce, sometimes sad and other times mellow, those eyes changed over the course of a lifetime, but one of her loveliest qualities was also one of her most imperishable: that laugh. Erupting with a giggle bubbling over with natural warmth and genuine delight, dissolving into a deliciously impish, sometimes painfully real laugh at some moment in almost all of her accomplished portrayals on screen or in the middle of an otherwise prosaic interview, it seemed unforced, whether full of a robust earthiness or tinged with a slightly rueful self-knowledge...more on the Movie Morlocks at TCM


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