film 4 of 5

The Horse’s Mouth

Film Review by Dean Duncan Mar 11, 2015

This one is elusive. It’s British/Cinema/1950s shabby. It seems to be aware of, reaching toward, even representative of a change for the better. Some of the change toward which it is reaching will be even more shabby than what went before. The voice that Guinness is doing, that he insists on using all the way through, seems a misstep. The performance he delivers, or the character he forms and inhabits, is actually pretty great. Could he (or Joyce Carey, who created the character) have been thinking of Michel Simon, especially in Renoir’s Boudu…? He’s a destructive Boho, or he might just be the writing on the wall, the shape of things to come.

The Horse’s Mouth doesn’t have too much of a story, of course, really. It’s all eccentricity and set pieces. The film fares pretty well by these things, I guess. And there are, as with almost all films, the moments. Kay Walsh is tremendous. Some of the Ernest Thesiger stuff is good, especially the way they dressed his house. The ex-wife is a pretty wonderfully bawdy creation—good for them, way back in a 1958 English film.

Speaking of set pieces, the bourgeois couple sequence takes up half of the whole film. Its points are well taken at the same time that its targets are a tad too facile. The destruction of their flat/world is pretty cringe-inducing, and pretty satisfying too. In fact, The Horse’s Mouth emerges as a pretty fair, comical variation on Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. These aesthetic types are pretty great, it says. And they’re pretty unacceptably, even appallingly destructive.

Lastly, the painting parts work very well—the movie knows and appreciates the medium, as well as the various vulgarities that attend it. Actual artist John Bratby’s actual paintings are quite funny, and very impressive too.