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  Frederic Gadette
  Beverly Garland
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  Sir Alec Guinness
(1914–2000). British actor.

Acted in: The Man in the White Suit (Alexander Mackendrick 1951); Scrooge (Ronald Neame 1970); Star Wars (George LUCAS 1977); The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin KERSHNER 1980); Raise the Titanic (Jerry Jameson 1980); Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand 1983); Lovesick (Marshall Brinkman 1983).
Although he has garnered the honors that denote successful film acting in America and Britain—an Oscar and a knighthood—one still feels that the acting skills of Alec Guinness have been underappreciated. Perhaps it is because his intriguing reticence makes him a natural character actor, attracted to playing flawed and complex men, and far too interesting a performer to waste on conventional leading roles. While he has largely avoided science fiction film—a genre, after all, not noted for the variety and difficulty of acting challenges that it offers—his rare forays into the field are more than noteworthy.

Early in his career, he was effortlessly charming and persuasive in The Man in the White Suit, playing an eccentric scientist who invents a fabric that never wears out but is oblivious to the harm it might cause to understandably hostile textile workers. It is a rare film that challenges comforting assumptions about the benefits of scientific progress in a manner more subtle than depictions of mutated monsters ravaging the countryside, and Guinness cunningly portrays the paradox of a man who comes to realize that his new invention may be less than the unalloyed boon he imagined, yet remains blissfully determined to carry on with his research after his purportedly perfect suit suddenly falls apart.

But the high point of his science fiction career is of course Star Wars. It is a mark of George Lucas's genius that he pursued Guinness for the role of Obi Wan Kenobi, even though he had to part with a percentage of the film's profits (while the complete ineffectiveness of non-actor Francois Truffaut as a comparable authority figure in Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a mark of Steven SPIELBERG's ineptitude). You can talk all you want to about Lucas's effective borrowings from earlier science fiction, the spectacular special effects, or the appeal of his youthful stars, but it is the quiet sincerity of Guinness's performance that makes that film believable and involving; he earned every penny of profit that he made. And the decision to kill off his character must be regarded as Lucas's greatest blunder, not corrected by Guinness's brief, ghostly reappearances at the end of the first film and in its two sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The animated alien Yoda of the second film, and the attempted transformation of Mark HAMILL's Luke Skywalker into a mature and distant presence in the third film, only represent Lucas's failed efforts to replace Guinness; but some actors have the ability to make themselves irreplaceable. It is odd, then, that amidst all the expressions of disappointment regarding the latest installment in the Star Wars saga, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, nobody mentioned one of the chief differences between that film and its three predecessors—the complete absence of the persuasive Sir Alec.

Elsewhere, Guinness was as effective as always in two lesser films: the inept thriller Raise the Titanic and the lame fantasy comedy Lovesick, where his performance as the ghost of Sigmund Freud was the film's only redeeming quality. He is an actor who improves every film he is in, and that is a statement one can make about few actors indeed.

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