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Deborah Kerr: Socially Dubious Desires

Deborah Kerr From Here to Eternity Burt Lancaster
Deborah Kerr movies: with Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity

Deborah Kerr Pt.2: Sexual Outlaw

As an unhappily married woman having a torrid affair with an army officer shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Deborah Kerr is equally powerful in one of her best-remembered movies, From Here to Eternity (1953), stealing the romantic melodrama from her male co-stars. Fred Zinnemann's Academy Award-winning blockbuster marked one of the rare times when Kerr's physique played a part in her erotic persona, as she parades around Hawaii in Lana Turner-type shorts and frolics on the wet sand with brawny Burt Lancaster.

Less obvious is Kerr's headmaster's wife in Tea and Sympathy (1956), who, despite her discreet clothing and demeanor, ends up seducing one of her husband's teenage students. It's all for a good cause, of course – the “sensitive” adolescent thinks he may be gay – though it's hardly the type of behavior society would look kindly upon. Additionally, Kerr makes it clear that she isn't going to lie down with young and handsome John Kerr (no relation) merely out of charity.

But best (i.e., most dangerous) of all is her Christian governess in Jack Clayton's superb The Innocents (1961), seeing ghosts and sexual misconduct everywhere. When the governess receives a good-night kiss on the lips from a pre-teen boy – who she suspects is having a ghost-induced incestuous relationship with his younger sister – Kerr's look of shock, confusion, and hmmm… This feels good! is nothing short of masterful.

Most of Deborah Kerr's other classy ladies also displayed socially dubious – if not downright unacceptable – characteristics and/or found themselves in (sexually) delicate circumstances.

Deborah Kerr: A Series of Sexually Delicate Events

In Perfect Strangers (1945) Kerr feels that her marriage to Robert Donat will be too dull after the excitement of the war effort. In I See a Dark Stranger (1946), she is an Irish spy wooed and pursued by Trevor Howard. In If Winter Comes (1947), she considers reigniting an affair with the now-married Walter Pidgeon. In Edward My Son (1949), she is Spencer Tracy's alcoholic, sexually and emotionally frustrated wife, and neglectful mother to their reckless son. In Young Bess (1953), she has a ménage à trois of sorts with Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons (as Queen Elizabeth I). And in An Affair to Remember (1957), she has a memorable romantic liaison with Cary Grant while committed to another man.

Jean Seberg Deborah Kerr David Niven Bonjour TristesseKerr becomes involved with aging playboy David Niven in Bonjour Tristesse (1958, right, with Jean Seberg), much to his daddy-fixated daughter's dismay. That same year, she can also be found in love with Niven's “sexually inappropriate” major in Separate Tables. As columnist Sheila Graham, she has an affair with married man (and alcoholic) Gregory Peck (as F. Scott Fitzgerald) in Beloved Infidel (1959).

There's more: Deborah Kerr is a governess who may have been a murderess with lesbian tendencies in The Chalk Garden (1964). She is the object of desire of defrocked priest Richard Burton in The Night of the Iguana (1964). She uses contraception pills (or so she thinks) in Prudence and the Pill (1968). And is suicidal Kirk Douglas' distant wife in The Arrangement (1969), in which her character has a discreet nude scene.

All that in addition to extra-marital liaisons with Van Johnson in The End of the Affair (1956) and Burt Lancaster in The Gypsy Moths (1969). In the latter film, Kerr appears bare-breasted in a sex scene. (A body double was supposedly used for the full nudity shot.)

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