Alt Film Guide
Classic movies. Gay movies. International cinema. Socially conscious & political cinema.
Home Movie CraftsActors + Actresses Jean Simmons Actress: ‘Elmer Gantry’ & Oscar Nod for ‘The Happy Ending’

Jean Simmons Actress: ‘Elmer Gantry’ & Oscar Nod for ‘The Happy Ending’

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

British-born actress Jean Simmons, who died on Jan. 22 at age 80, will have next Friday evening dedicated to her on Turner Classic Movies.

Beginning at 5 p.m. PT, TCM will show three Jean Simmons movies: David Lean’s Great Expectations (1946), and Richard Brooks’ Elmer Gantry (1960) and The Happy Ending (1969).

Many consider the Academy Award-nominated Great Expectations the greatest film adaptation of a Charles Dickens’ novel. Needless to say, I disagree. (I much prefer the mostly forgotten and generally dismissed Nicholas Nickleby, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti in 1947.) Yet, even this naysayer must agree that Lean’s Great Expectations has much to offer, including Guy Green’s superb black-and-white cinematography and Finlay Currie’s flawless portrayal of fugitive Abel Magwitch. John Mills, on the other hand, was much too old to play Pip, while Valerie Hobson’s Estella should have gone to Margaret Lockwood or Merle Oberon or Vivien Leigh or Jean Simmons herself – ten years later. (Simmons plays the Young Estella in this version; in the 1991 TV remake, she was the elderly Miss Havisham.)

Elmer Gantry, in which a con man joins forces with a female fundamentalist Christian preacher, is long but interesting – though not as good as it could have been, thanks in part to Brooks’ bowdlerization of Sinclair Lewis’ scathing attack on evangelical fanaticism and corruption. (Actually, the film only covers a section of the book.) As the con man, Burt Lancaster’s acting mostly consists of flashing a blinding grin every few seconds, but young-and-sweet Shirley Jones is surprisingly good as a sex worker who doesn’t say no to an indecent proposal (even if she repents later on), and Jean Simmons is great as the (purified) Aimee Semple McPhersonish preacher.

Both Lancaster and Jones won Oscars. Simmons should have been at least nominated, but wasn’t. Generally, the “split vote” rationale, which attempts to explain why a dark horse wins at the Oscars, is utterly absurd; in this case, however, it makes sense. Simmons most probably didn’t get nominated because her votes were indeed split. After all, that same year she received raves for her performance as Kirk Douglas’ slave wife in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. Today, they could have pushed her as a supporting player for Spartacus. Back in those days, that wasn’t usually done. As a result, Simmons had to compete against herself. The Academy’s preferential voting system took care of the rest.

The Happy Ending, about a disillusioned housewife who goes after her own life, is both weak and moralizing. Compounding matters, Simmons isn’t quite at her best. But since there was no Spartacus that year and relatively few significant roles for women in American films, she ended up getting an Academy Award nomination. She lost the Oscar to Maggie Smith for the British-made The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. John Forsythe, Shirley Jones (not as a sex worker) and Bobby Darin (as a sex worker) co-star.

Recommended for You

Leave a Comment

*IMPORTANT*: By using this form you agree with Alt Film Guide's storage and handling of your data (e.g., your IP address). Make sure your comment adds something relevant to the discussion: Feel free to disagree with us and write your own movie commentaries, but *thoughtfulness* and *at least a modicum of sanity* are imperative. Abusive, inflammatory, spammy/self-promotional, baseless (spreading mis- or disinformation), and just plain deranged comments will be zapped. Lastly, links found in submitted comments will generally be deleted.


Bob Radzak -

Jean Simmons is amazing; her artistry is always essential. Every character which she inhabits has no parallel within her performance landscape. Her celebrated versatility, dramatic intesity are brilliant in every venue.

TCM must give us more Jean Simmons !


Bob Radzak

C. L. Waldo -


Do you mean Friday, February 5? I checked TCM’s Feb. 5 schedule and these Jean Simmons movies were not listed. Hope I didn’t miss this!

Mrs. Waldo

Andre -

I’m sorry, but you did miss the Jean Simmons evening.
That was last Friday. Though I’m assuming TCM will show the Jean Simmons movies again this month, as they were all Oscar nominees.


This website uses cookies to improve your experience. If you continue browsing, that means you've accepted our Terms of Use/use of cookies. You may also click on the Accept button on the right to make this notice disappear. Accept Read More