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As with many Winner films it is necessary to not make the mistake of expecting his film to be exactly as you expect, or very much like it at all actually. Forget Henry James, forget The Innocents and just enjoy Mr Winner's take on how the children lost their innocence. The SM and bondage scenes were more explicit than I remember on a previous viewing and it may be that the earlier video had been trimmed. Certainly here there is no mistaking the powerful relationship between Brando and Beacham and I for one found the playing out of these scenes by the children fairly powerful. I suppose the pace is a little slow which is perhaps particularly noticeable because of how quickly does the effective ending unfold. Not for purists but if you are looking for that something just a little bit different UPDATE 7.2.17 Just watched this again, on blu ray this time and enjoyed it even more. Once again I felt the bondage scenes more explicit than I remember from before! Funny thing memory.
Conceived as a prequel to The Turn Of The Screw, Winner's film is a curious
vehicle for Marlon Brando, as well as a example of a failed attempt to film
gothic, period drama satisfactorily. Brando plays Peter Quint, the sexually
aggressive former valet, now locum gardener at Bly House, an English county
estate. Bly is run jointly by housekeeper, Mrs Grose (Thora Hird), and a
governess, the repressed Miss Jessell (Stephanie Beacham). The only other
inhabitants of this curious domicile are two children, Miles (Christopher
Ellis) and Flora (Verna Harvey), nominally the wards of the absent Master of
the House (a splendid Harry Andrews), obliged with their care after the
death of their parents in an overseas automobile accident. The children
regard Quint as something of a surrogate father, and feel that they can
ingratiate themselves by manipulating his private life, notably his intense
relationship with Miss Jessell.
Jack Claytons The Innocents (1962) is the closest point of reference for Winner's effort, as the earlier film is the definitive telling of the Henry James tale, the events of which spring from this. Presumably the appointment, and despatch to Bly of the (unnamed) new governess at the film's end is that of Miss Giddings, the character played by Deborah Kerr. But where Clayton's film was completely successful in transmitting a feeling of supernatural unease and psychological dread, Winner's ham-fisted approach to his material comes across as almost entirely without atmosphere or charm. James' characters may act out their allotted parts in The Nightcomers, but its presentation of situation and personality veers uncertainly between the childhood gormlessness of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the compulsions of Lady Chatterley's Lover, as much as evoking any genuine atmosphere of psychic foreboding.
Perhaps such foreboding was the last thing the director had in mind. Brando of course regularly exudes magnetism, even in his less successful films, and the animal sexuality of the gardener towards the governess is one of the most dynamic things about Winner's film. UK TV viewers, used to seeing Beacham as the staple of such programmes as Tenko and Dynasty, will raise eyebrows as she gamely submits her buxom charms to Quint's hands - at one point hogtied and squirming in an impromptu Edwardian bondage session. Jessell despises herself, and yet craves what Quint brings during his nocturnal visits. These scenes, verging on the embarrassing for viewer and participants alike, at least provide vivid entertainment sadly missing elsewhere. Unfortunately such adult titillation also disrupts the progress of a film which required the screw turned of increasing tension and menace and proves a distraction from the growing relationship between Miles and Flora, the children at the centre of the film.
As rounded dramatic characters, the youngsters have a hard job convincing the audience. Alternating between school children's pranks, nascent sexuality, naïve hero-worship and psychosis, it is difficult to discover an internal consistency in their actions. The gauche imitations by Miles and Flora of Quint's sexual performance, including a 'bondage' session of their own, and Miles' announcement to the shocked interrogation of Mrs Grose afterwards ("I'll tell you exactly what we have been doing. We have been doing sex!") are an amusing diversion. And this imitation of the adult affair they have witnessed serves as an ironic parody of their elders, if it hardly prepares the viewer for their final, violent, actions. Accordingly our interest is reduced, and dramatic curiosity falls readily upon the relationship between Quint and Jessell, rather than the peculiar wards they shepherd.
Winner clearly thought so too, for his camera dwells too much on those headline adult liaisons for the film's good. This 'false' emphasis (no matter how good sex is for the box office) means that, when the children ultimately take matters into their own hands, events seem rather lame, their motivation too unconvincing and bald. The paramount influence of Quint of course goes some way to explaining the kids' increasingly odd behaviour, notably his announcement, taken on faith, that "if you love someone, sometimes you really want to kill them." But there is a world of difference between his power games with Miss Jessell and the children's attempts to retain them both in their service, as "the dead have nowhere to go." A handful more scenes of the children, talking through their convictions together, would have gone a long way.
Outside of problems with characterisation, many of the film's faults can be place at the door of Winner. Never the subtlest of directors, he was an odd choice to helm a project of this sort which required emotional tact and physical suggestion. Although the location filming at 'Bly' is effective enough, Winner's weakness for jerky zooms, for exploitation, his stiff direction of actors (only the method-trained Brando seems at ease, even with a faintly ludicrous Irish accent), as well as an over-insistent score, provided by the normally excellent Jerry Fielding, are distracting. Beecham and Hird perhaps saw the film as a stepping-stone to better things and do their best. Fresh from Last Tango In Paris, Brando carries over some of the appetites of Paul, his character in the previous production. The blunt Quint, however, is miles away from the sophisticates who inhabited Bertolucci's classic.
Perhaps in the hands of a flamboyant Ken Russell, or even a cool Terence Fisher, The Nightcomers would have congealed more into a worthwhile experience. As it is the film remains an uneven oddity: explicitly sexual between consenting adults, and confused and coy when it comes to those far more interesting shadows of psychology.
For the inscrutable yet precocious personalities of Miles and Flora
evident in the 1961 film 'The Innocents'. As well, the ghosts of that
movie are fleshed out nicely in this prequel. Quint is a morally
repugnant character, sadistic and controlling, but he's also darkly
magnetic as the corrupter of the lovely young governess who submits to
(and even embraces) his perverted ideas of sexuality. Together they are
fated to become the imprisoned souls that haunt the estate. Together
they have inflicted unknowable damage to the psyches of the children.
Brando is very good in the role of Quint. He gives the character a credibility and powerfulness that one would expect from a personality who will ultimately refuse to leave, even after his bizarre death. Few actors would be convincing enough to portray such a reprehensible protagonist and still be vaguely, mysteriously likable. That Brando can deliver this affect with legitimacy is not surprising, genius that he is. Another who might have been very interesting to watch in this role is Dirk Bogarde.
The director's visual styling of the film is it's most unfavorable aspect and prevents it from being excellent. In any case, this unusual little entry has always been a tad underrated. I suspect that now that Marlon has passed on an overdue re-assessment is likely.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of Marlon Brando's least-known films, 'The Nightcomers' is a prequel to 'The Turn of the Screw' and describes the events leading up to Henry James' famous ghost story.
Brando plays Peter Quint, the valet at the English country estate, Bly House, whose owners have recently died abroad in an automobile accident. Their children, Flora and Miles, see Quint as a fascinating source of knowledge and believe that everything he says to them is true. They are intrigued by his words and actions, often copying them with ultimately disastrous results. These re-enactments include acting out Quint and the governess, Miss Jessel's (Stephanie Beacham) bondage sessions.
The children all too literally accept Quint's claims that to hate is to love and that the dead remain where they are and meet as though still alive. They then attempt to apply their own logical conclusions to life at Bly House.
Brando gives a decent performance (with an Irish accent) in a role that, because of the dull script, is difficult to excel in and easy to mess up and he often resembles Richard Harris in 'This Sporting Life'. The success of the film is severely limited as it appears incomplete to those who haven't read the original story and it will disappoint those who have as the previously unexplained mystery that made 'The Turn of the Screw' so chilling has now been solved. This 'solution' is not helped by Michael Winner's rather bland direction and the wretched performance of Christopher Ellis as the young Miles.
It is difficult to see what attracted Brando to the idea of making a film that is often reminiscent of Hammer horror. Maybe it was the prospect of playing a character who causes a frog to explode by making it smoke a cigar.
A prequel to Henry James's ¨The turn of the screw¨ wherein a worker
named Peter Quint (Marlon Brando) trysts with the governess Miss Jessel
(Stephanie Beacham)of two malicious children named Miles and his
younger sister Flora (Harvey and Chris Ellis) who are in her care and
located at Bly manor.
Yet another special version of the Henry James classic with drama, tension, sexual games and splendid exteriors. Good performance from Marlon Brando as sadist Irish gardener and Stephanie Beacham as the young, too-impressionable governess and submitted to masochist relations with Quint, whom she thinks is corrupting the innocent kids . Furthermore the watchful and voyeurs children possessed by evil who think which lovers unite in death , they are finely played by Ellis and Harvey. And the housekeeper performed by Thora Hird who believes Peter Quint influence on the young children was thought to be malevolent. The film packs evocative photography in a good restoring by Robert Paynter and sensational musical score by Jerry Fielding. The picture is acceptably directed by Michael Winner. He had important commercial success in the mid-70 with his fetish actor, Charles Bronson , achieving various box-office hits, as ¨Deathwish I and II, furthermore ¨The mechanics¨ and ¨The stone killer¨.
Other adaptations about ¨Henry James' The turn of the screw¨ are the followings : Turn of the Screw (1974) by Dan Curtis with Lynn Redgrave; (1989) by Graeme Clifford with Amy Irving and David Hemmings; (1992) by Rutsy Lemorande with Patsy Kensit, Julian Sands and Stephane Audran; (1999) by Ben Bolt with Jodhi May, Pam Ferris and Colin Firth. And of course the classic and best version ,the incredibly eerie rendition titled ¨The innocents (61)¨ by Jack Clayton with Deborah Kerr, Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens where the protagonist begins to see the specters of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint .
In the Victorian England, the teenagers Flora (Verna Harvey) and her
brother Miles (Christopher Ellis) have just lost their parents in a car
accident in France. Their tutor (Harry Andrews) decides to leave the
children alone in their huge mansion under the care of the old
housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Thora Hird), the governess Miss Jessel
(Stephanie Beacham) and the gardener Peter Quint (Marlon Brando). Miles
and Flore are very connected to Peter, who misleads their education
with twisted concepts of love and death, but the orphans believe and
are fascinated by his knowledge. Peter is the lover of Jessel, and they
use to have sadomasochistic sex. When Peter sees their kink bondage
night of sex, he has a corrupted and perverted sexual initiation. When
Mrs. Grose writes to the master of the house to fire Miss Jessel and
Peter Quint, Flora and Miles plot a dark scheme to keep them together
in the property.
"The Nightcomers" is a very dark tale about finding sexuality and losing innocence in a very twisted way. The performances of the cast are top-notch, but Marlon Brando leads the story with his usual competence. I have never had the chance to read "Turn of the Screw" or see "The Innocents" to make any comparison, but I really liked this unknown and underrated movie. The bondage scenes are very impressive, with Marlon Brando and Stephanie Beacham showing a great chemistry. It is impressive to see that Verna Harvey was twenty-years old in 1972. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Os Que Chegam Com a Noite" ("The Nightcomers")
Prequel to Henry James' "The Turn Of the Screw" attempts to show how the two young British children at the center of that story became so disturbed. It turns out the creepy caretaker at their manor (Marlon Brando) seduced their passive nanny into an S&M relationship. Interesting concept, yet director Michael Winner's ham-fisted execution of the material is surely not inviting for an audience (it plays like an R-rated version of "The Innocents"). Damp, creepy atmospherics and a potentially engrossing narrative are each mitigated by Winner's sledgehammer style, which doesn't allow for anything loftier than shock moments (no psychological overtones here!). Soap buffs will be stunned to see ice queen Stephanie Beacham in such a role (although she does garner points for bravery). As for Brando, this is right in keeping with his repertoire of offbeat roles, and he seems to delight in the vulgarity. There's a streak of nastiness running through this film that isn't provocative--just repellent. *1/2 from ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Easily the best movie ever directed by Michael Winner...due in large
part to the stunning performance he coaxes out of Marlon Brando. He
plays Peter Quint, the surly British handyman-cum-deviant who destroys
the children of Henry James' THE TURN OF THE SCREW while violently
deflowering the children's tutor (a decidedly foxy Stephanie Beacham).
Brando and Beacham have real electricity. Beacham manages to hold her
own against the acting giant so it's a surprise that she never really
made it as a film actress.
It's an audacious, one of a kind film that's a must see for Brando fans. He gives a truly great performance at a time when most of Hollywood had written him off. He would rebound a year later with THE GODFATHER. Director Winner never did make anything nearly as good as this and was soon back to making the likes of DEATH WISH (various volumes) and of course the woefully ill-advised remake of THE BIG SLEEP.
Made at a time when Brando was doing very little on film (and when he did, could do no right, if one examines the reviews and box office returns of his films during this period), this prequel to "The Innocents" (which was based on Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw") has little going for it, but may still provide some interest to fans of his. Brando plays a valet whose employer and wife have died in India. The couple's two children come to live at their parents' estate and Brando stays on as a gardener/handyman. Also in residence is a persnickety maid (Hyrd) and a refined nanny/schoolteacher (Beacham.) These five form an uneasy existence with each other as the children hang on the earthy and repugnant Brando's every word and Brando repeatedly seduces Beacham with increasing sadomasochism. Hyrd tries to keep everyone in check to no avail. Finally, the machinations and misunderstandings culminate in a burst of violence, just in time for the story to peter out and set up for the beginning of the original. Brando is an acquired taste here. It's one of his performances in which it's the audience's duty (burden?) to figure out what he is doing and what he is saying. He's messy, flabby, often unintelligible and, naturally, self-indulgent. Nonetheless, fans of his may lap it up with relish. Beacham does a nice enough job, but can't hope to win any scenes up against the ACTING of Brando. The children (scarcely heard of again after this) are the typical bratty, snotty, unattractive, impossible kids that have been seen in countless British movies. The most interesting performance in the film is actually that of Hyrd. She brings a lot of variety and detail to her role of the housekeeper. Andrews pops up briefly and effectively as the children's' disinterested uncle. The film is stacked with unappetizing and repulsive scenes such as a frog being killed, a turtle being mistreated, chicken feathers being ripped out by hand and then, of course, the "arty" S&M sex scenes between Brando and Beacham. These tasteless (and rather boring) sequences don't illuminate the characters or entertain the audience and so are pretty pointless. There's a grain of interest in the material, but the sloppy direction and awkward script don't help keep it going. Stay awake for Beacham's hilarious final screen moment and for Brando's as well. Fortunately, for him, "The Godfather" was just around the corner.
Although the sets and cinematography are scrupulously suggestive of the
early 20th century in the United Kingdom and the performances quite
good, The Nightcomers never quite gels as a Gothic horror classic.
Maybe we see a bit too much of ourselves and don't like to think of the
implications of what we're watching.
The children of a wealthy British family are left orphaned by the deaths of their parents in a motor car crash. A cousin who is the closest relation to the father Harry Andrews is at the estate to tidy up affairs, but has no desire to stay there or act as a parent to these two. Never mind, they are amply provided for with cook and governess who are Thora Hird and Stephanie Beacham. The father had a valet played by Marlon Brando and since there is clearly no need for one now he's relegated to the gardener's duties.
Brando's delightful Irish gardener Quint bonds with the kids. He's full of blarney and charm, but that cheerful exterior hides a rather complex and sadistic being. The kids catch him and Beacham in some kind of bondage game as Brando initiates Beacham into the finer points sadomasochistic sex. Both children take careful notes. The kids are played by Christopher Ellis and Verna Harvey.
In the end what happens sets the stage for Henry James's classic Gothic horror tale The Turn Of The Screw. That was brought to the screen ten years earlier as The Innocents which starred Deborah Kerr as the new governess for the kids. According to The Nightcomers, The Innocents would be the last thing anyone would have entitled that film.
Fine performances, wonderful sets and cinematography, yet the film just lacks a spark to consider it a classic. Marlon Brando's fans will want to see it though.
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