Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Innocents

THE INNOCENTS was a key movie for me in 1961, being all of 15 at the time. It was the scariest thing since PSYCHO. Over the years its subtle pleasures have increased and its certainly for me the best version of the Henry James Story.
Jack Clayton's direction, the screenplay by John Mortimer and Truman Capote and Freddie Francis's camerawork [he also shot Lynch's THE ELEPHANT MAN] all create this masterwork of eerie suspense. Deborah Kerr delivers one of her best performances as Miss Giddens, the governess persuaded by Michael Redgrave’s Uncle to take on the task of looking after his two charges who live deep in the country. Bly, the estate, becomes an eerie, mysterious place with all that lush vegetation and that lake. Mrs Grose, the house-keeper (Megs Jenkins) is pleased there is a new governess, and the two children Miles and Flora initially enchant Miss Giddens. Miles has got himself sent home from school. The power of suggestion is perfectly utilised here as Miss Giddens begins to suspect that her charges are far from innocent, and the apparitions of Quint and Miss Jessel become bolder. But is it all in her fevered imagination? There are two logical interpretations: the governess is slowly going mad, or the estate is haunted and if it is are the children in on it? Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin are both brilliant as the precocious Miles and Flora [Stevens had already played Kerr's son in a very forgettable 1959 comedy COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS]. Sound is used brilliantly too with that song that Flora sings and that first ghostly appearance by the lake (below).

There was a new version [“The Turn of the Screw”, the title of Henry James’ story] last year from the BBC, one of their “re-imagining the story for a new audience” adaptations (like their recent laughably inept, radically changed and widely derided remake of “The 39 Steps”), that firmly suggested the Governess imagined it all, with those naked all too physical ghosts copulating in the bedrooms, and it begins and ends with her in a mental hospital telling it all to doctor Dan Stephens. This was updated to 1920 which didn't work at all - it needs that Victorian Gothic ambience - but was presumably to show her frustrations due to the lack of young men after the great war. It seems to play it both ways though with a more knowing, sly Mrs Grose (Sheila Johnston) and suggesting the demons win at the end as a new governess arrives....

Forty years on though the original is the one to see and it will keep on enthralling us (unlike that silly BBC version). There is enough evidence in the film to suggest that Miss Giddens is not just imagining things or has lost her mind, unlike the more ambiguous Henry James novel. There is now a good dvd transfer from the BFI.

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