Review: The Innocents (1961)



Jack Clayton
William Archibald, Truman Capote (Novel: Henry James)
100 min.
Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde, Megs Jenkins, Michael Redgrave, Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Clytie Jessop, Isla Cameron
MPAA Rating

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Source Material

The greatest horror films frequently never used blood as a tool. The Innocents is one of those classic horror flicks that worked its magic without having to resort to violence.

Deborah Kerr takes on the role of Miss Giddens, a young woman seeking a position as a governess. Her interview with the uncle (Michael Redgrave) of two small children leads to her employment at a vast, countryside estate. The two children, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin) will be her charges and she’s given full control over resolving any situation. She is lent support by the house’s chief housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins) who possesses the trait all great domestics do: a knowledge of all that goes on, even if her ethics prevent her from interfering.

Miles is off at boarding school when the film begins allowing Miss Giddens to get to know Flora. Flora exhibits some abnormal behavior, but it’s not until she receives a letter from Miles’ school that he is being sent home due to behavior that threatens the students, that she begins to suspect something more sinister. She believes the children to be haunted or even possessed by the spirits of two late employees of the estate. The valet Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) drunkenly slipped on a patch of ice at the estate and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), the kids’ previous governess, threw herself into the lake out of remorse.

The story is told quite effectively using light and shadows to create dimension and space, and to trick the mind into seeing things that may not be possible. The audience is never sure whether the manifestations are real or creations of Miss Giddens’ mind. Even at the end of the film, the audience is left to make a decision about her actions and the events that have led to it. Kerr lends immeasurable skill to the story allowing the audience to form certain opinions, yet never fully trust her emotional or mental fortitude. While this is a performance I’ve seen done many, and better times: Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight, Nicole Kidman in The Others and Belén Rueda in The Orphanage, there’s no doubt she ranks with them. You might even say that Kidman and Rueda owe a lot of their success to Kerr’s performance.

And to have found two children so effective at their task as Stephens and Franklin seemed to be a great stroke of luck. So many children thrust into mature roles in recent years have been allowed to replace performance with witticism. They believe that a child who speaks like an adult will be convincing portraying a wise child, but even the best of these can’t hold a candle to these two kids. Matter of fact, there are only a couple of children in the last several years that have really impressed me the way these two kids have. The first is AnnaSophia Robb from A Bridge to Terabithia and the other was Elle Fanning in several films. That’s not to dismiss a lot of talented child actors working today, or even in the history of film, but these two kids were chillingly effective.

The film also uses a number of old-fashioned (even for 1961) camera and editing techniques including double exposure to layer certain images on top of others providing the idea that certain memories are weighing heavily on other scenes, and sound effects and music that enhance the action of the film and help provide the necessary chills and thrills. Several times, when a mysterious figure enters the view of the camera through a foggy pain of glass, the right aural stimuli enhances the scene.

The Innocents isn’t the kind of film that’s on a lot of modern audience’s minds, but they do owe it to themselves to check out this thrilling work if for no other reason than to see how things were done and how much of an influence this style of filmmaking has had on modern horror directors.
Review Written
April 24, 2011

1 Comment

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  1. A masterly film that has got better over the years.There is an ambiguous element of sexual tension at places that may instead be supernatural.These elements are never resolved and that is part of the appeal of this very british film.It is small wonder that year after year that this has been considered to be one of the top films of this type ever to have come out of the UK.

    The black and white photography reminds one of just how effective it can be and the film has great beauty and visual depth that pulls you into its dark and disturbing heart from a postion that first seduces with its visual richness and texture and then frightens as you are absorbed.

    If you have not seen this film before do so soon.See it several times and more.You will be the richer for having experienced it.

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