In Memoriam         ADRIENNE CORRI

Adrienne Corri

Actor who played Shakespearean roles and in Hammer horror movies, as well as such well-known films as Dr Zhivago

Adrienne Corri

Adrienne Corri, who has died aged 85, was an actor of considerable range and versatility whose career ranged from the high – with Shakespearean roles alongside Ralph Richardson and Alec Guinness – to the decidedly low, including appearances in many quota quickies and low-budget horror movies that showcased her striking red-haired beauty. Although seen regularly on big and small screens in the 1950s and 60s, Corri is mainly remembered for her participation in the short but notorious gang rape scene from Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971). Despite complaining to Kubrick about the multitude of takes, Corri retained a friendship with the director for a short while afterwards. One Christmas she gave him a pair of bright red socks, a reference to the scene, in which she is left naked but for such garments.

She was born Adrienne Riccoboni, with an Italian father, in Edinburgh and while still in her teens attended Rada. She made her first appearance as a sexy schoolgirl in The Romantic Age (1949), a blend of prurience and prudery typical of certain British comedies of the time. After a walk-on role as a young Christian girl in Quo Vadis (1951), shot in Rome, she was off to India to appear in her best film, Jean Renoir's The River (1951), a poetic evocation of life among the British in post-second world war Bengal. Corri, her red hair standing out in splendid Technicolor, is the most mature, voluptuous and spoiled of three teenage girls, all suffering adolescent pangs for a young war hero. In 1953 Picturegoer magazine described Corri as having "no nice-little-girl-next-door nonsense about her".

The first of her three-and-a-half Hammer movies (the half being the second part of Journey into Darkness, 1968), was The Viking Queen (1967), a silly sword-and-sandal epic, in which Corri was an anti-Roman pro-druid princess who snaps and snarls and goes to war with relish. In Moon Zero Two (1969), a lunar western, she plays a sheriff on the moon, with holsters built into her thigh-length plastic boots. Vampire Circus (1972) sees Corri as a fiery gypsy with evil intent who runs the supernatural circus playing in a 19th century European town. Hammer, the "House of Horror", influenced other British productions, some of which featured Corri. In Devil Girl from Mars (1954), she played a spunky Scottish barmaid who tries to keep her man from being whisked away to Mars by the eponymous alien for breeding purposes. Corridors of Blood (1958) shows Corri as a despicable lowlife character getting Boris Karloff to write false death certificates for the people she and her partner have killed.

In The Tell-Tale Heart (1960), adapted from Edgar Allan Poe's story, a timid librarian is obsessed by Corri, the flower seller who lives across the street and who, like many horror-movie heroines, has a tendency to undress by a window without closing the curtains. There were two films in which Corri bravely disguised her beauty: she played a disfigured prostitute in A Study in Terror (1965), which pitted Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper, and in Madhouse (1974), she was bald and wore a mask to hide her face, mutilated in a car accident. Her character also talks to spiders as if they were her babies.

More prestigious, but less interesting, were her minor roles in three of her friend Otto Preminger's movies, Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965), Rosebud (1975) and The Human Factor (1979), and as the mother of Lara (Julie Christie) in David Lean's Dr Zhivago (1965). Among her dozens of television parts were Milady de Winter in the BBC series of The Three Musketeers (1954) and various appearances in episodes of ABC's Armchair Theatre (1956-60).

She featured in several BBC Plays of the Month, in one of which she was Violet in George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman (1968), alongside Maggie Smith, and she played Olivia in ITV's Twelfth Night (1969), in a cast that included Richardson (Toby Belch), Guinness (Malvolio), Joan Plowright (Viola) and Tommy Steele (Feste). In Measure for Measure (1979) she was the cheroot-smoking bawdy-house keeper Mistress Overdone, and she was last seen in two episodes of Lovejoy (1992).

Corri also gained acclaim on stage – she was part of the Old Vic company (1962-63), and appeared on Broadway in Jean Anouilh's The Rehearsal (1963). In 1959, she had a leading role in John Osborne's The World of Paul Slickey, a bitter musical satire on the tabloid press, which received the ire of critics and public alike. On the first night, Corri is reported to have given the booing audience a two-fingered salute.

In addition to her acting, Corri wrote The Search for Gainsborough (1984), an excellent art "whodunit" in diary form in which she set out to prove that an unattributed portrait of David Garrick that she came across in a run-down theatre in Birmingham was an early work by the young Thomas Gainsborough.

She had an almost decade-long, tempestuous marriage to the actor Daniel Massey, which ended in 1968. "We were agonisingly incompatible, but we had an extraordinary physical attraction," claimed Massey.

Corri is survived by a son, Patrick, and a daughter, Sarah, from a relationship in the mid-50s with the film producer Patrick Filmer-Sankey.

• Adrienne Corri (Adrienne Riccoboni), actor, born 13 November 1930; died 13 March 2016

Ronald BERGAN
first published in:
www.theguardian.com/film/2016/mar/28/adrienne-corri-obituary

 

 

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