Synopsis

In Victorian England, the uncle (Sir Michael Redgrave) of orphaned niece Flora (Pamela Franklin) and nephew Miles (Martin Stephens) hires Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) as governess to raise the children at his estate with total independence and authority. Soon after her arrival, Miss Giddens comes to believe that the spirits of the former governess Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) and valet Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) are possessing the children. Miss Giddens decides to help the children to face and exorcise the spirits.

Director

Jack Clayton

Cast

Deborah Kerr
as Miss Giddens
Peter Wyngarde
as Peter Quint
Megs Jenkins
as Mrs. Grose
Clytie Jessop
as Miss Jessel

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by jemmytee N/A

Ghost story or psychological study? Who can say?

"The Innocents" is one of those films that prove subtlety and imagination can be ten times more terrifying than loud noises or things that go bump in the night. There are no raging spirits or escaped madmen here. Nor will you find that stock of today's second rate horror films -- the creature that embodies evil and finds amazingly obscure ways in which to slaughter naughty teenagers. No, this movie scars one's psyche with darkness and silence and possibility, all mingled with its refusal to give the audience an easy answer at the end.

Based on Henry James' novella, "The Turn Of The Screw," the story is deceptively simple. An inexperienced governess is hired to care for two orphaned children in an isolated British manor and slowly comes to believe the ghosts of the previous governess and her brutish lover are trying to possess the children's souls. Being a decent woman "who loves children," she fights back the only way she can -- by confronting the evil head on. But the question is, does the evil truly exist...or is it all in her own mind?

As told by James, the novella is a startling ghost story, without question. He adds his usual psychological insights to the characters, but never do you doubt the ghosts exist. The defining moment comes when Miss Giddens sees Quint's face in a dark window then later finds a locket bearing his portrait and comes to her realization, "Oh, he's a ghost!" But in the movie, Truman Capote and William Archibald reverse this sequence -- she finds the locket first and THEN sees the man's face in the window -- and all simple explanations go out the door.

Is Miss Giddens imagining things? Has she become overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising two precocious children without any sort of support from their selfish uncle? Is she merely sexually repressed and immature enough to transfer her crush on the uncle to a boy not even into puberty yet? And what of Flora, Miles' sister? If this is merely sexual repression on Miss Giddens' part, then why does she drag a little girl into the morass? Throughout the film, Miss Giddens offers evidence of her concerns -- a letter received from Miles' schoolmaster that she cannot fully share with Mrs. Grose because the woman cannot read; her awareness that the two innocents in her charge have a far more advanced knowledge of life than children that age normally would; stories told by Mrs. Grose about Miss Jessel and Quint and how they treated the children. So could it be the spirits of two miserable adults have come back to reclaim life in the persons of Miles and Flora? It could go either way.

There is not one wrong moment in this movie. Not one. The first time I saw it was in New York City on a double bill with "The Haunting" (1963), a "things that go bump in the night" kind of movie. The audience and I howled through that one, it was so much silly fun. And we chuckled through the first ten minutes of "The Innocents" (especially when Mrs. Grose tells Miss Giddens, "I'm SO glad you're here," with a little quiver in her voice), but by the end of that film (and I use the word "film" deliberately), the entire theater was dead silent. Any film that can shut up a room full of rowdy New Yorkers has got to be damned good.

So...is "The Innocents" a ghost story or psychological study? Who can say? And to be honest, who cares? It is, at the very least, a damned good movie...and at the very best, a horror story that makes "The Shining," "Rosemary's Baby," "The Others" and even "Psycho" (a movie I love) look like the works of children. That this film is not available on DVD is a travesty.

Reviewed by gavin6942 8 /10

A Classic Horror With Atmosphere

Based on the novella "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James, a young governess (Deborah Kerr) for two children becomes convinced that the house and grounds are haunted.

As outsiders looking in as voyeurs, we are left wondering about what the governess sees: are the children possessed? Or perhaps they have become friends with ghosts? Or is the governess simply paranoid? The film keeps us guessing, which only adds to its creepiness.

This title has the distinction of featuring the debut of Pamela Franklin, here playing the child Flora, who would later be memorable in "The Legend of Hell House". She expertly presents herself as innocent (hence the title) while saying creepy lines such as, "Oh, look, a lovely spider! And it's eating a butterfly." Did this inspire Jack Hill's "Spider Baby"?

The film has received wide critical acclaim for its psychological thrills and also its technological achievements (cinematographer Freddie Francis made the lightning his number one focus, and also shot the film in layers, giving it a deeper look than most movies). No less than Martin Scorsese has listed it among the greatest horror films ever made.

Freddie Francis is in top form here, coming off his Oscar win for "Sons and Lovers" (1960). His mark on the horror genre would only increase in the following years, as he took the director's chair for Amicus and Hammer numerous times in the 60s and 70s.

Reviewed by fertilecelluloid 9 /10

Horror that is the cinematic equivalent of rising damp

Director Jack Clayton's masterpiece is a study of deepest dread. Its horror is the cinematic equivalent of rising damp.

Deborah Kerr accepts a job as the governess of two strange children (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin) and becomes convinced that they occupy a world haunted by repressed memories and the restless dead.

Martin Stephens' performance as the unfathomable Miles is extraordinary. The child projects a physical authority rare for his years. His dialog exchanges with Kerr run the gamut from highly amusing to deeply disturbing.

Clayton's greatest achievement is the way he subverts common household settings to the point where they become arenas of fear.

The sound design is chilling, conjuring sudden terror and thrusting us into the complex mechanics of the Kerr character's growing paranoia.

Strikingly shot and lit, the film is a textbook example of grave cinematic suggestion.

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