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The Horse’s Mouth

(1958 c 95')

En: 6 Ed: 6

Alec Guinness adapted the novel by Joyce Cary about an eccentric painter in London who gets out of prison and paints expressionistic murals in odd places.

            The young man Nosey (Mike Morgan) rides a bicycle to Wormwood Prison, and he greets Gulley Jimson (Alec Guinness) as he is released, telling how he boarded up the windows. Gulley tells him to go away, but he persists. Gulley rings the bell and tells a policeman he wants to come back but is refused. Gulley goes into a phone box, finds a coin, and gives it to Nosey to buy him some cigarettes. As he is doing that, Gulley rides off on his bicycle. Nosey shouts at him but then tells a policeman the man is his friend.

            Gulley goes into a small boat and lights a match to look at his colorful mural. He removes dusty cloths from the windows. He leaves the boat and makes a call to Hickson (Ernest Thesiger), pretending he is the president of the Royal Academy; but Hickson realizes it is Jimson who is out again. Gulley threatens to burn his house down. He calls again and says he is a duchess. He says they need £5,000 for the Gulley Jimson Committee. He hangs up, and a policeman warns him not to make threats.

            Gulley goes to a bar, and the woman “Cokie” Dee Coker (Kay Walsh) scolds him but gives him a beer. Cokie says they are going to Mrs. Jimson because she owes her money. Gulley gets a small loan from her and goes out.

            Gulley is working on his mural in the boat, and Nosey comes and tells him he wants to be an artist. Gulley chases him out and tells him not to be an artist.

            A Navy man whistles to alert Gulley a woman is coming aboard. Cokie asks if he is ready and tells him to put on his hat and come with her. They take a bus, and he tells how he picked up Sara when she was married. Dee Coker tells Sara Monday (Renee Houston) that they want a word with her. She leads them into her house and checks her kettle. She is glad to see Gulley and is glad that Mr. Hickson said he would pay all the debts. She says he looks well, but he says they are both tottering into the grave. Sara goes out and brings back a tray with the tea while Cokie says she only cares about getting her money back. Sara asks Gulley how his painting is going and pours the tea. Sara says there were eighteen paintings. He says she looked good in her skin. Sara signs a check, and Cokie takes it and tells Gulley they are leaving. The boy Dickie comes in with a toy gun. Sara tells Gulley she hopes Cokie looks after him well. He says he is his own man and leaves with Cokie.

            Cokie pushes him into a hedge and denies she is his steady. They call on Mr. Hickson, and the butler lets them in. Gulley shows her his expressionist painting of a nude woman on the wall. She asks if that is Sara, and he says it is worth £50,000. He tells her to feel it with her eyes. She admits he is clever. Hickson comes in, and Gulley introduces Mrs. Coker. They sit down. Hickson says Gulley owed him £400, and he accepted paintings for the debt. In the other room Gulley puts a sculpture in his pocket. She learns that Hickey paid £3,000 and tells Gulley he lied to her. The butler asks Hickson for a private word, and they go out. Cokie finds what he put in his pocket and takes it out. She says it is the police, and they both listen at the door. On the other side of the door Hickson and the butler are listening too. They hear a police bell, and Gulley tries to break a window. He trips the butler and runs into a room with Cokie. They go into the kitchen where a cook is working. Gulley says he is the gas man, and they go out a back door to the street and get in a taxi that is already occupied by two men. One says he will call the police. The car stops, and Cokie gets out. The car stops again, and Gulley gets out.

            Gulley quotes Blake to the elevator man who asks if the old Lady Beeder is expecting him. Gulley rings the bell, and a man says he is Beeder’s secretary. Gulley introduces himself, and the man shakes hands with him and takes his hat. Gulley sees a blank wall and says that is the wall he wants. He describes how he can paint the raising of Lazarus. He is told that William and Lady Beeder are out. He gives Gulley some liquor. He says he will only ask £7,000 for his painting of the woman in the bath, and he will throw in his painting on that wall for free. Lady Beeder (Veronica Turleigh) and William Beeder (Robert Coote) come in, and he talks about her in the nude. She says they are off for the winter holiday and cannot decide before they come back. Gulley is trying to sell him his paintings. She sits down, and William says she paints too. Gulley asks the secretary for another drink. The secretary shows some water colors, and Gulley says one is lovely. William says she has a special technique. Gulley asks them to do some thinking. Gulley asks for more brandy and tells them something “straight from the horse’s mouth.” He says they have to think. William says they must pack. Gulley suggests they call up a woman she mentioned so that they can have a party. Gulley says he will sleep there with Lady Beeder. He says he is over fifty, and so she will not be inconvenienced. He faints, and she asks them to carry him out.

            In a room with covered furniture Gulley wrapped in a comforter sees a maid and sits down. He asks what time it is, and the maid says she is going for six weeks. He asks her to leave him the key, but she says the message says to leave it to the porter. He takes the key and says the wall needs painting. She goes out. He draws a line on the blank wall.

            As Gulley is walking past the clerk in the lobby, he is asked for the key. He says he is slipping out for charcoal. He sells an antique clock in a pawnshop and puts the ticket in an envelope. He sees Nosey tapping on the window and asks what he is trying to say. Nosey nods he still wants to be a painter. Gulley closes the curtains and goes out. Nosey says he cannot get rid of him by shouting. Gulley gives him some money and asks him to get him a tiger.

            Gulley has painted the head of a tiger, and he quotes William Blake’s poem. Nosey pours tea and says he likes his tiger. Gulley says he likes starting but not going on. He says for him the tiger is dead, and the rest is a blank. Nosey asks what he sees in the blank. Gulley talks about freedom and draws brown lines. An African man joins them and lays on the couch. Nosey comes in with tubes of paint. Gulley is drinking champagne. He has painted a large foot.

            Gulley has painted a background around the tiger’s head. A woman is sitting on a chair without shoes. The bell rings, and he tells her not to move her feet. Gulley tells the man at the door to go away, but he comes in. A man and two women are sitting at a table with the African. Gulley threatens the mason Abel (Michael Gough) who just came in.

            A crane is moving a large cube above the building, lowering it through the skylight. Gulley returns and asks the mason Abel what he is playing at, and he says it is a commission. The large stone cube is let go and breaks through the floor, raising dust. They look at it through the hole, and Abel says he will work down there. He puts a ladder on the block and climbs down. Gulley answers the door, and the clerk asks if everything is all right. Gulley explains and closes the door. He takes off his coat and goes back to work.

            Nosey serves two bowls of Irish stew and offers one to the nude model Lollie (Gillian Vaughan) and the other to the sculptor Abel who says to buzz off. Nosey says Gulley won’t even eat. Nosey puts some food in her mouth with a spoon. Abel calls Gulley to come down and asks him what his sculpture says. Gulley says it is getting smaller every day. Lollie complains that she has been in the same position for six weeks. Abel climbs up the ladder and tells Gulley he has painted too many feet. Gulley shouts at him, and he goes back down. Gulley throws a chair down the hole and covers it by unrolling the carpet. Gulley admits it is a “crackpot painting.”

            Beeder and his wife come in with her secretary and see the painted mural. They walk on the carpet and sink into the hole. Gulley goes out.

            In the rain Gulley goes to his boat and sees smoke coming out the chimney. He knocks, and Cokie tells him to go away. He asks what she is doing there, and she says she is living there because she lost her job. She asks where he has been, and he says he has been with friends. He asks where his picture is, and she says it is facing the wall. She tells him to take off his wet clothes and get into bed but not to get any wrong ideas. He mentions his age. She turns around while he undresses. She hangs up his clothes on a line but throws his vest and pants in the fire. He is in the bed and coughs. He says he has had it for thirty years. Later she is laying on a couch under a blanket. He talks about how he became a different man when he saw a new world of color. He asks if she is listening, and she says no. She kneels and says she is praying. She says she has a face like an accident and was kicked around when she was a girl. He coughs, and she says she does not want him to kick the bucket in her bed. He asks who she prays for. He asks about Hickson, and she says he is dead. She says he does not have to worry about his pictures anymore.

            A gallery is showing his paintings in the Hickson Memorial. People are lined up outside, and Sara tells Gulley she is going to see them again. She says the ones he did of her in the bed are the best. She leaves the line and goes with Gulley. They walk, and he suggests they have a drink and asks if she can pay. She says she can manage. They sit at a table in a bar. He says they can go fifty-fifty. She praises him for knowing about women.

            In her house drunk Sara and Gulley sing as she plays the piano. He rolls up the painting of her and asks her to wrap it up. She puts it in a trunk and says he can ask any price he wants now. She asks what he will do with the money. He says he has a new vision.

            In the boat Cokie talks with Nosey, and Gulley comes in, laughing. He unrolls what he thought was his painting and finds it is rolls of paper. He runs back to Sara’s house, but she tries to close the door. He demands his picture and goes in. Nosey hears them, but the door is closed. Inside Sara goes in a room. Gulley and her fight over a painting, and she falls over backwards. Nosey is at the window and says she slipped. Gulley sees her feet in the air and climbs out the window. Nosey helps him escape.

            Gulley and Nosey are behind bars. Nosey says they cannot spend the night there, but Gulley says he likes it there. They hear a cat and see it is black. Nosey looks around the old building and calls Gulley to come. They see a large wall, and Gulley speaks of the last judgment. The demolition plan is changed to charging money for people to see an artist working. Gulley tells Cokie he is talking to his apprentices. Several people are painting the wall by squares while Gulley supervises. He talks to a woman who is stirring a large vat of yellow paint. Three young people come in, and Cokie instructs them. A clerk comes in and says he has warned them and goes out. Gulley tells Nosey what they may need. Nosey tells Cokie they are out of blue and need some money. She counts the tea cups. Gulley asks Cokie for some money and leaves on a bicycle.

            William Beeder and his wife are posing for pictures in front of the mural. William complains about the feet, and the secretary says he would like to cut off Gulley’s head. Lady Beeder is talking to Gulley on the phone.

            Gulley watches a woman painting an eye, and he complains to a woman that she reversed the eye of a whale to make it look more real. They cheer Gulley, and he tells the men to take down the scaffolds because the painting is done. The clerk tells two men that the chapel has to come down. A bulldozer is going to take it down. They all stand back and watch as the wall is broken down from behind by the bulldozer. Cokie hears Gulley coughing, and he says he had to do it to take the responsibility. He says he needs a new horizon. Cokie summons the clerk and breaks a brick on his head.

            The navy man at the boat says they need more sail. Gulley arrives with some paint and says he is going away with the tide. He casts off, and the boat moves away from the dock. Cokie and Nosey arrive and see the boat doing down the river. They try to follow it. Gulley is sitting on the deck and looks at the side of a passing ship as if it were going to be a mural. Cokie says she hopes he drowns. Nosey shouts that he is like Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Blake.

            This farce satirizes London society as a non-conforming painter does anything he can to fulfill his artistic passions.
Copyright © 2012 by Sanderson Beck

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