Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Stand Fast in the Ranks!

From young gentleman Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations to interstellar gentleman Obi Wan Kenobi, you’d be hard pressed to find a better canvas for the filmed version of a gentleman than Sir Alec Guiness.

Something of a chameleon, he was fit to play such famed gentleman as King Charles I, Benjamin Disraeli, Prince Albert, Prince Feisal, Marcus Aurelius, Pope Innocent III, and Sigmund Freud. Though he could dress the scoundrel with the best of them. See: Fagin, Jacob Marley, Professor Marcus (original Ladykillers) and even Adolf Hitler.

Though, my favorite of his turns as an actor is a character that is perhaps gentlemanly to a fault. His Colonel Nicholson plays opposite William Holden’s Commander Shears and Sessue Hayakawa’s Colonel Saito in the masterfully filmed Bridge on the River Kwai. If you’ve never seen it and still want to consider yourself a man, don’t hesitate.

Without ruining the movie for you, Colonel Nicholson is the consummate officer and gentleman (eat your heart out Richard Gere). And the contrast of his ideals to that of his counterparts is both inspiring and tragic. “Madness!, Madness!”. He is a man who will uphold the highest level civility and code to no end, perhaps at the cost of pragmatism. While Shears, perhaps self serving, recognizes where code fails it's own purpose. In fact, my concept of a modern gentleman borrows equally from Nicholson and Shears, trying to take the best qualities of each character. Hopefully forming a man who does what needs to be done and does it right.

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