Friday, August 14, 2015

The Anti-Damsel Blogathon

You ever get tired of watching movies where the women are written as helpless and one-dimensional? Well, Fritzi of Movies Silently and Jo of The Last Drive In are hosting a blogathon where you get to write about "the wonderful women of classic cinema, both real and fictional." Initially I was torn on whom to write about. The lives and roles of Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck seemed too obvious (as with most film noirs). Finally I opted for this performance:

Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953, dir. Fred Zinnemann)
(More after the jump.)

Why this particular performance? you may be asking. Allow me to clarify: by this point in Kerr's career (try saying that three times fast), she was known for playing the prim and proper English rose and she was getting tired of it. Thankfully Zinnemann wanted the women of From Here to Eternity to be played by actresses going against type. (After all, girl next door Donna Reed is playing a "hostess", or prostitute in cleaner terms.)

Kerr's roles of Karen Holmes has her as a dissatisfied housewife. Her husband is distant and neglectful, and their marriage is clearly on a shaky foundation. (They don't even sleep in the same room.) Both also have a history of infidelity (she knows about his liaisons and vice versa later on). Her new fling is with 1st Sgt. Warden and to be fair, can you blame her? (Who doesn't want to fool around with Burt Lancaster?)

Evidently Kerr herself couldn't pass up such an opportunity. She and Lancaster got romantically involved during filming. Well, or so Lancaster claimed. Kerr said there was a spark between them but nothing else. Regardless of whom you believe, their chemistry just scorches the screen. (Especially within that famed kiss among the ocean waves.)

Back to the film itself. Karen is a woman who's willing to speak her mind. She's not afraid of what anyone thinks of what she has to say. But in the end, she doesn't get a happy ending (though to be fair, no one in this film really got one). She's stuck continuing her life with a marriage of no pleasure and empty love affairs.

It was thanks to her performance in From Here to Eternity that Kerr's career became more versatile afterwards. She earned a second Academy Award nomination for her work, losing to Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Roles like Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, Separate Tables and The Innocents followed suit. Four more Academy Award nominations would come within the following decade. (She would get an Academy Honorary Award in 1994.) All because Kerr and Zinnemann were willing to take a gamble on trying something new.


  1. Wonderful piece!!! I love anything Deborah Kerr does. She's an anti damsel of the classiest kind...Thanks for joining us!! Cheers Joey from The Last Drive In

  2. Yes, this role was quite a change for Kerr at this point of her career and she is SO GOOD. She really holds her own in this male-dominated film.

  3. Ooh, such a classic. I'm always afraid to write about really great films, but you've done it justice.

  4. Thanks for digging into this classic! Deborah Kerr is fast becoming one of my favorite actresses and I loved your coverage of this important turning point in her career.

  5. Good choice. Deborah Kerr empowered herself here, breaking away from the prim and proper parts she had been stuck in. That adds a new level to my appreciation.

  6. Hey BTW... Deborah Kerr really was such a great choice, because as you said, she's known for the prim & proper roles. But I bet you'd agree that with every strait-laced character she's played, she also brought a bubbling heat and indomitable power she can't subdue. What do you think of her in Night of the Iguana, Bonjour Tristesse, Eye of the Devil and The Innocents? I'd love to know your thoughts! Cheers and thanks again for joining us. I love that brought Ms Kerr to our event! Joey from The Last Drive In

    1. Well, of those titles, I've only seen The Night of the Iguana and The Innocents but I really enjoyed both of them (The Innocents in particular). And it was my pleasure in joining. :)


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