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A Comic Gem From Guinness

A year after his acting Oscar, his script for 'The Horse's Mouth' won a nomination


A year after giving his brilliant, Oscar-winning performance as a by-the-book British colonel in David Lean's World War II epic, "The Bridge on the River Kwai," Alec Guinness brought another remarkable character to the screen in the delightful 1958 comedy "The Horse's Mouth." This rarely seen gem recently made its DVD debut.

Guinness received an Academy Award nomination for "The Horse's Mouth," not for his acting, but for his literate screenplay, which he adapted from Joyce Cary's novel. Guinness plays Gulley Jimson, an aging, disheveled painter on a search for the perfect canvas. Kay Walsh, Michael Gough and Mike Morgan also star in the film, which was directed by Ronald Neame.

The Criterion Collection edition features a lovely new digital transfer supervised by Neame, who began his film career as an editor.

There is also a recent interview with the veteran director, who talks about the genesis of the film: Claude Rains first gave him the Cary novel, but Neame didn't even get through the book because he didn't think it would work as a movie.

A few years later, Guinness sent him the novel, and, this time, Neame fell in love with the book and Cary's eccentric characters. In fact, Neame almost made another movie based on a Cary novel with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, but that project never came to fruition.

On a sad note, Morgan, the 18-year-old actor who plays Gulley's friend, became ill with a form of meningitis near the completion of production and died within a week.

Although he had shot all of his scenes, some of his dialogue had to be dubbed in post-production, so Neame brought in a voice actor who could mimic Morgan.

The DVD also features the trailer and D.A. Pennebaker's lovely short documentary, "Daybreak Express," which opened the original New York theatrical run of "The Horse's Mouth." Pennebaker introduces his film.


Douglas Fairbanks put the D into dashing and the P in panache during the silent era. Athletic, charming and handsome, Fairbanks was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1920s. This week, Kino is releasing three of his great swashbucklers on DVD: "The Mark of Zorro" (1920), "Don Q, Son of Zorro" (1925) and his last silent film, "The Iron Mask" (1929).

"The Iron Mask" ($30) was Fairbanks' bittersweet farewell to the genre and allowed him to revisit his favorite literary character, D'Artagnan, whom he played in 1921's "The Three Musketeers." Although he was 46 at the time, Fairbanks still performed stunts with grace and ease.

The Kino edition features a beautiful transfer of the newly restored "Iron Mask" print. This version reinstates Fairbanks' sound prologue to the film.

The DVD also features some wonderful, rare outtake footage, background essays, artwork and an excerpt from the 1952 re-release of the film that featured spoken narration by Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

The "Mark of Zorro" and "Don Q, Son of Zorro" are available as a double feature on one disc ($30). Besides the enjoyable swashbucklers, the DVD includes rare home movies of Fairbanks in pre-production on "Don Q," excerpts from a newsreel of Fairbanks in a mock boxing match with Jack Dempsey and an excerpt from Fairbanks' 1918 book, "Making Life Worth While."


Get out your hankies for "I Am Sam" (New Line, $25), starring Sean Penn in his Oscar-nominated turn as a mentally challenged man who must fight to keep custody of his 7-year-old daughter (Dakota Fanning). Michelle Pfeiffer also stars as his brittle attorney. The DVD includes a trailer, the wide-screen version of the film, a comprehensive documentary, several deleted and alternate scenes, and serviceable commentary by co-writer and director Jesse Nelson. The DVD-ROM features a script-to-screen comparison.


Norman Jewison's 1975 futuristic action-thriller "Rollerball" has developed a cult following over the years. It's doubtful any cult will spring up around the disastrous 2002 remake bowing this week on DVD (MGM, $27).

Poorly directed by John McTiernan and featuring a script with more holes than a wedge of Swiss cheese, "Rollerball" stars Chris Klein, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Jean Reno. Originally made as an R-rated release, the film was edited by MGM to a PG-13 rating. The DVD reinstates the R-rated version, complete with nudity and gore. The digital edition also includes a look at the stunts, a music video, and inane commentary from Klein, Romijn-Stamos (who declares she wants to talk dirty and does) and LL Cool J, whom his co-stars refer to as Todd.


Colin Hanks, the gangly, talented son of Tom Hanks, gets his first big film break in the uneven teen comedy "Orange County" (Paramount, $30), which also stars Jack Black and Schuyler Fisk, the daughter of Sissy Spacek. Hanks plays an Orange County high school senior who wants to fulfill his dreams of becoming a writer by attending Stanford but whose dysfunctional family gets in the way.

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