“The blue of Deborah Kerr’s eyes is the same as that of Madrid’s Gran Vía in the fifties when it got dark and the facades of the cinemas lit up,” writes José Luis Garci in the book Deborah, recently edited by Notorius: the full interview that the Spanish director made with the Hollywood star in Marbella, in 1990. Kerr (Helensburgh, 1921-Suffolk, United Kingdom, 2007), famous face in American cinema of the fifties after having Forged his worth in the British man of the forties, he represented in his films a model of a characteristic woman: with a great personality, often with a cold appearance and an elegant bearing, and in collusion with the society in which he had lived, but always with wide margin of freedom and lordship, of temperament and independence.
And now that it has just been 100 years since his birth, on September 30, we propose a selection with 5 + 1 of his fundamental films. A complicated sieve because in his artistic career unquestionable titles accumulated, and no less than a ten and a half of them, fascinating, in all genres: adventure, in The mines of King Solomon; the peplum in Quo Vadis; the melodrama, in Tea and sympathy; and even the musical, in The King and I. Six-time nominee for the Oscar for Best Actress —for Edward, my son; From here to eternity; The King and I; God only knows; Separate tables and Three wandering lives—, he never won it, and had to wait until 1994 to receive an honorary one. Kerr, the ice woman who, when the moment was right, burned.
‘Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’ / ‘Black Narcissus’ (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1943/1947)
War movie only in appearance, Life and death of Colonel Blimp is a strange and unclassifiable marvel commanded by one of the most beautiful stories ever about friendship: that of a British military man and a Prussian officer, and their love for the same woman as a symbol of camaraderie, loyalty and nobility , and not as an incentive for continued grief. In a tale packed with men, the decision by archers Powell and Pressburger to cast all three female roles to the same actress envelops the film with an almost magical aura, and accentuates its fatalistic view of existence. Kerr, barely 22 years old, thus becomes, throughout the four decades of history, three different women who in the protagonist’s mind are the same: his beloved. “In two years she will be a star,” Powell said of the actress. Winston Churchill, on the other hand, was frightened by the demystification of the army and British pomp, and he wanted to ban it.
Black daffodil, set in a Catholic nunnery in the Himalayas, it breaks with any theory of film genres, moving with an astonishing naturalness from religious drama to colonial adventure, from romantic melodrama to the peak of terror, with an unpredictable development. Jack Cardiff, its prestigious photographer, composes a suggestive ode to red, blue and green, fused many times on the same plane as an emotional element. And Kerr, the mother superior of the convent, displays that touch of her own of apparent coldness on the outside that it goes out of hand on the inside. Every ringing of the bell on the edge of the cliff is a heart pounding toward sexual despair.
Available on platforms: Life and death of Colonel Blimp on Filmin and HBO. Black daffodil in Movistar, Filmin and Amazon.
‘From here to eternity’ (Fred Zinnemann, 1953)
Seldom has a movie been so dominated by a lead role with so little screen time as Kerr’s. His first appearance, in fact, is in a framed photo on the desk of the captain’s office at the military base in Hawaii where it is set. In a subtle way, Zinnemann is telling us that she, the wife, is going to be the focus of the action yet to come: a story of hidden desires, miscellaneous infidelities, moral unrest and physical claustrophobia in the suffocating microcosm of machismo and testosterone in that unfolds.
The moment Kerr finally comes out, a pencil skirt and a simple sweater, lust awakens: “What a sweater she’s wearing!” Says one of the soldiers. “It must be cold as an iceberg,” replies the character of Burt Lancaster. “She’s not one of those, she knows what she wants. I tell you”. Fame precedes her. But, unfortunately of the times and the environment, it only affects her, with the image of a “stranger” and a “spoiled beauty” when she is only a free woman. Meanwhile, her utterly unfaithful husband remains spotless. A film of tough guys with resentful pride, jealousy and delusions of possession, prostitution and hopelessness, with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war almost on top, From here to eternity it is also the work with one of the most famous kisses in the history of cinema. A sequence on the beach, filmed over three days, which for a time caused numerous couples of tourists to flock to that corner of the archipelago to be photographed in the style of Kerr and Lancaster on the sand, and the waves crashing against their bodies . Impossible, of course.
Available on platforms: Movistar and Rakuten.
‘You and me’ (Leo McCarey, 1957)
A film from when there was no fear of the rapturous melodrama, and its fusion with high comedy covered with touches of screwball. A work with a fundamental influence on later titles of all kinds and conditions, from auteur cinema to Before dawn and their appointment in Vienna for the following year, until the romantic comedy of the nineties in Something to remember, with a double tribute to McCarey’s mythical title: a meeting at the Empire State Building between Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, in the manner of Kerr and Cary Grant in You and I; and an explicit sequence of dialogue, in which his archetype — luckily more and more banished — of history that makes women cry, but which men disdain, was underlined.
Here, the Scottish actress is a woman with an enormous personality, the only one who does not buy into the false gallantry and irresistible flirtations of Grant’s professional playboy, whom she meets on a cruise ship in which they both travel alone: she, without her partner; him, without his millionaire fiancée. McCarey, who began composing gags for the silent film and discovering the joint grace of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, shines with the gestural humor of both and with the off-field, and the film is gradually drifting towards the romantic melodrama by a simple reason: they are falling in love. “We are on the way to a journey of no return,” she predicts. There is no better definition of infidelity. With the rain as a harbinger of tragedy and a blanket on the woman’s legs as a symbol, You and I still bring tears In women and in men.
And DVD edited by Fox.
‘Suspense’ (Jack Clayton, 1961)
The best adaptation ever made of the novel Another twist. In addition to Henry James, the big names are accumulating: Kerr, the absolute protagonist; Truman Capote, author of the last version of the script after going through several hands before; Michael Redgrave, in a short role, but particularly obnoxious in its coldness; Freddie Francis, in front of a sublime black and white photograph; and, of course, Jack Clayton, director to rescue from a certain oblivion, author of the prodigious I am always alone and At nine every night.
Affection, firmness, restlessness, delicacy, prim, daze, heartbreak, pain and delirium. These are some of the nuances present in the formidable performance of the actress, as influential as the film itself in Spanish gothic horror titles such as The others and The orphanage. The dark forests of desire and depravity, present in a story about indecency and love as a disease, lead to the apparitions of ghosts – “abominations”, in the film’s precise term -, subtle and very brief, but overwhelming thanks to the Francis shots, with such a huge depth of field that they almost seem to have two simultaneous focuses. Although perhaps the best thing is that, transcending the times, Suspense (O The Innocents, in its original title) can be seen at the same time as a terrifying tale of specters, or as a catalog of the debasement that gender violence and bad education cause in children.
Available on the platform your movie.
‘The daredevils of the air’ (John Frankenheimer, 1969)
Earning a living by parachuting into the void from above, but not opening it until the last moment, the closer to the ground the better. Measure time and space, heartbeat and adrenaline with enough precision to provoke a gaping ovation from viewers of your fairground ride, without having to finish stamping. The daredevils of the air it is pure existential twilight. Time running out, human beings wasted. A way to live, a way to die. And, as they say in one of their dialogues, “few things combine both sides”.
Sixteen years after From here to eternity, Kerr and Lancaster look back on their passion on screen. Lancaster is the most risky of the three members of the singular stunt show, from town to town one step away from collision for just a handful of dollars. Kerr is the owner of the house where they stay, in one of those places nowhere. He is aware that the little good that his life had has passed. She, a good lady from the provinces, married, with class, pearls, high hairdressing hairdo, exquisite manners and enormous boredom. Both desolate, ready for one last frenzy. Ragged skins, extreme beauties. Kerr, a very natural 48 years old and in his last major film role together with Commitment, released the same year, she appeared completely naked. In Spain it was released in 1970 with a version lightened in 15 minutes.
And DVD edited by Sony.