Deborah Kerr delivered so many excellent performances during her long film career. She was always such a natural film actress, and she always oozed such class.
I’ve chosen four of her films which I think all highlight what a gifted actress she was.
I think that all four of these films make for essential viewing if you want to see Deborah’s range as an actress.
The Innocents (1961)
I think this may well be Deborah’s best screen performance. She is so convincing here as the governess on the brink of a breakdown. She more than convinces as a terrified, paranoid and anxious Governess who believes that the two children she is looking after are possessed by the ghosts of two dead former servants.
Is she really seeing ghosts and uncovering a case of possession? Or is she going mad and imagining the frightening things she starts to see?
Deborah really lets us in to this woman’s psyche. Thanks to her very convincing performance, we really feel her characters fear build up throughout the film. This film offered Deborah a chance to play someone very different from the kind, glamorous, elegant and confident characters that she so often played on screen.
The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp (1943)
In this Powell and Pressburger classic, Deborah doesn’t just play one character, she plays THREE characters. Although we are well aware that it is Deborah playing each character, her terrific performances convince us that these characters are three very different women in terms of their personalities and mannerisms.
Deborah as Edith, Barbara and Johnny. Screenshot by me.
Deborah plays Edith, Barbara and Johnny. Edith is a British woman living in Germany. Major Clive Candy(Roger Livesey)falls in love with her. Edith marries his German friend, Theo(Anton Walbrook). Clive never stops loving her.
A few years later, Clive meets a WW1 nurse called Barbara, a woman who bears an uncanny resemblence to his lost love. The pair get married. In a way their marriage means that Clive has Edith back in his life. Clive’s chauffeur during WW2 is a young woman known as Johnny, she also reminds him of Edith. Johnny is someone who is much more open and easier to get to know than either Edith or Barbara.
I think that Deborah’s three performances in this are essential viewing if you are a fan of her work.
From Here To Eternity (1953)
Although it is best remembered for that risque roll in the surf, this film is also notable for featuring Deborah playing very much against type. Up to this point in her career she had mostly been playing prim, innocent and respectable women on the screen.
In this film, her famous red hair is dyed blonde, and her character, Karen Holmes, is a very sexualised and strong-willed woman. Karen is also very forward and isn’t shy about making her desires and needs known to others.
Deborah owns every second of film she appears in here. Her performance and look in the film remind me so much of Rita Hayworth’s in The Lady From Shanghai.
There’s so much more to Deborah’s performance in this one than merely being sexy though. She also very adeptly conveys Karen’s deep vulnerability, her toughness and her strength. It really is a remarkable performance.
Another Powell and Pressburger masterpiece. This film sees Deborah playing Sister Clodagh, the newly promoted head nun in a convent. The nuns move out to a new convent in the Himalayas. Not long after they arrive at their new home, they all quickly start to crack under stress, and begin to give in to different desires and wishes which have long been repressed.
Deborah does such a wonderful job of conveying to us her characters very difficult emotional struggle and her waning strength. Her performance here is subtle and all in the eyes. Deborah’s face is a kaleidoscope of emotion here.
What are your thoughts on Deborah’s performances in these four films?
I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I really love watching films focusing on two very different characters who get thrown together by chance. I love watching such characters work to overcome their differences, and in the process of doing so slowly begin to like and trust one another.
The most famous example of this type of film has to be John Huston’s The African Queen (1951). I like that film quite a bit, but despite my fondness for it, the film has never been able to claim the place in my heart which is held by Huston’s later film Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. I find that I care far more about Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum’s characters, than I have ever cared about Bogie and Hepburn’s characters in The African Queen.
I also like Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison more because I think that it is the more serious and touching film of the two. The film is part war film and part romantic drama. The film also features a good mix of action, suspense, drama and comedy.
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is based upon the 1952 novel of the same name by Charles Shaw. John Huston co-wrote the screenplay for this film with John Lee Mahin. The film was shot on location on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago.
The film is set in the Pacific during WW2. The story begins with an American Marine, Corporal Allison(Robert Mitchum)floating on the ocean in a life raft. He has become separated from his comrades during a naval battle. The corporal’s raft washes up on the beach of a remote island in the South Pacific.
The first meeting between the Marine and the Nun. Screenshot by me.
While he is walking around exploring the island, he comes across a small building and he is astonished to discover that it is occupied by a Catholic nun called Sister Angela(Deborah Kerr). Only after he has been assured that she is well and in no danger, does the corporal lie down and take a well deserved sleep. What a gent he is! 🙂
Sister Angela is alone on the island, she has only been living there for a few days herself. She has been alone since the death of the priest she was working with a few days earlier. The pair had been taken to the island by some natives to help evacuate another priest who lived on the island.
When Sister Angela and the priest had arrived on the island, they soon discovered that the other priest had already been removed by Japanese forces, and then they were stranded there when the natives who brought them over got frightened and abandoned them.
Sister Angela and Corporal Allison are hesitant of one another at first, but as they spend more time together they begin to start liking each other very much.
The Corporal’s feelings deepen into romantic love and he tells Sister Angela that he wants to marry her, so that he can take care of her forever.
We can see that the pair like one another very much, but Sister Angela, in a firm but very gentle way, makes it quite clear to Corporal Allison that she has devoted herself to serving God and that she will never marry or have physical relations.
Corporal Allison struggles to get his head around her decision to never allow herself romantic love. This leads him to deliver this funny and touching outburst: “If ya gotta be a nun, why ain’t ya old and ugly? Why do ya gotta have big blue eyes, a beautiful smile and freckles?”
I find Corporal Allison’s outburst to be very moving because we have seen him pluck up the courage to express his feelings to her, and he feels hurt and embarrassed that he has opened himself up like that only to be rejected. She is kind to him afterwards and they both try not to let things get awkward after that declaration of love and longing.
Things are further complicated when Japanese forces land on the island. The Corporal must try and protect the two of them from the Japanese soldiers who are moving around the island.
Later in the film the Corporal must do all he can to save the life of Sister Angela when she becomes seriously ill with a fever.
As the film goes on Sister Angela slowly begins to leave her rather naive belief that all humans are good far behind her. Sister Angela begins to understand and accept the darker and harsher realities of life. She may not approve of Corporal Allison killing people, but she understands that his actions are necessary for their survival.
With the Pacific war going on around her, Sister Angela is also becoming more aware of the evil acts that humans are capable of. She never loses her belief and hope that people can change their ways and become more decent, the time she spends with Corporal Allison proves to her that people are capable of changing for the better.
Corporal Allison in turn tries to alter his behaviour and manners so that he doesn’t offend or upset Sister Angela. He starts out as a very gruff and blunt man, yet as the film goes on he becomes a much gentler and thoughtful man. Through spending time with Sister Angela he also begins to see that not all human beings are cruel and out for whatever they can get.
By the end of the film Corporal Allison has become a very different person than the one we saw at the beginning. He may well not be able to give up his life in the corp(which is all he has ever known), but I have a strong suspicion that he will be a very different person with a very different outlook on life when he returns home.
Sister Angela and Corporal Allison can go back into society at the end of the film, with each of them having acquired a far better understanding of the human condition than they had before they encountered one another.
Interestingly the film also shows us that Corporal Allison and Sister Angela are both similarly devoted to the institutions they each belong to (Sister Angela to the Catholic Church, and Corporal Allison to the United States Marine Corps), and that both of these institutions are somewhat similar, both in terms of their rituals and traditions, and also because of how people involved with both institutions devote themselves to living that way of life.
The performance of Deborah in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is amazing. She totally convinces as Sister Angela. She radiates decency and warmth.
Deborah also has an innocence and sweetness about her in this which I think perfectly contrasts with the rugged, world-weary personality of Robert’s stranded Marine.
Deborah is particularly excellent in the scene where the island is being bombed and Sister Angela is very frightened by the loud noises. She also totally convinces us that her character is seriously ill during the fever sequences.
Robert Mitchum is equally as good as the worldly Marine. His performance here has all the toughness and don’t mess with me attitude present in so many of his Noir films, yet Robert is also at his most vulnerable here.
Robert’s performance lets you see how much the Corporal is struggling with his feelings for Sister Angela and struggling with himself as to whether he should bring his feelings out into the open. It’s one of my favourite performances from Robert. This film is said to have been his own personal favourite from his own work.
Deborah and Robert would become good friends after working on this film. Robert had initially thought that Deborah would be very prim and proper like many of her screen characters had been. His assumptions were happily proven wrong after she swore at director John Huston during a take, this caused Robert to collapse laughing and after that the pair got on just fine. 🙂
Deborah and Robert would go on to star alongside each other in The Sundowners, The Grass Is Greener and Reunion At Fairborough(TV film). Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr are in my top five acting screen teams. I like them together so much because they always manage to convince us of the emotional bonds developing between their characters in their four films.
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is a lovely and moving film.I highly recommend it, not only to fans of Deborah and Robert, but to anyone who appreciates a well told story with a strong focus on the characters and actors.
My favourite scenes are the following. The corporal’s confession about his feelings for Sister Angela. The scenes where he is nursing her when she has the fever. The scene where he comforts her in the cave during the bombing. Sister Angela watching Corporal Allison standing on the beach looking out to sea. Where he tells her it has been a privilege to know her, and she says he will always be her dear companion. The scene where he sings Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree and they dance on the beach. The scene where he is drunk.
As well as the great acting to enjoy, there are also some lovely locations to look at and there is a good score by Georges Auric to enjoy.
Any other fans of this one? What are your thoughts on Deborah’s performance in this one?
Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this second annual blogathon celebrating Lauren Bacall. Be sure to visit Crystal’s site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
For this blogathon I’ve decided to write about To Have and Have Not, which is my favourite Lauren Bacall film.
Whenever I watch this film, I always find it so hard to believe that Lauren’s performance in this was actually her film debut.
Lauren is so natural and confident in this film, that I for one really can’t tell that she is a beginner actor. Lauren steals every single scene she is in, and it is her performance as the feisty Slim that I always remember the most when the film is over.
Lauren was nineteen years old when she was cast by director Howard Hawks in this film. Up to this point in her life she had been working as a model. Lauren’s photo had been spotted on the front cover of a magazine by Nancy “Slim” Keith, who was the wife of Howard Hawks. Slim showed Lauren’s photo to her husband. Howard sought Lauren out and signed her up for his upcoming film To Have And Have Not.
The film was based upon the 1937 novel of the same name, which had been written by Ernest Hemingway. Hawks changed the story location from Key West to Martinique during WW2. Hawks kept the main plot of the novel, but he focused most intently on the relationship that develops between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s characters. I’ve never seen it, but apparently the 1950 film The Breaking Point is a much more faithful screen adaptation of Hemingway’s novel.
I don’t think that Lauren Bacall could have possibly envisaged how much this film would end up changing her life. Not only did this film help to make her a star, but working in this film also changed her personal life forever.
During the making of this film, Lauren and her co-star, Humphrey Bogart, fell in love with each other and began an affair. Their affair led to Bogie divorcing his wife, the actress Mayo Methot, and marrying Lauren in 1945. Bogie and Bacall’s marriage lasted until Bogie’s death from cancer in 1957.
The chemistry between Bogie and Bacall is evident on screen in all four of the films they made together. In To Have and Have Not, I think that their chemistry is absolutely electric. Most of their scenes ooze with sexual tension and a genuine affection for one another.
I love that we are not watching two actors pretending to be in love in this film, we are actually witnessing the actors real feelings and longing for one another. As the characters of Slim and Harry fall in love with one another in the film, so to do Bogie and Bacall.
Harry and Slim set eyes on each other for the first time. Screenshot by me.
When we watch this film, we are literally watching the mutual real life attraction between Bogie and Bacall develop and grow before our very eyes. The fact that the attraction between them is real helps the film immensely in my opinion. Their chemistry helps us to believe the growing bond and attraction developing between Slim and Harry.
Bogie and Bacall’s characters affectionately call one another by the nicknames of Steve and Slim, those nicknames were what Howard Hawks and his wife Nancy called one another. Bogart and Bacall would later name their own son Steve.
The relationship between Slim and Harry is one of my favourites from all of the equal romantic partnerships found in Howard Hawks films.
Both characters are fiercely independent and strong. Both characters also find something in the other that has been missing from their lives up until their point of meeting.
In Harry’s case he finds in Slim a woman who can live with him as an equal, a woman who can accept him for how he is, and a woman who isn’t afraid of risk or of hard times.
In Slim’s case she finds in Harry someone who she feels safe with, she also finds him to be someone who gives her a reason to finally stop drifting. When Slim and Harry are together they can have fun together, they can let their guard down, and they can be intimate and vulnerable with one another.
Slim is one of the best of the Hawksian women in my opinion. She is strong, confident, sassy, sexy, tough, and very intelligent. Slim has clearly been hurt in the past and is quite vulnerable, but she covers her pain with a tough and confident veneer.
Slim is also very forward in conveying her attraction to Harry. He loves how forward she is and he loves how confident she is around him. Their relationship is a mix of emotional connection, friendship and sexual attraction. They really are the perfect fit for one another.
The film takes place on the French island of Martinique during WW2. Martinique is under the control of the Vichy government, who are working with the Nazis. Harry Morgan(Humphrey Bogart)is a sardonic American fisherman. Harry makes a fairly good living chartering his boat out to tourists. He is helped by his alcoholic and loveable friend Eddie(Walter Brennan).
Eddie is the films comic relief and is always randomly asking people if they were ever stung by a dead bee. Many people laugh at Eddie and dismiss him as a drunk, but Harry looks after Eddie, gives him a job, and doesn’t take kindly to any nasty talk about him.
Harry is approached by Frenchy(Marcel Dalio)who is a member of the growing resistance movement. Frenchy asks Harry to use his boat to smuggle people off the island. Harry initially refuses(perhaps his refusal represents the neutrality of America during the early years of WW2?) to help out because he fears the consequences if he does.
Harry meets a young pickpocket called Marie Browning(Lauren Bacall). He nicknames her Slim, and she nicknames him Steve. The pair develop an instant attraction and like each other very much. Harry changes his mind and agrees to help the resistance out.
Slim also gets involved with Harry and the resistance and helps them out however she can. Harry and his friends must try and evade the notice of the watchful officials.
The film highlights the dangers that the members of the resistance were always in. The film also reminds us how much the brave men and women who were a part of that risked their lives.
I like that Harry changes his mind and lends the resistance a helping hand. As the film goes on he also becomes less sardonic and stops thinking of his own self interest. The film highlights the moral need in times such as WW2 for us all to pull together,overcome differences, stop thinking solely of ourselves, and bravely stand up and fight the enemy.
The film has lots of thrills, action and suspense. As is always the case in a Howard Hawks film, there is also a great deal of character development and focus, this makes the characters come across to us as being real people.
While the resistance story is very good, I would have liked to have seen more of that storyline and a bit more of the risks the characters involved are taking. I think it is fair to say that what makes this film so memorable is the relationship between Harry and Slim, rather than the resistance storyline. I’m quite sure that this film would not be as much of a classic today if Bogie and Bacall had not been cast in the roles of Harry and Slim.
My favourite scenes are the following. The opening sequences on Harry’s boat with the tourist fisherman. The “you do know how to whistle”? scene. Slim and Harry being questioned by the authorities. Harry protecting Slim in the shootout, and in the middle of all that she totally keeps her cool and jokes that she has sat on a cigarette.
All the cast are very good here, but Lauren steals every single scene she is in. It was quite an achievement for Lauren to manage to hold her own opposite all the experienced actors she was working with in this. A new classic film star twinkled into existence in this film. The name of that star was Lauren Bacall.
I recently discovered a radio series on YouTube which stars Bogie and Bacall. I’m really enjoying working my way through it. The series is called Bold Venture. It aired between 1951 and 1952. The series is clearly influenced by To Have And Have Not. It’s all about the adventures of Shannon(Bogie)and his sidekick/love interest nicknamed Sailor(Lauren). It’s well worth a listen to if you’ve never heard it before. Perhaps we could imagine the radio series to be the continuing adventures of Slim and Steve?
What do you think of this film? What do you think of Lauren’s debut performance here?
On behalf of myself and Crystal, I would just like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has joined us to celebrate Joseph Cotten.
You’ve all written excellent articles and reviews, and these have all shown me that Joseph is still very much a beloved star today.
I’m still trying to get round everyone and comment on your entries, but I’m afraid that I’m not well at the moment, and I have so much stuff going on right now. I will try and get to your blogs as soon as I can. x
Please be sure to check out Poppity’s post for the blogathon, which was published yesterday. She discusses Joseph’s performance in Under Capricorn.
We are both really looking forward to reading all of your reviews and articles over the next three days. Thanks again for joining us in this celebration of Joseph Cotten and his films. Check back to this post throughout today to see the entries.
Day 1 Entries
Cinematic Scribblings discusses Lo Scopone Scientifico, which is a lesser known film starring Joseph Cotten and Bette Davis.
Moon In Gemini tells us about the time that Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright reunited on screen in The Steel Trap.
Mike’s Take On The Movies reviews Two Flags West, a film set during the American Civil War.
The Midnite Drive-In discusses Joseph’s performance in The Hearse.
This is my entry for the Joseph Cotten blogathon being co-hosted by myself and Crystal in a few days time. I can’t wait to read all of your entries.
Joseph Cotten is a great favourite of mine. I like how he could easily switch between playing very likeable and easy going characters, and characters who were more darker and difficult to understand.
Joseph was one of the most reliable and popular American classic era actors. He was very good friends with Orson Welles, and it is Orson who we have to thank for Joseph becoming a film actor in the first place.It was also Orson Welles who gave Joseph his start in films.
Joseph started out working alongside Orson in the Mercury Theatre. The Mercury Theatre was Orson’s independent theatre, radio, and film company, which he had co-founded with John Houseman in 1937.
Joseph first appeared on screen when he starred in Too Much Johnson(1938), this was a film directed by Orson Wells. This was a film that was considered to be lost for decades, until it was discovered in 2013. Joseph’s next performance was as the best friend in Orson’s classic Citizen Kane. Then he went on to appear in The Magnificent Ambersons and Journey Into Fear. He would go on to become a popular and reliable actor in both film and television.
I’d like to share my three favourite Joseph Cotten film performances with you.
Since You Went Away (1944)
This WW2 drama is my first choice for a favourite Joseph Cotten performance. I love the film a great deal for its story and characters, but Joseph’s performance and the character he plays is what brings me back to this film again and again.
Joseph plays the decent, fun loving, dependable, charming and loveable Tony Willet. He really steals every scene he is in. Joseph plays Tony in such a way that for me he becomes the life and soul of the film.
Tony is the best friend of Anne Hilton(Claudette Colbert)and her husband, who is away fighting in the war.
Tony is in America waiting on his orders from the Navy, when he meets up with Anne and her family and makes it his mission to cheer them all up.
It is clear to us that Tony is in love with Anne, and that she knows it but that neither will act on it. Their relationship could so easily have turned into an affair, but I think their relationship has much more meaning and poignancy precisely because it doesn’t develop into an affair.
Joseph conveys Tony’s love and desire for Anne so well, but he also conveys his love for his friend(Anne’s husband)too and we know that he would never damage their marriage by starting an affair with Anne. We feel sorry for Tony because he can’t get the happy ending he desires in his heart, but we love him all the more for not breaking up his friends marriage. You know he would do anything for Anne and her family and he wouldn’t ask for anything in return. What a guy! What a performance from Joseph!
A Shadow Of A Doubt(1943)
This was the film that forever changed Joseph’s screen image. With this role he went from playing very likeable characters, to playing a cold, manipulative and very scary serial killer.
Joseph plays Charlie, a smooth and charming man visiting his family in a small American town. Charlie’s exterior is a mask hiding his dark true self.
He is actually a serial killer, and he is a cruel, cold and very dangerous man. When his young niece (Teresa Wright) discovers his secret, he plots to kill her too to protect his secret.
Joseph is excellent as the dark and charming Charlie. I like how he effortlessly switches between likeable charmer and deranged and scary monster. His performance is all in his eyes and expressions and he does a terrific job. In my opinion this is Joseph Cotten’s best screen performance.
I’ll Be Seeing You(1944)
Another film set during WW2. I’ll Be Seeing You isn’t just your average romance story, this love story has some stings in the tale. In this film Joseph plays Zachary Morgan, a shell shocked soldier, who has just been released from a military hospital.
Zachary is having a tough time dealing with his symptoms and readjusting to life on the outside. All that changes when he meets the kind Mary (Ginger Rogers).
Zachary is unaware of Mary’s secret that she is a prisoner convicted of manslaughter. Mary has been allowed out of prison for a short time to spend time with her family.
Joseph totally convinces as a traumatised soldier struggling with his symptoms and finding a small degree of peace with the woman he is falling for. Joseph’s performance in this film is both subtle and poignant.
I especially love how Joseph conveys to us Zachary’s anxiety and awkwardness being around people and loud noises. Joseph also really makes you believe that his character is suffering and trying so very hard to get some control over his condition.
What are your views on Joseph’s performances in these three films? What are your favourite Joseph Cotten performances?