Thursday, October 18, 2007

Forever young

Ken will call me a ghoul again, and he's welcome to. I see these because the first thing I do when I get to the office is usually to poke through the AP wire, and it includes a roundup of the day's obituaries. This was one I really didn't want to see. Deborah Kerr now travels in elephants.

I know, I'm supposed to think of Deborah Kerr as the schoolteacher in The King and I, and she certainly was wonderful in that. I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't ever seen From Here to Eternity, and although we watch An Affair to Remember (right before Sleepless in Seattle) every New Year's Eve, I actually liked the original Love Affair better.

My favorite memory of her is in an obscure British film called I See a Dark Stranger, which I recorded years ago off some TV station and still dig out once in a while to re-enjoy. It's set during World War II, and Deborah played a "little slip of a girleen" from the west of Ireland who tries to join the IRA, finds she's about twenty years out of date, and instead winds up spying for the Germans. The film was okay in and of itself, but it would have been just another late-night British relic except for her. She took a rather generic role and made the young lady into the sort of beautiful, innocently sexy, and self-contradictory creature that so many girls that age really are. When she turned up her nose at Trevor Howard, you could see her looking at him out the corner of her eye. When she declaimed her principles (mostly an inchoate hatred of Cromwell), she sounded just like a thousand other young women who throw themselves so passionately into their causes, never dreaming that they're not alone in them. She wasn't a part in a script, she was a real girl, and the kind that makes you tear your hair out and champ at the bit by turns. She might as well have been sitting next to me, rather than on screen, she was so thoroughly real. I was smitten with her by the third scene.

No matter how much time passed, I don't think she ever lost that inner colleen. A couple of weeks ago I watched Reunion at Fairborough, a TV move from the 80s where she played a grandmother who's reunited with her wartime American lover (Robert Mitchum, playing Robert Mitchum). Not only did she sparkle as much in her 60s as she had in her 20s, but her character's granddaughter could have passed for Bridie Quilty in Stranger. Not in appearance, but in passionate, naive fire. The fire never faded, nor even smoldered. Time might have passed, but she never aged. She always sparkled with every line.

More than any better-known character of hers, I'll miss that beautiful, aggravating little Irish girl, I think. That's how I'll always remember Deborah Kerr. Young, fiery, impossible, and utterly wonderful.

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