Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lovely lady, Jean Simmons, dies at 80

For those of us who love movies, there are those moments in the best movies that grab us, impress upon us, and remain with us our whole life.

The lovely and dignified Jean Simmons was a part of a couple of those moments for me. She died yesterday at the age of 80. Her death caused me to gasp, as all such moments do.

She was the heroine to Kirk Douglas's "Spartacus" in the 1960 movie that also featured some of the best actors of the day: Lawrence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov and Tony Curtis.

In one scene, Simmons' character, Virinia, sees the freed gladiator Spartacus after they'd been separated and never thought to meet again. It is a powerful scene of longing, incredulity, immediacy, love, silliness and tenderness. Ms. Simmon's face is one of perfect wonderment and femininity, and she plays wonderfully to Kirk Douglas's powerful masculinity.

The other memorable scene comes from the 1958 movie "The Big Country," which also featured huge stars of the day: Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Chuck Connors, Burl Ives, Carroll Baker and Charles Bickford.

Gregory Peck plays Jim McKay, a city boy, who has come to the big-country ranch of the Terrills in Texas to wed the frivolous country girl (Baker), whom he met in the northeast while she was being educated there. He finds in the big country, through many occurrences, that the character of Baker is not what he thought it to be and he begins to fall for Simmons' character, Julie Maragon.

The Terrills are having an ongoing feud over water with a neighboring clan called the Hannasseys. Nobody knows that Jim and Julie have fallen for each other, and the couple don't even know it yet because they've been proper and reticent. The Hannasseys kidnap Julie because she's the owner of the water, the Big Muddy. Jim decides to ride to the Hannassey homestead through a dangerous canyon to retrieve Julie ostensively to prevent bloodshed in the feud.

He doesn't know that the oldest Hannassey son (Connors) is smitten with Julie, but Julie hates Connors. When Jim gets to the Homestead, Julie realizes he's in great danger, so Julie pretends to care about Connors by snuggling up next to him, surprising everyone. The Hannassey father (Ives) sees through the charade and announces it. When he does, it releases Julie and Jim of any inhibition about showing their love for each other. The look in their eyes, the love, the desperate desire to be with each other, is overwhelming.

Jim fights to the death with Connors over Julie. It is a powerful, immensely powerful, scene.

With love to you, Jean Simmons. May you rest in peace.

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