Thursday, October 18, 2007

Deborah Kerr (1921-2007)

When I read that Deborah Kerr had died, a wave of guilt washed over me. I never knew her. (I mean that in the moviegoing sense of course)

As a child I connected Deborah Kerr only to The King and I and though I delighted in the "Shall We Dance" sequence and "Getting to Know You" I was, like those Oscar voters before my time, all about Yul Brynner. Well, Yul and Marni Nixon (but you already know of my fixation for that heard but not seen songbird)

As a seasoned thirtysomething awards nut, I've long since come to regard Kerr primarily through the mirror of her Oscar losses: 6 of them in the Best Actress category, the record. When it comes to movie stars only Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton suffered through more "we love you, but..." devotion from a teasing Academy. I am ashamed to say it but I even began to view her as a proxy jinx: Annette Bening keeps losing; Natalie Wood never won; Julianne Moore is forever a bridesmaid. All three of these lovely women -- three of my favorite actresses of all time -- have starred in Kerr's role in remakes of her films.

In truth the Oscars got in my way (as they do sometimes). I have never really given Deborah Kerr a fair shake. Maybe her passing can prompt Kerr agnostics like myself into a deeper investigation of her work. Help me along by sharing your favorite Kerr performances in the comments...

Related: From Here to Eternity & The Next Deborah Kerr?

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think I know how you feel. I was always skeptical of her nominations and abilities and was hesitant to delve into her filmography. But I was shocked and pleasantly surprised once I realized that she WAS a good actress, and I geniunely liked her movies and found her deserving of her nominations. I agree with what Robert Osborne has said of her passing: "Deborah Kerr was one of the great jewels of the movie industry. Not only was she an immensely gifted and versatile actress, but also someone who made every film she touched better." I fell in love with her movies, and incidentally, her.

Since I only recently discovered Ms. Kerr in the last few months, it makes her passing that much worse because I was only just "getting to know" her. My favorites of hers I would recommend are The King and I, From Here to Eternity, I See a Dark Stranger (an unseen gem with Kerr as the fiesty Irish Bridie Quilty), Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Sundowners, Black Narcissus, An Affair to Remember, The Innocents, The Night of the Iguana, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, and the list goes on...

Even though some of her movies aren't great, I almost always enjoy Kerr's performances, like in The Chalk Garden. The Grass is Greener is a bizarre little comedy, but Kerr, Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum, and Jean Simmons make it worth seeing.

I am terribly sad of her passing, but am glad of Kerr's beauty and contributions to cinema history. I hope she finally reached the top of the Empire State Building, "the nearest place to heaven", along with Cary Grant (sorry for the long comment, I had to vent).

Anonymous said...

MIss Kerr was a class act.

Michael C. said...

Get yourself a copy of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp immediately. Not only is it one of the best movies of all time, but I think it is the crown jewel of Kerr's career. In it she plays three roles and she is as equal to the challenge as Guiness or Sellers. The film, thanks largely to her work, is a heart-breaking masterpiece. It is at times romantic, hilarious, wise, and beautiful, and it is criminal how underseen it is.

Screw it! I just talked myself into turning it on right now!

J.J. said...

The Innocents. (In which you'll see how much Kidman owes her for her performance in The Others.)

NATHANIEL R said...

i guess i'm a little scared to pursue (i didn't mention it because i don't want to be unkind at someone's death but the last performance of hers I saw was SEPARATE TABLES and I thought it was about as bad as say Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain so ... it put a damper on my desire...

but yes. i am adding some of these to the queue

Anonymous said...

Best performance, definitely, The Innocents. Great, perfect, subtle, extraordinary. She's never been this good in her six Oscar nods.

-cal roth

Stephen G said...

Was very sorry to hear of her passing. Agreed with you, Nat, on Separate Tables. I also thought she went too far in Edward, My Son and The Night of the Iguana.

But she's terrific in many other roles, and a lot of her nominations were fully justified: Eternity, The Innocents (robbed of a nomination), The Sundowners (not easy to play Aussie!), The Chalk Garden and Heaven Knows, Mr Allison where she makes a terrific pairing with Robert Mitchum (repeated in The Sundowners). Allison sounds awful in concept - spinsterish nun shipwrecked on island with roguish marine - but is wonderful in execution.

I can barely recall her in Quo Vadis? and Julius Caesar, and she had nothing to work with in King Solomon's Mines. Several classics of hers for me to seek out: Blimp and Narcissus are the obvious ones, but also curious about An Affair to Remember, End of the Affair and Major Barbara.

Kenneth Walsh said...

"Tea and Sympathy." It's hard to believe the film was even made. Sadly, I don't see society being all that different than it was then.

Anonymous said...

I See a Dark Stranger. I love that movie. It's good to see someone else recommend it, bcause I always thought I was the only one!

WhiplashWilli said...

From what I've seen, Black Narcissus has to be her greatest performance, even if she's slightly upstaged by Kathleen Byron's Sister Ruth and Jack Cardiff's cinematography.

By the way, I'm somewhat relieved I'm not the only person in the world who didn't like her in Seperate Tables...

Vertigo's Psycho said...

What a rewarding life and career.

You can be forgiven for placing such emphasis on the "six losses" Oscar stat, as it appears that most of the time the name of Deborah Kerr comes up, it's in relation to her track record with Oscar. However, Kerr was terrifc in so many good-to-great films during her heyday as a star in the 1940's, 1950's, and 1960's that it's clear the talent was golden, regardless of Kerr's Academy Award disappointments.

Hard for me to narrow it down to one performance. My favorite Kerrs are Black Narcissus, The Sundowners, and The Innocents (Night of the Iguana isn't too far behind these three). I always hoped she'd come back for one more superb performance, but she had nothing left to prove when she retired from the screen. Rest in peace, dear Lady.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

You see, I am, in fact, the only person in the world who *liked* her performance in Separate Tables (maybe cause I was so young, or maybe cause that whole movie was so damn anaemic that it needed someone's overacting). But that's far from her best or most typical performance. She's infinitely better in The Innocents (above all), Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus and From Here to Eternity - all of which are coincidentally excellent-to-great films.

Anonymous said...

Check out Night of the Iguana. Not a great movie, but Kerr and Richard Burton are great in it.

Campaspe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Campaspe said...

I don't think she is bad at all in Separate Tables so I will join Goran in the dissenters' corner.

For me, the two she made with Michael Powell are her best, although she is good even in a damp firecracker like "The Grass Is Greener." The one on my Kerr-to-see list is I See a Dark Stranger.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I've never seen "Major Barbara", "Love on a Dole", "I see a dark stranger", anyway I loved her so much in "Black Narcisus", "From Here to Eternity", "Colonel Blimp", "Tea and Simpathy", "An Affair to Remember" and "The Innocents".
It's true her Oscar nominated perf in "Separate Tables" is not so special, but Academy bypassed her in two noteworthy occasions ("Black Narcisus" and "The Innocents", the first one being a very great mistake by the Oscar voters, if you don't believe me go to see the best actres nominees that year...).
She was beautiful, classy, talented and sexy...a real treasure.

monica said...

I would like to know which films did the three actress star, Julianne especially!!!

NATHANIEL R said...

oh yeah sorry

ANNETTE BENING did LOVE AFFAIR in Kerr's "Terry McKay" role
JULIANNE MOOORE did THE END OF THE AFFAIR in the "Sarah Miles" role
NATALIE WOOD did FROM HERE TO ETERNITY in the "Karen Holmes" role on television

Anonymous said...

What is everyone's problem with her 'Separate Tables' performance?
I always found her incredibly touching in that movie but then Kerr was pretty terrific in everything she did. She was truly in a class of her own (like Jean Simmons).
It was always a blessing having her in a movie.

Nat, I SERIOUSLY think you should watch at least five more of her films before rushing to ridiculously harsh judgements on her. But then it baffles me that you like the wooden Natalie Wood (you forgot to mention how dreadful she was in Kerr's role in 'From Here To Eternity') too so I suppose to each his own.

JS said...

I did not see any major announcements of her death so this is a great and terrible surprise.

It was "Tea & Sympathy" for me but like the others, I would recommend the Churchill suppressed "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" and Black Narcissus for her great performances.

To steal from Beatrice Straight, "I hurt" right now.

monicavitti said...

Thanks for the answer, Julianne is great.

NATHANIEL R said...

anon --i haven't rushed to any judgment of her work and I agree that i should see more of her work. I was just confessing that my reaction to the separate tables performance put a damper on my enthusiasm to do so.

and i don't think i rushed to judgment on that performance. I did sit through the whole movie ;) [ominous voice:] I know what I saw.

but i do have good rental ideas from all of these comments so I thank you.

And Natalie Wood is not wooden! She is an uneven actress yes. I have no argument with that. But not wooden.

tomo said...

NIGHT OF THE IGUANA is one of my all time favorites; everybody were great in that.

Besides that, like with you, Nat, it took a long time for me to sorta register Kerr. But great, she was.

Anonymous said...

Do be sure to give us reviews of Ms. Kerr's movies if you do get around to watching some. I'm curious to know how your opinion will change....

NATHANIEL R said...

I've programmed her name into the DVR. we'll see what turns up (probably From Here to Eternity a hundred times)

daveylow said...

Deborah Kerr deserved all those nominations. I don't think I've ever not liked her in any film I've seen her in.

One of her lesser known films, The Sundowners, is a gem. She had real sexual chemistry with Robert Mitchum. She was the perfect Anna in The King and I, even dubbed. Colonel Blimp is another wonderful film. She was Powell's lover at one point.

She was in a lot of good films so I hope they put out some Deborah Kerr collections.