Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Deborah Kerr in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

Deborah Kerr received her fourth unsuccesful Best Actress nomination for playing Sister Angela in John Huston's movie, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. I'm quite certain that Deborah Kerr was the second in 1957 and Joanne Woodward only barely edged her out. But why really? I think that the Academy also noticed that Deborah was overdue for an Oscar though there was always someone who was more overdue (Susan Hayward, Elizabeth Taylor), more popular (Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn) or gave a big performance (Olivia de Havilland, Joanne Woodward) or all of them combined (Hayward again). Poor Deborah, she was nominated always at the wrong time.

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is a pretty lukewarm movie. There's not much going on, the whole thing is pretty boring and I am 100% sure that I will forget it in at least three days. It's very much like African Queen though it's much less funny and entertaining. I guess John Huston's producers wanted to make more money and they knew the perfect recipee for a succesful movie at the time. Robert Mitchum was a really great actor, a truly unique presence who gave excellent performance but this one is definitely not his best work.

Deborah Kerr is an actress very much like Annette Bening. There's so much to respect about her and yet I just don't feel that she's that special. Apart from out joint birthday, there is no connection between me and Deborah Kerr. However, I have never been disappointed by her as I always get from her what I expect. A very proper, ubtle performance. I expected it this time too and I got it.

Not that it is groundbreaking in any way. Although Deborah must have had a great chance of winning the Oscar that year, this is not the role that people remember her for. This one is actually quite forgotten and rarely talked about nowadays besides Oscar bloggers. Had I been an Academy member in 1957, I would have considered nominating Deborah for An Affair to Remember. It's not that it's better, it's just much more of an Oscar movie than Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison.

In Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, Deborah plays Sister Angela, a nun who's marooned on a South Pacific island along with an American marine played by Robert Mitchum. I think the most curcial thing about movie is the great chemistry between the leads. Whenever there are just two characters that you see, they really have to work together fabulously as collaboration is just inevitable in these cases. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen here. I always felt that there wasn't much of a sexual tension between these two characters and it should have been there. They give good performances on their own, but their work together is nothing special. Therefore, both actors failed on this very important level.

However, as I said, Kerr is very good on her own. She has quite a radiant presence on the screen but unlike Elizabeth Taylor (RIP) in Raintree County, this presence doesn't make up for the flawed rest. Kerr didn't have a star charisma and no matter what people say, that can also elevate a certain, not-so-strong performance.

Everybody keeps talking about Sister Angela's dark side but that's really something that I hardly noticed in Kerr's performance. She always remains this benevolent nun who's very quiet and dignified. Just like the movie, Kerr also remains very lukewarm and she doesn't really shine. That's a pity, actually. I would have loved this performance much more, had she given more fire and soul to this character. As I said, the whole thing is very charming but nothing mindblowing, really. There isn't a moment when I was just blown away (even Lana Turner had some) and Kerr constantly plays Sister Angela very one-note. Kerr's very proper and I dare say dull acting is very visible in this work and that's not a positive thing.

As you see, in this review, I said nothing about Deborah Kerr's performance because there isn't a thing that you could be passionate about. You can't love her, can't hate her and the whole thing becomes very standard and uninteresting. I know that many love this work but I just wasn't able to warm up to it. Deborah Kerr is quite good as Sister Angela but she doesn't go beyond good. Unfortunately.

What do you think? (no oficial predictions now but you can share your thoughts)


Anonymous said...

At last! Someone else who finds Deborah Kerr to be dull and nothing special! I don't quite "hate" her but I do get kinda annoyed with her on-screen proper persona. I just think she's overrated and not very charming. Just compare her in An Affair To Remember, to Irene Dunne in the original movie version, Love Affair. Irene is sooooooo much better.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Oh! Taking a closer look at your site, I see you've already reviewed Love Affair and admire Irene Dunne. So ya don't need me to tell you. :)

Anonymous said...

Kerr was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar 6 times, but she never won the award. What is amazing is that she was not even nominated for her 2 best performances (1947's "Black Narcissus" and 1961's "The Innocents"). She will remain one of the screen's best actresses.

Mark Epperson said...

What a pretentious load of B.S. I have no problem with differing opinions on films, history or whatever but when they are couched in such ignorance it is hard not to comment. You need to look at Kerr's work from 1940 to 1946 in England and maybe that will provide a little background. Only Meryl Streep and Kerr have such range and not afraid to hang it out.

melodramaboy said...

Everyone's entitled to their opinions, but I have to disagree vehemently with the OP's patronising,misguided remarks about Deborah Kerr.
The OP damns her superb performance as Sister Angela in 'Heaven Knows, Mr Allison' by condemning her subtlety, as if subtlety in a performance was a crime. It was Deborah's subtlety which, I believe,led to her being so underrated.
I suggest the OP watch her early performances: Love on the Dole, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, I See a Dark Stranger, Black Narcissus, Perfect Strangers -a staggering array of richly realised portrayals from the young actress.
The OP and the next poster accuse her of being 'dull'. Look closely at her fine work in 'Edward,My Son', and 'From Here to Eternity'.
'Not very charming'? Oh,please! 'The King and I'? 'An Affair to Remember'? And so many more.
For 'Heaven Knows...', Deborah won the second of her 3 New York Critics' Best Actress Awards. She and Mitchum always worked beautifully together -never more so in 'The Sundowners'. This is a sublime performance as a weary Aussie sheepdrover's wife which should have won her that elusive Oscar.I saw it again recently when it was screened on Australian Tv, and I cannot imagine any other actress of the period investing the role of Ida with the same gritty yearning and worn vulnerability. Deborah is the heart and soul of this film.
Her performance as Miss Giddens in 'The Innocents' is -in my humble opinion - one of the greatest screen portrayals by any actress. It is absolutely magnificent, and again, should have been recognised by the Academy (not even nominated!).
In her final screen work, she brought her customary sensitivity and suppressed passion to 'The Gypsy Moths', 'The Arrangement' and 'The Assam Garden'. The latter film ran for several months in three Sydney cinemas, and at the screening I attended, when her elderly character Helen remarks that she was once attractive, someone in the audience yelled out 'hear!hear!' and the entire audience burst into applause. That moment may seem insignificant to the OP, but it sums up how highly regarded Deborah was by the public -and when she died, the public outpouring of affection and praise would have bemused and embarrassed her, because she was a very shy and modest lady.
And she was a superb actress whose subtlety (that word again, but I use it with the highest praise), warmth, sensitivity and compassion left us with an amazing legacy of work, for which we should all be very grateful