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Original at BBC Movie pages

Kim Hunter reminisces about the making of A Matter of Life and Death.

A Matter of Life And Death Born in 1922, Kim Hunter’s movie career spans several generations and seems to have met with success in each. Stage trained, she made an eye catching debut in ‘The Seventh Victim’ in 1943. She went on to enjoy success in a variety of films, including ‘A Matter of Life & Death (known in the US as Stairway To Heaven, 1946), ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ (1951 – for which she won an Oscar), ‘Lilith’ and three popular Planet of the Apes movies.

What are you memories of making A Matter of Life & Death?

That Powell & Pressburger were wonderful filmmakers. They had a wonderful working relationship. Frequently the ideas for the films came from Mickey Powell, not always, but Emeric would write them down, and then Mickey always got his finger in the script. Every one of them. And the fact that they could work that closely together says a lot about Pressburger as well.

Was it fun to work on?

It was a fabulous experience. I did have a word of warning from Roger Livesey. I had just arrived, I came by ship and then got the train up to London, stayed in a hotel and almost as soon as I’d arrived in London Mickey invited me to a little cocktail party for everyone who was to be involved in the film. Roger grabbed me at one point, and insisted I have dinner first with him and his wife. This was so he could give me a warning about Mickey. He told me that Mickey liked to play this game, it was a tease really, and I caught him doing it once. I caught his eye as he was really killing this actress, nagging her and asking lots of crazy questions. I gave him a look, and he just howled, he was so delighted. He wanted to be caught, he wanted people to know what he was doing, and if you didn’t stop him he’d carry on until he practically killed you.

So you got off lightly then?

I was fortunate, although there was a time when David [Niven] and I were rehearsing on the set, and Mickey had been seeing us for days working on lines together, and he’d come by and listen. Then when we got to do it, to actually shoot it, we had a run through and at the end of it he asked ‘is that the way you’re going to do it?’. He said ‘oh God, no!’. he told us to go home and work on it. We came back, and what we finally did the next day was practically the same thing, but he was delighted. That was his way of keeping you on your toes.

The film became the first Royal Command Performance, what was that like?

The King and Queen made the rounds after the film. We were told how we were to respond, and we were in a semi circle in the lounge area of the cinema, they came around after the King, the Queen and both Princesses. What was fascinating – Mickey told us later – was that the King had said he knew how he had faded in and out of the black and white and the colour, and he told him correctly. Mickey was absolutely delighted that the King should have figured it out.

What are your memories of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, both on stage and screen?

That Marlon was the best actor I’ve ever worked with in my life, and that Tennessee Williams wrote a beautiful play. To a certain extent it transferred to the screen, but because it was made in 1951 the concept of homosexuality couldn’t be touched on. So unless you know the play you can’t really understand Blanche’s deep sense of guilt about the death of her husband, who was a homosexual.

Although Streetcar was made in the early 50s Elia Kazan obviously chose to make it in black and white didn’t he?

I think it’s because it was an emotional story, and emotions come through much stronger in black and white. Colour is distracting in a way, it pleases the eye but it doesn’t necessarily reach the heart.

As for Planet of the Apes, as unrecognisable as you were it must be another movie that people are constantly asking you about?

That make up took four hours to apply in the morning, and then another hour and a half to get it off at the end of the day. And while Streetcar is a classic and ‘A Matter of Life & Death’ is a classic those ape films have become a cult in their own right. People from all over the world write to me about those films.

More recently you have starred in films like ‘Midnight In The Garden of Good & Evil’, and ‘A Price Above Rubies’. Did this give you the opportunity to compare actors like Kevin Spacey and John Cusack with the Marlon Brandos and David Nivens?

It’s hard to compare actors from different generations. I don’t know, I don’t know that the intentions are much different, and I think there are an awful lot of good actors now. When I was brought up I can’t say that they were any better. A lot of more modern films seem to just be out for violence or sex or what have you, without relating it to what’s going within human beings. But every now and then one comes along that does that, and it’s a joy.

Click here for the review of 'A matter of life and death'.

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