Saturday, January 23, 2010

In Memoriam: Jean Simmons


Actress Jean Simmons died January 22, 2010. She was much younger than I belived her to be, but then as one gets older, everyone seems younger than you thought they were. Jean Simmons to me was a generous portion of Audrey Hepburn, for her demure nature, and a dash of Gene Tierney, for her beautifully awkward overbite. She was a stunning woman and a performer that flew under a lot of people's radar. She managed to appear in several classics but her lasting impression on me was when I first saw her, in Elmer Gantry (1960). Simmons had the thankless task of appearing opposite Burt Lancaster in his most famous role and how she managed that is testament to her ability. Simmons played evangelist "Sister" Sharon Falconer (she would play a similar role in 1955's Guys and Dolls, opposite Marlon Brando), whose sincere work is turned into a circus by Lancaster's scenery-chewing title character. She manages to be seduced by him, too, in a memorable and for-the-time, naughty, scene. Simmons' character was essentially a prop for Lancaster's ribald preacher, but her presence made me take note, and when I continued my journey into 1950s films, I saw how striking Jean Simmons was.


I associate her with two other movies, 1952's Noir alongside Robert Mitchum, Angel Face, where Jean got to play a femme fatale (and for which there's a typically great Robert Mitchum story), and especially 1953's The Actress, the biographical biopic of actress/screenwriter Ruth Gordon. Simmons played opposite Spencer Tracy in the latter. She's about as Audrey Hepburn as she ever got in this "ugly duckling" role. I'm sure Turner Classic Movies will do a tribute for her, and that these films will be included. Don't miss Jean Simmons in The Actress!

Simmons had a beautiful speaking voice, and as a narrator, she was an ideal choice to do voiceover work for a documentray series, Mysteries of The Bible, no doubt owing to all the biblical epics she appeared in during the 1950s. Simmons' chronicling of all those sinners with their sexual intrigue brings it all back full circle.

4 comments:

  1. She was so great in ANGEL FACE and so many others. A real class act.

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  2. Had no idea she was still with us. I adore her in Angel Face. RIP

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  3. Don't forget what a marvelous commedienne she was, too. How about "The Grass Is Always Greener"? And Ophelia...not that I mean to say I found that funny.

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