Tribute By Monica Sullivan
Alec Guinness was the humblest of great actors. Since he seemed to shed his skin each time he tackled a new role (sometimes as many as eight in a single film), he could slide, unrecognized, into the general population. You could never fail to notice him onscreen, however. Directors cast him in film after film: he made six with David Lean, five with Robert Hamer, four with Ronald Neame, three with Peter Glenville & two each with Charles Frend & Alexander MacKendrick, not to mention George Lucas’ “Star Wars” trilogy. With Lean, he was persuasive as fresh-faced Herbert Pocket in “Great Expectations,” as grizzly Fagin in “Oliver Twist,” as taciturn Col. Nicholson in “Bridge On The River Kwai,” as Prince Feisal in “Lawrence Of Arabia,” as General Yevgraf in “Doctor Zhivago” & as Professor Godbole in “A Passage To India”. He created a sensation in Hamer’s “Kind Hearts & Coronets” as Duke Chalfont & seven ill-fated heirs of the D’Ascoyne family, including Lady Agatha. As scalawag painter Gulley Jimson in Neame’s “The Horse’s Mouth,” Guinness left no doubt in anyone’s mind that Gulley was indeed a genius without peer & in “Tunes Of Glory,” also for Neame, he made the likeable alcoholic Col. Jock Sinclair just as convincing as rigid Col. Nicholson had been.
Guinness ate, drank & walked in character. And when he wasn’t in character, his emotions were charmingly transparent. In one famous encounter recorded at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival, a visibly aggrieved Sir Alec stared, not at the legendary blue eyes of the Princess of Wales, but at her very full dinner plate, while his own plate lay empty in front of him. “I’m 73 years old & I’m a hungry actor,” his face said. “Why does this 25-year-old non-pro get to play with the food on her plate when I could be eating it right this minute?” If you’ve only seen Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi, you owe it to yourself to see the rest of his work on film. From G.K. Chesterton’s “Father Brown, Detective” to Queen Victoria’s favorite Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in “The Mudlark,” from Holland in “The Lavender Hill Mob” to Professor Marcus in “The Ladykillers,” Guinness makes all his characters, real & imaginary, live & breathe on the silver screen. You’re in for a treat as you scour the video shelves in pursuit of the many sides of Sir Alec Guinness.
© 2000 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 8/9/00
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