Jean Simmons – 1929-2010

A great beauty of British cinema and a great talent of world cinema, Jean Simmons was a leading lady turned grand dame, equally good in British art (Kanchi in Powell and Pressberger’s Black Narcissus and Ophelia in Olivier’s Hamlet) and American commerce (Guys and Dolls and The Big Country, where she proves to be more desirable to Gregory Peck than baby doll Carroll Baker). She died on Friday. I learned of it from David Hudson’s report and round-up on The Auteur’s Daily (Hudson remains the man with his finger on the virtual pulse of film writing on the web). With her entire career to choose from, I choose to remember her from the first act of David Lean’s version of Great Expectations, as the arrogant young beauty who is given permission to break Pip’s heart by the waxwork Miss Haversham.

I remember being utterly entranced by her beauty and her confidence onscreen, and the perfection with which she incarnated a teenager being taught to be a temptress and not quite understanding even as she went through the motions. And when Pip grew up into John Mills, I could barely contain my disappointment that Valerie Hobson had none of the fire promised by Simmons, and lacked her mix of strength and softness. I can see how Pip fell in love with the young Estella, no matter how imperious and cruel she might be. Ms. Hobson never convinced me.

I wrote about Great Expectations for Turner Classic Movies. Here’s an excerpt that features Ms. Simmons (you can read the complete piece here):

The most visually evocative scenes in the film… take place in Miss Haversham’s shadowy mansion. Summoned by the mysterious matron to her shuttered manor, he enters a gothic haunted house that time forgot and finds an eccentric, possibly mad dowager in a rotting wedding dress, holding court in musty throne room dominated by a decomposing wedding cake, a reminder of the day she was jilted at the altar. Haversham has sent for Pip to become a playmate for her ward Estella (Jean Simmons), an impertinent young beauty with whom Pip immediately fall in love. Apparently, young Wager also fell in love with teenage Simmons (how could a thirteen-year-old boy with stars in his eyes not?) and even played the hero in real life. According to Simmons, her dress caught on fire from a candle she was carrying through a scene up a flight of dark stairs. “Everybody stood aghast, but Anthony came and tore it off me and put it out. This boy was the one who saved me.”

You can see that scene in the clip above. For more on Ms. Simmons, see the New York Times obituary by Aljean Harmitz and David Hudson’s coverage round-up at The Auteur’s Daily.

The end of the print P-I, the end of an era…

Hearst made the announcement, much anticipated for weeks, this morning: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the oldest continuous publishing newspaper in the Pacific Northwest, will put out its final print edition on Tuesday, March 17. For the immediate future, the P-I will be transformed into an Internet-only newspaper with some original material and links to other news sources.

For more information, read the following articles in the The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired Magazine and by the AP Wire Service.


Not a Number – Patrick McGoohan 1928-2009

“I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. I am my own man.”

Patrick McGoohan was Danger Man John Drake, Dr. Syn (alias The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh), Edward Longshanks, Dr. Paul Ruth in Scanners, Agent David Jones in Ice Station Zebra and erstwhile nemesis to Columbo (he starred in four episodes – a record!) and many, many others in his long career, but to most of us he’s the creator and star of one of the most original and daring TV shows ever created. He was The Prisoner, the former British agent (John Drake, perhaps?) who left the service in an outrage (replayed in the opening sequence of every episode) and was subsequently sent to a kind of holiday colony for retired intelligence agents, a velvet prison created as a surreal mirror of the world. It’s an ingenious political allegory played as a conspiratorial mind-game. No other TV show dared be as enigmatic, as philosophically complex, or as genuinely suspicious view of global power politics.

Patrick McGoohan as John Drake, Danger Man
Patrick McGoohan as John Drake, Danger Man

If you’re looking for a proper tribute to McGoohan, you can’t do better than a Prisoner marathon, but also note that in late 2008, Walt Disney released Dr Syn, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. The two-disc set feature the complete three-part series as original broadcast on Disneyland in 1963 and the subsequent feature film version edited down from the series. McGoohan is Dr. Christopher Syn, alias The Scarecrow, a rural country priest in 18th century Britain who leads a double life as a masked smuggler and gangleader, a kind of Robin Hood by way of Batman.

There are tributes aplenty across the web and David Hudson has done a fine job of collecting them at The Daily @ Also be sure to see Jim Emerson’s video essay on the opening sequence of the series on his Scanners blog here, which he reposted in tribute to McGoohan here.