A Journal 1996-98
by Alec Guinness
It amazes me that there are people who think (Christopher) Marlowe wrote Shakespeare's plays, although there is every likelihood that Shakespeare either deliberately plagiarized an image now and then or that a line of Marlowe's, when first heard or seen, had struck so deepling into his soul that he imagined it his own. Marlowe's stagecraft is crude or non-existent when compared to Shakespeare's know-how. And is there a character in Marlowe which makes one smile, let along laugh outright? - I must cease to ride this hobby-horse and give my attention to The Simpsons, to which I'm getting addicted. Also I should bear in mind a line the hero, Dennis, says in E. Waugh's THE LOVED ONE: 'In the dying world I come from quotation is a national vice.'
Before leaving for the 1958 film festival in Mexico City, to which I had been induced to go by the Foreign Office, I received a script of THE LOVED ONE with the suggestion that I should play the lead. It was a marvellous script, in which the great director Luis Bunuel had had a hand. Shortly after arriving in Mexico Bunuel sent me a note inviting himself to coffee at my hotel the following morning. He arrived at noon, full of amiability and chuckles. He kept removing his glace-mint-type spectacles to wipe tears of laughter from his eyes.
'I am a very happy man today,' he said. 'I have just been to the screening of my last movie, for the critics. It is good I think. They all congratulated me. How did you like the music, I asked. 'Mm-mm-wonderful, they said. The music was truly wonderful, they said.'
He took off his glasses again and mopped his eyes. 'I promise you there is not one note of music in the movie.'
Then we got down to discussing THE LOVED ONE. All his ideas were simple, true to the novel and yet sometimes daringly odd. He told me he didn't wish to use wax models for the cadavers in the mortuary scenes or funeral parlour but blocks of wood roughly hewn into human shape. We got on well and I was thrilled at the prospect of working with him. He explained he would be unable to start for at least another four months, which didn't worry me, although it should have done. What happened I don't know; presumably something to do with the film rights. Whatever it was, we were beaten to the post by Tony Richardson, who directed a quite different, heavy-handed script, an unwitty version as far removed from the factual, debunking spirit of Waugh as a flying saucer.