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"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.
All great films engage us to lesser or greater degree: some
emotionally, some intellectually -- a few, equally.
No film in history, to my memory, seduces the viewer into actively co-creating the piece as it unreels, as does "The Innocents." Immediately, vividly, and subtly, it arrests then implicates the viewer in every frame.
Its first "image," in fact, is a blank (black) screen -- and the haunting sound of a child's song. Instantly, viewers unconsciously react, emotionally (as to all music), to the beguiling yet off-putting song and the voice. Emotional tension, established immediately.
Yet, one's mind never stops producing thoughts and images. So, without any visual cues from the screen, the haunting song produces images in viewers' own minds -- each no doubt different. Already, then, viewers are seduced into supplying their own mental images and, whether they know it yet or not, have been brilliantly and subliminally placed in the Deborah Kerr role. This, before a single production credit has appeared. We are watching a shadow: a nothing. And our minds demand we fill it with something.
Thus does Jack Clayton's astonishing "The Innocents" begin. Certainly, other films have used the same opening device. But none with "The Innocents'" payoff.
For, as it develops (based on Henry James', "The Turn of the Screw"), "The Innocents'" themes are, "What do you see? What do you believe is true? Is it? Who is 'innocent?' The children? The nanny? You?" The emotional undertow is inescapable, perhaps more so because two-thirds of the trio of protagonists are "children in peril," always a surefire hook.
But "in peril" from what, exactly? Deborah Kerr's possible paranoia / schizophrenia? Ghosts? Or our own powerful, perhaps lurid, imaginings of what may or may not have happened to these children from their deceased and perhaps sexually perverse tutors? The children's memories or imaginings of what did or didn't happen? The film unfolds with some of the most beautiful cinematography in history (Freddie Francis). "The Innocents" requires full-size screening, or at least letterboxing to fully appreciate the visual poetry supporting the suspense.
Jack Clayton's production and direction rank among the finest in screen history.
The miraculous work he pulls from his cast is uniformly jaw-dropping.
Despite Deborah Kerr's ravishing natural beauty, one never recalls even a single performance in which she was "Deobrah Kerr": she was always the character -- whether a nun ("Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison"), an adulterous sexpot ("From Here to Eternity"), a Tennessee Williams underdog ("Night of the Iguana"), a strong-willed soprano-singing teacher ("The King and I") or a romantic comedienne ("An Affair to Remember").
Contrast Kerr's beauty, talent and career with Elizabeth Taylor, say. Equally ravishing, one was always aware of watching Miss Taylor "act." Even in stunt casting, like her Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" or the debacle of "Cleopatra." Miss Kerr is the real thing. So are Megs Jenkins (Mrs. Grose), Martin Stephens (Miles) and Pamela Franklin (Flora).
The story and filming progressively grow more audacious, until the last heartbreaking sequence between Kerr and young Stephens.
By then, of course, our hearts and minds are so thoroughly complicit in the goings on that the final cry heard on the soundtrack, before we are left again in the blank, black void of our own hearts and imaginings at all we've just lived through, before credits begin to roll, leaves us with perhaps the most haunting of all cinematic experiences.
Why? Because we have made the film as it went along, as fully involved as any character in it -- our own minds contributing all that's unspoken and unseen.
"The Innocents" is the "Citizen Kane" of its genre. And like "Citizen Kane," it transcends genres.
This is an immortal achievement by a team of filmic artists at their peaks. A revelation of what film can be.
What makes a good chiller? Gore, special effects? No, as director Jack Clayton proves here, it's atmosphere, combined with the sounds of horror, that makes the difference. Granted, I've seen just about every Elm Street and Friday the 13th instalment, but "The Innocents" proves that what you don't see can scare you the most. Deborah Kerr is in fine form as an English governess who is sent to a remote mansion in the country to look after two young orphans. Their "uncle" in London doesn't have time for them. Kerr slowly begins to realize there's something not quite right with the young boy and girl. Their thoughts and actions are not consistent with the behavior of pre-teens. There's a dark secret, and Kerr sets out to discover it. We do see the ghosts, but it's when Kerr searches the house for the sources of strange noises and voices that we really feel a chill. "The Innocents" also makes great use of its black and white photography. I can't imagine it working as well in color (are you listening, Gus Van Sant?). Shadows just seem creepier in black and white. The children are well played by Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin. Franklin was 11 when she made this film, and as an adult she would go on to star in another excellent haunted house movie, "The Legend of Hell House." It's a shame that Hollywood has stopped making movies like "The Innocents." Perhaps audiences used to Halloween-style slashers, "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" would be demanding blood and guts. Yes, "Scream" was, pardon the pun, a cut above. It raised the slumping horror bar to new heights, and then "I Know..." ran under that bar, but that's another story. If you want genuine chills rather than cheap thrills, you can't do much better than "The Innocents."
Miss Giddens, an uptight but pretty young woman, takes a job as a
Governess for two orphans on a grandiose estate in the English
countryside. Flora and Miles seem like thoroughly innocent and angelic
children, but soon, whispers of corruption begin to materialize. Miles
is expelled from school for reasons he is reluctant to discuss. Miss
Giddens learns of the fate of the prior governess, a masochistic young
woman named Miss Jessel who was having an affair with a sadistic man
named Quint. Soon, Miss Giddens is seeing the ghosts of the arrogantly
handsome Quint and the forlorn Miss Jessel everywhere and comes to
believe that the children have been possessed. But is she only
imagining these horrors? And will she destroy the children in her
attempt to save them?
This movie is creepy, claustrophobic and totally paranoid. Filmed in moody black and white with an almost non-existent musical score (other than the chilling song "Willow Waylee" sung in a child's voice over the opening credits and throughout the film) "The Innocents" is a flawless suspense drama. I hesitate to call it a ghost story, as the presence of the ghosts is never confirmed (or denied, for that matter.) Nor is the sanity of the main character. Is the prim English Governess (played with classic elegance by Deborah Kerr) simply an uptight prude having obscene fantasies, or are the two children she's caring for really possessed by the evil and perverted spirits of the former governess and her sadistic lover? There's no gore, no stupid incidental music, no insufferably adorable children and no happy ending. Unspoken horrors, dark secrets and things that "decent people" don't discuss, fill this film with sick shadows and diseased memories. Whether or not the ghosts exist is a moot point by films end. This film is about corruption and perversion. Indeed, there are no "Innocents" in this film...only the facade of innocence, a flimsy backdrop of beauty drawn over the ugly, festering truth. But what IS the truth?
This film is a masterpiece of dread and still has the power to disturb even some forty years later. I would highly recommend it to ghost enthusiasts and psych majors alike!
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.
Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), a nineteenth century British governess, is
appointed to take care of two children, Flora (Pamela Franklin) and Miles
(Martin Stephens). Upon arriving at the bleak mansion she meets the
housekeeper (Megs Jenkins) and also Flora. Miles arrives a few days later
from school. The children seem like little angels but, following a series of
bizarre events and examples of the children's wicked impulses, Miss Giddens
begins to suspect that all is not what it seems.
This dark and atmospheric tale is a wonderful example of how to create an admirable horror movie that, although has violent undertones, features very little violence when all is said and done. The Innocents' is certainly a psychological horror movie which leaves in doubt how much of the inexplicable happenings are supernatural, and how much is in the mind of the protagonist, Miss Giddens. Director Jack Clayton uses some astonishing visual trickery and ghostly effects to create and maintain a very unsettling atmosphere, almost from the very beginning. A number of effective ghostly apparitions are displayed on screen during the movie from varying distances which gives The Innocents' a constant, foreboding atmosphere. The way some scene changes blend with the end of the previous scene are rather disconcerting and almost dream like as there are long lingering images, once again, wholly adding to the effect. Some of the dialogue may seem a little unrealistic, but in general the movie is well scripted and features a few very dramatic scenes thanks to some delightfully written dialogue and strong acting performances. William Archibald and Truman Capote both won awards for their script writing.
The only real fault with The Innocents' is how fast the film moves along. Miss Giddens seems to realise the truth of what is happening all too quickly. This does not make The Innocents' less enjoyable, but it would have been nice to have had an extra ten minutes or so explaining the story to us a bit more. The Innocents' has a sustained tone of dread throughout the movie. It seems that Miss Giddens is unable to move without being confronted by some spectre or seeing some rather peculiar behaviour exhibited from the children. I'd compare the dark atmosphere with that of The Haunting' (1963), both movies are comparable in the way they are presented and are both aesthetically pleasing. The acting was of a high standard, though one must forgive the two young performers if they occasionally seemed to overact. Martin Stephens was very good as Miles, playing his sinister part with an awful power, even though the character's superciliousness became somewhat of an annoyance. Megs Jenkins was also delightful as the anxious housekeeper Mrs. Grose. From the moment Mrs. Grose is first introduced the viewer can begin to suspect something. Jenkins came across as a friendly, but scared, woman who is desperate to maintain decorum in the house. A fine performance suited her character marvellously. One must also mention Deborah Kerr's fine performance as Miss Giddens as she played it with the right balance of inquisitiveness and fear. Deborah's dramatic performance certainly helped make this movie fantastic and one sympathises with her deeply as the film ends on the sombre and heartbreaking note that it does.
The Innocents' is an elegant and stylish movie that is certainly worth watching. Fans of The Omen' and Village of the Damned' should enjoy this as well as any fan of dark, atmospheric horror. A strong screenplay, fine performances and breathtaking visual trickery make this movie a very pleasing addition to the horror genre and I highly recommend it to all. The Innocents' was able to scoop a BAFTA Award (British Academy of Film and Television Awards) for Best British Film as well as a BAFTA nomination for Jack Clayton which he thoroughly deserved. My rating for The Innocents' - 8/10.
The Innocents is a film that has haunted me ever since I first saw it. Staggering, brilliant, masterful, The Innocents is the Rolls Royce of ghost stories. From the unforgettable camerawork by Freddie Francis to the incisive, beautiful direction by Jack Clayton to the brilliant performance by Deborah Kerr, The Innocents works on a thousand levels. This is a film for anyone who truly wants to see brilliance in its purest form. Any director who wants to make a suspense/horror piece that counts, see this film now. If you can, don't see the pan and scan version -- it was shot in black and white Cinemascope and should be viewed that way -- Letterboxed. Let's hope 20th Century Fox put it out on DVD. It is available on Laser Disc is a beautiful letterbox transfer. But if you get the opportunity to see it on a screen -- RUN. A film that lingers in the mind for decades to come. What more could you ask from a film?..............................
They sure don't make movies like this one anymore. This is one of the
few horror movies that does not have gory or graphic images in it.
Instead, the spooks in this movie are presented in a subtle way....yet,
the movie is quite scary. This is the type of horror movie that I like,
one in which every now and then you see a frightening image or a
startling scene, and that image or scene lingers in your mind.
Everything about this movie is haunting. First, there's the song at the beginning: you hear a young girl's voice singing a beautiful yet somber song. Later you hear that song in several scenes in the movie.
Second, there's the setting: this movie takes place in a large Victorian mansion with many rooms and passages, while only about eight people live in it....what could be more eerie than that?
Then there's the exceptional cinematography. The black-and-white photography is perfect for this movie. This movie would not have been too creepy if it had been done in color. Further, many of the shots were innovative and the lighting was used ingeniously in some of the scenes.
Additionally, I liked the way that the director chose to play around with the sound, which brought more of an element of mystery to the movie. In one particular scene, there was a lot of noise initially....and in a split second there was dead silence....then several seconds later, it was noisy all over again (all in the same scene).
But what I think is the most interesting thing about this movie is the fantastic performance by Deborah Kerr. It's fascinating to watch her facial expressions in this movie. She demonstrates her character's fear quite well.
I also think that the actor who plays Quint is very scary-looking! He has a very sinister look, and it adds to the spookiness of this movie. If you really want to be spooked by this movie, watch it late at night with all of the lights off....dare to watch it by yourself.
Jack Clayton's sensitivity proves it, there is no need of blood and disgust to make a good creepy thriller! I saw many films in my life and I learned to love Bergman, Kubrick, Kieslowski, Leone, Allen, but I really believe that I enjoyed no other film as much as "The Innocents"! Outstanding cast and outstanding photographed! The music of Georges Auric is perfect (included an old death-yearning song "O willow waly"). If you ever go for a trip to England, go and see the wonderful location "Sheffield Park Garden in Sussex". This is not only an intelligent and incredible atmospheric film, it is a weird journey into a spiritual world. And perhaps Clayton's direction went too far, because unfortunately this gem never found an audience! After a novel "The turn of the screw" by Henry James. One more tip, if you ever have the chance to see this Cinemascope-film in a movie theater, do it! It really is overwhelming!!!
The Innocents is a masterpiece of atmospheric horror cinema. The
obvious influence for 2001's 'The Others', The Innocents portrays
themes of paranoia, death and madness; superbly wrapped around a
plethora of great performances from the four main leads.
The story revolves around an uncle who doesn't have time for the children he has inherited, and therefore hires Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) to look after them. When Miss Giddens arrives at the mansion, she first meets Flora, the young girl and is 'enchanted' by the child. A few days later the boy, Miles, arrives at the house after being expelled from school. The fourth lead is made up by the housekeeper, Mrs Grose; played by Meg Jenkins. From the housekeeper, Miss Giddens eventually learns of what happened to the previous occupants of the house, and that's where the fun starts...
Martin Stephens (Miles) and Pamela Franklin (Flora) do surprisingly good jobs as the two adorable young children that are the centre of the story. Their characters are portrayed as nice young children, but at the same time there is something sinister about them, and that is where the tale draws a lot of it's suspense and mystery from. Deborah Kerr also shines as the watcher of the children. We know from the outset that her character loves children, which makes her plight believable to the audience when she does all she can to save the children from the evil she believes is haunting them. We never really know what is happening in the movie; the children's viewpoints contradict that of Miss Giddens, and as there is evidence to support what both sides say, along with evidence to support that of the contrary, the mystery is able to build itself through this and that, therefore, along with the empathy we are able to feel for Mrs Giddens due to the nature of her character; the film is able to remain interesting and suspenseful for it's running time.
The thing that this film does best is in capturing a dark and foreboding atmosphere. Through the way the story is portrayed and the beautiful cinematography, Jack Clayton is able to create scenes and sequences that are genuinely frightening and suspenseful; less is more rarely works to a great effect, but here it does. The 'ghosts' have very little screen time, but the time they do have is powerful and memorable enough to make it seem like much more. The film's creepy and menacing atmosphere never delves into violence or gore and relies solely on the story itself and the Gothic, atmospheric setting; and that is much to the film's credit.
If you liked the slightly later 60's paranoid horror films, such as Carnival of Souls or The Haunting, then this film is definitely one to check out.
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