Friday, October 02, 2009

Deborah Kerr, in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
approximately 50 minutes and 49 seconds
48.1% of the film

The Film

A Marine and a Nun, both shipwrecked on a Pacific Island, find solace in one another as the two wait out the war.

You can find my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

When a film is a bit uneventful (and not in the artsy way) but has nice landscape & cinematography, I’m partly satisfied. It’s the case here: not a boring film, but mostly vanilla on both concept & execution.

Deborah Kerr as Sister Angela

Let me start by saying that I am not the biggest fan of the style of acting that Miss Kerr usually used. It’s British, mostly quiet, subtle, dignified, depending the most on the screenplay. I respect such acting, I admire it. But it’s not what knocks me off my feet. As you might’ve noticed, I’m more into Anna Magnani-style or Meryl or Bette Davis. Yet I’m always opened to different types of actressing and I’ve always admired the ladyest of them all: Deborah Kerr.

Kerr plays Sister Angela, a nun stranded on an Asian island during WWII who has a fortunate encounter with an American soldier and they’re both trying to survive a Japanese invasion. It could be considered an intimate movie and because you have just two characters it’s mostly human interaction. Sister Angela is a perfect nun: she has tons of faith, she’s kind, modest and she would sacrifice herself for others. With a face like Deborah Kerr’s, it’s not difficult playing a saint.

For the most of it, the role requires being nice and kind, having a welcoming smile and a surprised look when anything out-of-the-ordinary occurs. Do not get me wrong: the nun is not dumb and she knows a bit more about life that we’d believe at first. We don’t get to know her past, but in the ocean of innocence and purity we notice small elements (to Deborah’s credit!) that suggest that she knows things about the world, but she chooses her own way of looking at life. Deborah brings an intelligent feeling to the performance. With some other actress, we might’ve taken her for dumb.

I kinda think of her as Melanie Hamilton (Gone with the Wind) with a nun’s veil. :) That’s why it’s a very likeable character! It’s not a complicated role, but Deborah makes it look like she’s injecting some acting into it, more than the role required. Her face of course does all the work. We feel for her when she’s eating raw fish and tries to brave it out and we understand her desperation when the man goes missing and she thinks he’s dead. This is Deborah’s biggest accomplishment to me: making us like Sister Angela, care for her, understand her and not seeing her as just another rigid nun.

Deborah is a natural, always believable and doesn’t overplay the saintful part. She manages to make Sister Angela’s clumsiness look adorable and proves lots of acting experience in the moments of tension. One of her best scenes is her unexpected but dignified breakdown when confronted with a drunk Mr. Allison. It’s good acting, without forcing it. Also: the scene of the first bombing and the honest fear that you could read in her eyes.

Was Sister Angela tempted by Mr. Allison? Would she have surrendered to his love feelings? I really don’t know the answer, but in a way I like it that Deborah doesn’t let us find out. Miss Kerr gives a good performance, with almost no flaws. She has ok moments for the most of it and she’s actually really good at times. However... However… this is not the most difficult or demanding role. And the casting itself solved half of the problem. I don’t want to take the credit away from her: Deborah does a fine fine job, but it’s hardly groundbreaking. – very well deserved.
This was the last performance for 1957. In a couple of days I'm gonna post the final conclusions.


Cal said...

I saw this a couple of months ago and agree with your assessment. Three stars is accurate.

I wrote about her performance here if you wanna check it out:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I am a fan of Kerr. Wouldn't you say Emma Thompson does this style too? Don't you like her?

Alex in Movieland said...

Cal, I did read and answer :)

Andrew, I hear you, but I think Emma takes it further especially in the emotions carried on screen. But maybe, just maybe, it's the difference of acting styles during time. the theatrical 50s vs the real 90s

DAMIN said...

I absolutely love this movie. I could watch it over and over again. They just don't make them like this anymore.