Deborah Kerr Films to Remember
by John Farr
This week, Reel 13 airs An Affair to Remember, but don’t forget to watch these classic Deborah Kerr films.
Black Narcissus (1947)
When young Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is asked to open a convent-hospital in a former brothel perched high above a small village in India, she readily agrees, despite knowing hardships lie ahead. Once there, she’s greeted by a sardonic Englishman, Mr. Dean (David Farrar), who takes great delight in ruffling Sister Clodagh’s habit. But it’s jealous, unstable Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) who eventually succumbs to the dark allure of the exotic, windswept setting.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Another great success for “Red Shoes” helmers Powell-Pressburger, “Narcissus” is an absorbing, finely acted British melodrama about the secular problems facing a new mother superior in an unfamiliar, potentially hostile new environment. The directors even stirred controversy by developing a subtle yet credible sexual tension between the luminous Kerr and hunky Farrar. Jack Cardiff’s Oscar-winning Technicolor photography and Alfred Junge’s hand-crafted art design give this film exceptional production values to boot. And Kathleen Byron’s celebrated turn as the unhinged Sister Ruth climaxes in a suspenseful sequence that’s hard to forget.
King Solomon’s Mines (1950)
When a hunter disappears in wild, uncharted parts while searching for the fabled mines of King Solomon, rugged adventurer Allan Quartermain (Stewart Granger) is hired by the man’s wife, Elizabeth (Deborah Kerr), to lead an expedition to find him. Of course, both Elizabeth and her brother John (Richard Carlson) insist on accompanying the group into the jungle, and despite misgivings, Quartermain reluctantly agrees.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Shot on location in Africa, and featuring the winning team of Granger and Kerr, “Mines” is a handsome, pounding adventure film with plenty of thrills and romance. Thanks to spectacular camerawork by Oscar winner Robert Surtees, the movie is indispensable purely on a visual level, but Granger and Kerr emit powerful screen chemistry too, which makes the epic journey- including snakes, spiders, lions, rhinos, and assorted African tribes-that much more exhilarating.
Separate Tables (1958)
This brilliant drama, adapted by Terrence Rattigan from his own play, portrays a group of mostly lonely lost souls-including boastful war hero Maj. Pollock (David Niven), mousy spinster Sibyl (Deborah Kerr) and her overbearing mother (Gladys Cooper), and alcoholic American writer John Malcolm (Burt Lancaster)–staying at the same English seaside resort. When Malcolm’s ex-wife Ann (Rita Hayworth), a faded beauty, appears unexpectedly, the group’s collective secrets and dreary emotional baggage come tumbling out into the open.
WHY I LOVE IT:
What in lesser hands could have been a mucky soap-fest becomes instead a subtle, sensitive, intelligent film thanks to director Mann’s deft handling of Rattigan’s Oscar-nominated script. The first-rate group of ensemble players include Niven, Kerr, Lancaster, Hayworth, and the fabulous Wendy Hiller–who (like Niven) won an Oscar for her performance as Pat Cooper, the innkeeper having an affair with Lancaster. “Tables” remains a multi-layered human drama of the highest order.