That face

Posted by · 9:04 am · January 23rd, 2010

I have nothing to add to the reams of commentary on the sad passing of Jean Simmons, only to say that she has, eerily, been on my mind recently. A few months ago, I saw her rather touching final performance in “Shadows in the Sun,” a small British film written by a friend and former teacher of mine, and was struck by how elegantly that china-doll face had aged.

And only last month, I rewatched Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s undervalued “Guys and Dolls” after unearthing it in a bargain bin, and delighted in the knowing silliness of her Golden Globe-winning turn — as fine an Ophelia as she made opposite Olivier’s Hamlet, there’s an argument to be made for the “dolce de leche” sequence (embedded after the cut) as her best screen work. For sheer iconic value, however, what can top her appearance, aged just 17,  in Powell and Pressburger’s peerlessly beautiful “Black Narcissus?”

Jean Simmons in Black Narcissus

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7 responses so far

  • 1 1-23-2010 at 10:07 am

    Nel said...

    Maybe it was the Granger influence (don’t kill me) but I thought she was the most beautiful in ‘Young Bess’. It is my favourite performance.

  • 2 1-23-2010 at 11:33 am

    Michael Shetina said...

    As the young Ruth Gordon in The Actress, she’s fantastic. And I too admire her work in Guys and Dolls. She and Vivian Blaine do their best to rescue the film from Sinatra and Brando. Still haven’t seen The Happy Ending.

  • 3 1-23-2010 at 11:40 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I must confess I love Brando in “Guys and Dolls.” Such a weird move for him, but his evident sulkiness actually works for the part.

  • 4 1-23-2010 at 11:55 am

    aspect ratio said...

    I never saw Guys and Dolls, heck I didn’t even know Marlon Brando was in it. Probably because Marlon Brando in a musical just doesn’t sound reasonable. I should check it, that clip was adorable.

    R.I.P. Jean

  • 5 1-23-2010 at 2:52 pm

    Paul Outlaw said...

    Wow–I just recently watched her in the ’91 NBC remake of Dark Shadows on Hulu.

  • 6 1-24-2010 at 8:18 am

    Pete said...

    One of Ms. Simmons’ most sublime and undervalued performances was in the comedy The Grass Is Greener. She commanded attention in every scene though her performance was as light as a puff ball and as sparkling as champagne.

  • 7 1-25-2010 at 10:32 am

    Lazarus said...

    Guys and Dolls may not be as artistically accomplished as some of Minnelli’s, or even Donen’s best films, but the screenplay by Mankiewicz captures Runyon’s wit and characters perfectly, and as far as I’m concerned the only other musical that has as many great songs is My Fair Lady.

    Brando is a real treat, perhaps never more charming, and Sinatra plays great against type as a schnook. And then Simmons, who like Brando isn’t a great natural singer, but really puts her heart into the proceedings and really wins you over.

    Her highlight for me in this film has got to be the duet with Brando on “If I Were A Bell”.