Welcome back once more to another edition of B.L.O.G, and after the intensity and brutality of Martyrs, I looked toward the classics for something a bit more subdued. I found it in the premiere adaptation of the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw, a classic tale of supernatural horror… or is it merely psychological. That’s the beauty of the performance we get from the lovely….
Scottish born Deborah Kerr was already an established star by 1961. In fact, she had already achieved cinematic immorality after her iconic beachside make out session with Bert Lancaster inFrom Here to Eternity (1953). Then in 1956 she appeared in yet another iconic role when she became Anna opposite You Brenner’s king in The King and I. Kerr would rarely step foot into genre film category, her only other entry being the 1967 farce Casino Royale, but with her role in tonight’s film, I think she deserves praise from beyond the mainstream film world. It is her dynamic performance and incredible strength that make this film work so well. So I am very happy to bring you Ms. Kerr in….
The Innocents (1961) starring Deborah Kerr, Megs Jenkins, Martin Stephens, and Pamela Franklin. Directed by Jack Clayton.
A young woman, Miss Giddens (Kerr) accepts a job as a governess to two orphaned children. Upon arriving at the country estate where they live, she finds her bucolic surroundings tinged by a feeling of unease. As the two children, Miles and Flora (Stevens and Franklin), begin to exhibit strange behaviors, Miss Giddens begins to believe that the manor is being haunted by spirits who intend to possess her young charges.
The Bugg Picture
Henry James novel, The Turn of The Screw, is an amazing piece of literature, and its influence on the modern ghost story should not be understated. The Innocence lays claim to being based on James’ work, and it is by way of William Archibald’s stage play and then some rewriting by In Cold Blood author Truman Capote. This miasma of influences is fully felt in the film, and there are parts where you can clearly pick up the elements of Victorian life, a stage production, and something of a southern gothic feel. Each adds something special and wonderful to the film, and gives it a singular style amongst similar films of the era such as 1959’s House on Haunted Hill or 1963’s The Haunting.
Filmed in black and white by director Jack Clayton, who would go on to helm Robert Redford’s The Great Gatsbyand (the film which scared me so good as a kid that I still won’t check it out) 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, moody and atmospheric hardly covers how this film feels. Joined by cinematographer Freddie Francis, the Amicus alum who would go on to Oscar achievement for his work on Glory (1989), Clayton was dismayed when the studio demanded the feature be shot in CinemaScope, but Francis’ use of open spaces filled with shadows and a deep focus give the film and eerie look throughout.
This is most well illustrated in a quick moment spawned from a mistake. As Kerr’s Miss Giddens prowls around the manor with candelabra in hand there is at one point a flurry of motion. It happens quickly and even on repeated viewings nothing can be made of it, but it gives a great impression of something lurking in the darkness. In truth it was merely the clapperboard that had accidentally gotten in the frame. This happy accident coupled with the skill of Clayton and Francis make the perfect example of how subtly unsettling The Innocents can feel.
Speaking of unsettled, that’s a pretty good way to describe Deborah Kerr’s Miss Giddons. While Clayton and the screenwriters both received nominations for their work, I fail to see why Ms. Kerr was not recognized for her work. James’ novel has been much debated over the years, and one of the main points of contention is whether the novel’s governess is actually experiencing the supernatural or going mad. In The Innocents, Kerr’s performance is equally open to interpretation. She fully embodies all the fear, paranoia, and wild eyed frenzy needed to illustrate either. Coupled with the moody camerawork, Kerr’s performance is impassioned, real, and honest to the character.
The other great performances come from the two young actors, Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin. I am always wary of films that showcase young actors in such heady roles, but both manage to impress and give me the heebie jeebies. Stephens’ Miles is a sly, clever boy who is charming beyond his years. Through the course of the film Stephens’ character grows stranger
and darker, and the illicit kiss he plants on Ms. Kerr will surely leave most viewers feeling as uncomfortable as audiences in 1961 felt. In her screen debut, Pamela Franklin is the very vision of the creepy little girl. There is something magnificently strange that seems to lurk beyond her eyes, and I was not at all surprised to learn she continued working in genre films with work in 1973’s The Legend of Hell Houseand 1976’s Food of the Gods.
The Innocents is a film with long reaching influence. Shades of its story can be seen in The Changeling, The Others, and parts of its sound tracking were used for the evil videotape in The Ring. I really loved the look, the acting, and the moody score by former child prodigy Georges Auric. I encourage folks to check this one out, but be forewarned that the opening third of the film is a tad slow, but if you give the film some time to build, the second act will surely grab you and the third leave you wondering why more people don’t rave about this one.