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Kenneth Moore

Posted by keith1942 on April 16, 2012

Kenneth Moore and Muriel Pablov in Reach for the Sky


It was in the fifties that Kenneth More’s film career took off, first in the situation comedies like Genevieve (1953) and the Doctor series, then in the more serious war films which were, though, still played for the occasional laugh or light relief. It is of these films that Leslie Halliwell would appear to be writing, “Breezy British leading actor, a recognisable World War II type…” But underneath the boyish charm can be seen the other signs of fifties film masculinity, an insecurity that seeks to dominate women characters but which, at the same time, would fall apart without them.

Genevieve features Kenneth More and John Gregson as vintage car enthusiasts and competitors. While More’s official romance in the movie concerns bedding Kay Kendall, he spends much of his screen time and energy on Dinah Sheridan, Gregson’s wife. While he plays with sex, he really wants a wife/mother, the Sheridan character being predictably non-sexual. The two men behave like schoolboys both in their car race, and the pranks they engineer to win. An underlying misogyny is apparent in the ritual humiliation inflicted on the women, for Kay Kendall a ducking, for Dinah Sheridan the problems of a British seaside hotel when her husband abandons her in the middle of the night for the car.

Again in one of More’s most popular film roles, Reach for the Sky (1956), he is referred to both in terms of “schoolboy pranks” and “worse than a baby”. The key section of the film is his accident and recovery, after which he says to Nurse Brace (Dorothy Alison), “the others cut me up, you put me back together again”. Later his wife, Thelma (Muriel Pavlov), appears more as an anxious mother than sexual wife, worrying about him falling over (learning golf), needing holidays or enduring the dangers of flying. In many of More’s movies one can discern the essential support of a strong woman in the background: as he sorts out the aristocracy (The Admirable Crichton – 1957 with Diane Cilento), wins the war at sea (Sink the Bismarck – 1960 with Dana Wynter) or wards off Indian tribesmen (North West Frontier – 1959 with Lauren Bacall).

He also played in more serious and moody pictures, this side of his career looming larger as he grew older. Thus the ending of The Greengage Summer (1961) is slightly tragic as the More character suffers both betrayal and retribution. But even in such films, where More seems to play against his more popular character type, changing juvenile pranks for older and more serious criminality, the gender relationships are repeated. In The Deep Blue Sea (1955), while much of the film deals with Hester’s (Margaret Leighton) desperate attempts to keep Freddie (More) by her side, finally at the end of the film it is she who sends him away. He needs her more than she needs him. In The Comedy Man (1964) he does leave Angela Douglas, but symptomatically he also leaves success, as he gets out and returns to his past in repertory. This film also relates to The Greengage Summer and the earlier Raising a riot (1955), with More enjoying relationships with both an older and younger woman. The romance (predictably) concentrates on the younger woman, yet the More characters fail to settle with them – his dependence requires the maternal approach.

It was appropriate that  late in his career he should play the part of Young Jolyon in The Forsyte saga (BBC 1967), a character who typifies the strand of male dependency which runs through both English literature and English cinema.

The profile originally appeared in Film Dope number 45, September 1990.

An intriguing parallel is in the 2011 film of The Deep Blue Sea where Tom Hiddleston’s Freddie retains some of More’s need for a mother figure: a characteristics not noticeable in the play or the BBC Television production.



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