Life with a land line
(Grey Villet. 1956)
Day 3: Alec Guinness
You could remove Alec’s Ealing work, and his David Lean work (dodgy blackface and all) and there would still be an amazing acting career. It’s a tribute to his adaptability, his intelligence as an actor, his dedication to stage acting, and his enthusiasm that - a few missteps aside - there is so much brilliance in his work. And of all the great theatrical knights, he is the one who truly mastered film. (I don’t say this lightly, as three of the other knights are among my favourite actors of all time
and one is really not).
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) is of course the obvious example of all this, but it says something that - in a film of such genius, where the often underrated Dennis Price holds his own against eight Alecs - it’s not his best work. Oh it’s impressive, but he digs much deeper in a lot of other roles, and he continues to, throughout his career. He never coasts on his talent, or his voice. Oh, and the voice. His poetry readings - T.S.Eliot in particular - are wonderful. His grasp of language and character is amazing, his delivery pitch perfect. He can be subtle, light, understated, monstrous, unpleasant, devious, joyful, adorable. He can do it all.
Favourite Role: Henry Holland in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). The most lovable of his Ealing heroes, in a film that is a perfect joy.
Another good place to start: George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979, TV). A masterpiece of invisible acting. It’s a classic for a reason. On a lighter note, his Denry Machin in The Card (1952) is an irrepressible delight.
Jean Harlow, 1932
Marcello Mastroianni in 8 e 1/2