Thursday, October 18, 2007


Deborah Kerr (1921-2007)

That iconic image above in From Here to Eternity is one of many associated with the great Deborah Kerr, who passed away Tuesday in England at the age of 86. With six Oscar nominations and zero wins, she unfortunately holds the record for the most nominations without a win among lead actresses, though at least the Academy saw fit to give her an honorary Oscar in 1994.

Though, as seems to be the case with many of our greatest performers, her six nominations didn't necessarily represent her very best work. Her first nomination came in 1949's Edward, My Son, where she was fine, though really it was a supporting turn. Following that was a nomination for 1953's Eternity, 1956's The King and I, 1957's Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, 1958's Separate Tables (another supporting role, and a miscast one at that) and 1960's The Sundowners. For me though, her finest work came in films for which she wasn't nominated, such as her triple role in Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. She scored with them again in 1947's Black Narcissus. Then there were other, less well-known films such as in 1945's Vacation From Marriage and, most especially, her charming turn as an Irish lass who hates the English so much she unwittingly becomes a Nazi spy in I See a Dark Stranger. Often, she was the best thing in otherwise lackluster films such as Otto Preminger's Bonjour tristesse and John Huston's adaptation of Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana. This doesn't even take into account the number of huge movies in which she appeared such as King Solomon's Mines, Quo Vadis?, Julius Caesar and An Affair to Remember.

RIP Ms. Kerr.

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Another brilliant performance for which she wasn't nominated: as the tightly wound governess slowly unravelling in Jack Clayton's 1961 psychological thriller The Innocents - still the best screen adaptation of Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw".
Deborah Kerr was a better actress than half the women awarded by Ampass, which is why you must not smear her name by putting it in the same sentence as the O-word.

And I second Josh re: The Innocents. It's one of the great horror films and she's sensational in it. My 2nd, 3rd and 4th favourite performances of hers were all in the Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. I'm not even among those who worship that film, but she was enchanting.
(And though I realise I'm in the minority here, I thought even her performance in Separate Tables was rather decent.)
I do love her in COLONEL BLIMP, but watching her and Kathleen Byron go at each other for 12 rounds in BLACK NARCISSUS always knocks my socks off.

Just recently I watched her class up BONJOUR TRISTESSE, which suffered a little (maybe alot) from Jean Seberg's not-quite-polished-yet acting. Kerr was one of the greats.
She could make you think about the erotic life of nuns (Black Narcissus), the Electra complex (Bonjour Tristesse) and Western imperialism (The King and I), all the while projecting intense sexuality and propriety. Riddle me this: "An Affair to Remember" isn't a particularly good movie, but she is so compulsively watchable (even when she sings that ridiculous Irish lilt in the Boston nightclub with the green schmatte on her head) that she elevates it to mythic.
I'll join you in that minority, Goran. The Guardian totally dissed Separate Tables but I thought it wasn't half bad, and Kerr is quite touching. The critic said David Niven was the only thing worthwhile in the movie, airily disregarding that Niven's best scenes were all played with Kerr--and of course, actors do their best work when REacting to another talented performer.
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