Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Deborah Kerr!

(Note: I posted this a year ago)

The first actress that comes to mind when I think of whom I would like to have as a wife is Grace Kelly. The second one is Deborah Kerr. Deborah who died last October at age 86 of course stood apart because of her red hair and fair skin. But she always had this understated sensuality about her. There are those who have seen two Deborah Kerr scenes: "Shall We Dance?" from the King and I and the kissing-on-the-beach bit in From Here to Eternity.

Deborah Kerr exuded class, that is indisputable, but she also happened to be one of the most emotionally and sexually complex screen performers, whether female or male. That is what made her so compelling at least in my mind.

First of all, Kerr’s refined women had a yen for sensual, macho men. In addition to the aforementioned The Proud and Profane, she fell for Stewart Granger in King Solomon’s Mines (1950) and six years later she was filled with repressed attraction for Yul Brynner’s bald, bare-chested King of Siam — a non-white object of desire. And there were many others, in all different sorts of social, cultural, and psychological settings.

In Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus (1946), Kerr is an Irish nun who, while at a monastery in the Himalayas, discovers that she has strong feelings — i.e., sexual urges — for a handsome, virile doctor played by David Farrar. Now, compare Kerr’s dark, torn performance in Black Narcissus — or in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), in which she plays a nun who lusts/has feelings for earthy Robert Mitchum — to Audrey Hepburn’s nun, pining for Peter Finch in The Nun’s Story (1959). Hepburn is excellent as the conflicted nun, but unlike Kerr she never comes across as a woman on the verge of an erotic breakdown.

Kerr is equally powerful in From Here to Eternity (1953), stealing the movie from her male co-stars, as an unhappily married woman who has a torrid affair with an officer shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Fred Zinnemann’s Academy Award-winning melodrama marked one of the rare times when Kerr’s physique played a part in her erotic persona, as she parades around Hawaii in Lana Turner-type shorts and frolics on the wet sand with brawny Burt Lancaster.

Less obvious is her headmaster’s wife in Tea and Sympathy (1956), who, despite her discreet clothing and demeanor, ends up seducing one of her husband’s teenage students. It’s all for a good cause, of course — the "sensitive" boy thinks he may be gay — though it’s hardly the type of behavior society would look kindly upon. Additionally, Kerr makes it clear that she isn’t going to lie down with young and handsome John Kerr (no relation) merely out of charity.

All that in addition to extra-marital liaisons with Van Johnson in The End of the Affair (1956) and Burt Lancaster in The Gypsy Moths (1969), in which Kerr appears nude.

She was indeed innocent, but equally complex. Rest In Peace and may your memory last forever, Deborah.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully said...and i couldn't agree more about her being so much sexier than people realized. So much better than todays trash.
And no one looks like she does anynmore...most people are so fake looking these days.