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    The Eventful Journey to a Happy Ending

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    From David Shipman’s The Great Movie Stars – The International Years in 1972: “Jean Simmons has always been taken for granted. As a child player in Britain she was expected to be one of the best child players and she was; she was expected to become a big international name and she did. In Hollywood for over 20 years she was given good roles because she was reliable, and she played them, or most of them, beautifully, and got good notices, and was liked. But she was never a cult figure, or one of those who adorn magazine covers, or someone the fan magazines write about all time. It wasn’t or isn’t that she simply did or does her job – she’s much better than that; she not a competent actress, she’s a very good one – by Hollywood standards a great one….Maybe it doesn’t help to have been so good so young.” Writer/director Richard Brooks thought so too. After working with her on Elmer Gantry (1960), in which she played to perfection the enigmatic evangelist Sharon Falconer, they fell in love and they married as soon as her divorce from first husband Stewart Granger finalized. Brooks’ fortunes grew in the succeeding decade, and following the critical and commercial successes of two great films in a row, The Professionals (1966) and In Cold Blood (1967), decided to tailor his next project for his wife, whose career was not moving in an upward direction despite the consistent quality of her work. (Her resume at this point had included, incredibly, Great Expectations (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), Hamlet (1948), Angel Face (1952), The Actress, The Robe and Young Bess (all 1953), Guys and Dolls (1955), Hilda Crane, Home Before Dark and The Big Country (all 1958), Spartacus (1960), All the Way Home (1963) and Life at the Top (1965), as astounding and award-worthy a career to date as anyone could dream of.) Simmons had drifted into bouts of depression and alcoholism and the screen odyssey Brooks developed would be therapeutic and valedictory for her: The Happy Ending (opening this day in 1969), a revealing and moving study of a neglected housewife attempting to cut loose from her empty life with an unfaithful spouse (John Forsythe) and find expression and purpose. She held nothing back and delivered an emotionally devastating performance that earned her glowing personal reviews and a Best Actress Academy Award® nomination. Simmons was in spectacular company: playing family, friends and romantic possibilities were Lloyd Bridges, Elmer Gantry Oscar® winner Shirley Jones, Teresa Wright as her mother (as she had done in The Actress), Dick Shawn, Nanette Fabray, Robert (as in singer Bobby) Darin and Tina Louise. Though Brooks’ script and direction did not command the respect Simmons’ acting did, he had another ace up his sleeve: Michel Legrand provided a haunting score precisely in synch with the mood of the piece, and – with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman – the Best Song Oscar® nominee What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? that suited perfectly the optimism of burgeoning romance in the early-going and the melancholy of faded love in the autumn of life. (Indeed, Simmons and Brooks would divorce in 1977.) For more on Legrand’s The Happy Ending score, read these Film Score Monthly Online Liner Notes here: http://www.filmscoremonthly.com/notes/happy_ending.html. Simmons would continue to work steadily in films and television, including an Emmy®-winning turn in The Thorn Birds (1983) and a revisit to Great Expectations (1989), this time as Miss Havisham, before her 2010 death, always so good, so timeless. The Happy Ending arrives on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray January 19. Preorders open January 6. (Also, catch Simmons’ work as Marlon (Emperor Napoleon) Brando’s love interest in Désirée (1954) on TT Blu-ray.)