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Only The Wind, My Dear

July 7th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Innocents 1961 Deborah Kerr

In the month of July, I take a look at films released in my very favorite film stock and aspect ratio: black & white in anamorphic. Unless they’re being financed with credit cards, movies are rarely shot like this anymore because they’re impossible to sell to television. Yet these dreams sneak onto Turner Classic Movies every now and again …

Innocents 1961 poster Innocents dvd

The Innocents (1961)
Directed by Jack Clayton
Screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote and John Mortimer, based on the novel The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Produced by Jack Clayton
100 minutes

Submitted in the category of greatest horror movies you’ve never seen is The Innocents, Jack Clayton’s exquisite, heart in a vise adaptation of The Turn of the Screw. The 1898 novella by Henry James had inspired a Broadway play by William Archibald in 1950 (titled The Innocents) and an NBC television drama starring Ingrid Bergman and directed by John Frankenheimer in 1959. Public domain in the United States, 20th Century Fox owned international rights to James’ story and launched a film version as a British production. Archibald adapted his play, but once Clayton chose the project as his sophomore directorial effort, the director hired John Mortimer to contribute to the story. Clayton then turned to Truman Capote to flesh out a script, utilizing much of James’ dialogue but tweaking some of the action.

The Innocents is a thrill because it exercises artistic restraint, obscuring its images with space and shadow and inviting the audience to give the horrors substance. Under orders to shoot with “Cinemascope” anamorphic lenses Fox had developed and publicized, director of photography Freddie Francis (who’d move into the director’s chair for 15 years until David Lynch recruited him to light The Elephant Man in the same dreamlike fashion) generated claustrophobia with a special lens filter that created an iris effect, clouding the edges of the frame. The child performances are devilish, while Deborah Kerr is just nervous enough to imply that her character may not have both her oars in the water. Like Ridley Scott at his best, Clayton lavishes the film in striking detail and mood with a script that never strays into any blind alleys.

Innocents 1961 title card

Unwilling to raise his orphaned niece and nephew, a London based man about town (Michael Redgrave) interviews Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) for the position. Inexperienced as a governess, Miss Giddens seems to care enough about children for an uncle seeking a speedy replacement for the previous governess Miss Jessel, who has died. Sent to his country estate in Bly — which her employer describes as “a rather large, a rather lonely place” — Miss Giddens is relieved to get along so well with her adventurous young charge Flora (Pamela Franklin). The genial housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins) confirms that like their uncle, the children can be quite charming and persuasive. When Flora’s brother Miles (Martin Stephens) is suddenly expelled from boarding school, he arrives at Bly for the summer, just as his sister oddly mentioned he would the night before.

Strange things begin to occur at Bly. Under glare of the sun, Miss Giddens spots a man watching her from a tower top. Climbing the stairs, she finds Miles playing there, alone; Mrs. Grose claims that other than two maids and a gardener, no one else shares the estate with them. Playing hide and seek with the children, Miss Giddens glimpses a woman wandering the corridor and while hiding downstairs, she comes face to face with the apparition she spotted on the tower, peering at her through a window. The man she describes to Mrs. Grose is confirmed to be Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde), an ill-tempered valet who suffered a fatal fall outside that window. Discovering that Miss Jessel drowned herself after Quint’s death, Miss Giddens becomes convinced that the spirits have taken possession of the children in a bid to be reunited from beyond the grave.

Innocents 1961 Michael Redgrave Deborah Kerr

Innocents 1961

Innocents 1961 Pamela Franklin Megs Jenkins Deborah Kerr

Innocents 1961 Pamela Franklin

Innocents 1961 Megs Jenkins Martin Stephens Pamela Franklin Deborah Kerr

Innocents 1961 Deborah Kerr

Innocents 1961 Deborah Kerr

Innocents 1961 Deborah Kerr Megs Jenkins

Innocents 1961 Martin Stephens Deborah Kerr Pamela Franklin

Innocents 1961 Martin Stephens

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 130 users: 86% for The Innocents

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Brother/sister relationship · Dreams and visions · Midlife crisis · Murder mystery · Paranoia · Supernatural · Woman in jeopardy

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Steve W // Jul 8, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    A great horror movie, no doubt, and a terrific double-bill with the better known “The Haunting.” Freddie Francis was one of the great English cinematographers, and I love his lush, sinister, widescreen compositions. Deborah Kerr was never better. Amenabar’s “The Others” owes much in style and substance to this movie.

  • 2 kelsy // Jul 9, 2010 at 12:37 am

    I love the mood of this movie, and I love that you have a picture of my favorite creepy scene: when Miss Gidden’s spots the spirit through the window.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Jul 9, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Steve: Because I thought I had imagined it, Alejandro Amenabar talks briefly about how The Innocents influenced The Others, which I thought was sensational and the last time Nicole Kidman blew my socks off in a movie. Thanks for commenting!

    Kelsy: If I owned a manor I would not hire Peter Quint to be my valet. He has one funky looking mug. I’m so glad I discovered that you have a sweet spot for British horror movies. Thanks for chiming in!

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