Aug 21, 2016

Deborah Kerr, Edward, My Son

as EVELYN BOULT

Before she'd go into the annals of Academy Award history as one of those respected actors who're frequently-nominated-but-never-actually-won-an-Oscar, Deborah Kerr made her first appearance on the Oscar Best Actress shortlist for Edward, My Son. And boy, what role could be more appropriate to mark her mainstream Hollywood debut than that of the long-suffering wife?

As is typically the case with these kinds of roles, Kerr's Evelyn Boult is much more befitting for the Supporting category. The film is so squarely keyed in on Spencer Tracy and whatever he's doing for the benefit of his unseen son that Kerr/Evelyn is really only there to be an accoutrement to the drama. That said, I was impressed by how Kerr found a way to vividly make an impact in the few instances when she's around (though in all honesty, I imagine outshining the typically passable Spencer Tracy in a stuffy stage drama can't be that difficult a challenge.) But watching her, it's as if Kerr knew just how small her role was and made it a point to really, truly milk the role as much as feasibly possible. In her first few appearances, I was impressed by the pops of fire she showcased and how invested she was in Evelyn's overt maternal tendencies.

I imagine it'd be easy to make 'worried-and-caring mom' a cliché, but Kerr really plays up all facets of this archetype. Kerr's all-in strategy creates a pretty theatrical performance across the board, in a manner that is for better and for worse -- following a superb throwdown with Tracy, the once innocuous, caring Evelyn eventually transitions into a jaded alcoholic, and that's certainly a crazy sight to see. Kerr's ideation of "drunk" is so frenzied and over-the-top that I almost found it off-putting. She's extremely theatrical in her final, long scene, and donning a whitened wig she's practically the antithesis of her earlier work in the film -- that is to say, it's apparent she's putting in loads of effort here, but it's not a very good result. The transformation is shocking, and Kerr is actually pretty heartbreaking as she messily slurs her way through her words, but I think it might've been a bit more impactful had she toned it down a few notches in such a pivotal scene. Overall, Kerr is a good and bad sensation here; I can see how she caught the attention of the Academy in this role, and in the hands of a lesser actress it may have ended up duller than it did. Solid and eye-catching, but worth a nomination? Hard to say.

For now, though I may very well bump up to a three upon further reflection.



8 comments:

  1. When I first saw this film it was with anticipation for Kerr's first nominated performance, since I'd seen all the others. My reaction: what was all the fuss about? This really is a supporting role that serves the plotline rather than a 3-dimensional character. Kerr tries but there's not much to work with here. Maybe this was a make-up nom for the one she deserved for "Black Narcissus". In any case, wrong category and wrong performance.

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    1. I think the key for me was that she does try - that's super evident. It gets a little messy, but it's the type of role that could easily have been more forgettable / mediocre than it ended up being.

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    2. Very true. I re-watched this film recently and Kerr should have been more forgettable than she was. Her characterization has specificity from the start, which makes me want more from her than I actually get. If that's not Oscar-bait I don't know what is!

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  2. I've always considered her the kind of actress who was nominated for the wrong roles. Obviously she is talented and versaitile but when I view her nominated performances...eh. The only time I would give her a win is for 1956, but that's only because I felt that field was weak.

    Some of her non-nominated roles are great though.

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    1. Interesting, I'm not very familiar w/ her filmography - which non-nominated perfs do you think are worth checking out (besides Black Narcissus, Colonel Blimp)?

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  3. I agree she's supporting but I think I liked her more than you.

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    1. She was very close to a three for me! Ultimately I throw out twos when I don't think they're nomination-worthy -- and I don't know that this is worth a nomination, in spite of its positives.

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    2. That said, I'd definitely bump this score up had she been in Supporting!

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