Are Deborah Kerr’s latest charges as innocent as they seem?
Miss Giddens, a governess and clergyman’s daughter takes on her first job looking after two young children in a secluded country estate.
The Innocents (1961) – Trailer, BFI Trailers, http://www.youtube.com
1961 was a year for some fantastic movies and also the births of some amazing future movie stars. So with this wealth of talent on offer, I signed up for Movie Movie Blog Blog’s Birthday inspired blogathon. Kinda ironically I’d just added my film choice of West Side Story (1961) for another blogathon, as a film released in this year. On reading more on this year in film, I dallied with film choices including Burn After Reading (2008) this one of my movie favourites of all time. It has a great Coen Brothers ensemble cast of somebodies including George Clooney, who was born in this year. However in the end, I chose a much acclaimed psychological horror film, The Innocents (1961). With the bonus of it starring a much-loved, Golden Hollywood leading lady, Deborah Kerr.
The Innocents has Kerr donning her late 1900s Victorian styled frocks once more and returning to her governess role. This in The King and I (1956) opposite Yul Brynner, a much cherished 1950s musical. Here I remember her
singing lipsynching and dancing in her governess role (as Anna, governess to the King of Siam’s children) with great affection. As compared with that dire, dream dance sequence with Brynner’s cameo in 1973’s Westworld‘s sequel, Futureworld (1976) I’d advise seeing Futureworld a long time after any of his movies before this. As it may ruin your image of Brynner forever as he is seen lassoing Miss Danner in their erm, romantic sequence. Anyway more on The Innocents movie…
Anyway onto the plot…. Before the opening credits, a haunting song is heard, namely O Willow Waly, Til My Lover returns to me. This in the credited, Isla Cameron’s solo, with no music and telling of a deeply sad woman now suicidal and alone. Bereft, she hopes to be reunited with her dead love. And who she now hopes to return to her love in death. After to the darkness of the lyrics of this ballad, the credits are shown, with film shots of Kerr are seen and heard of a dimly lit and rambling to herself. Kerr appearing alone, vulnerable and upset, as she wrestles with her thoughts and conscience in prayer.
The film starts with a character simply credited as The Uncle (Redgrave) – in his five minutes of The Innocents fame – as a wealthy bachelor about town. As Uncle to the orphaned, Flora (Pamela Frankin) and Miles (Martin Stephens), he wants a governess who’ll look after the children and not bother him about them. At all. And for any reason, as he has no room in his life for children, even as relatives. This governess post would mean taking full responsibility for them. He says this almost charmingly, which is a wee bit sinister tbh. And despite her inexperience, he employs Miss Giddens (Kerr). She agrees to this role and travels to the Bly country estate to take on her new – and first role – as governess.
On route to the isolated, Gothic country house, it seems in an idyllic setting with a lake in it’s beautiful grounds. Giddens meets and forms a good relationship with housekeeper Mrs Grose (Jenkins). We meet the first of her charges wee Flora, who is a terribly lovely English child. And initially Flora seems a wee bit too squeaky clean for my liking, and almost like she’ll grow up to be one of The Stepford Wives (1975). Anyway, wee Flora charms the socks of Miss Giddens, as the two click immediately. So far so good, then it’s revealed that Miles, her older brother is returning. With a letter saying he’s been expelled from school. However this mature boy, is just as sweet – but to me as oddly disturbingly as English and twee as his sibling – and its hard for Miss Giddens to see him as “the bad influence” on his peers he’s supposed to be. But wee Miles is a wee bit creepily flirty with Giddens.
After time, Giddens becomes concerned for the children’s welfare after her belief that she sees two people in the grounds, of a man and a woman. These, along hearing disembodied voices and along with the intense closeness of the children excluding her from their conversations, add to her worry. And after finding a picture of the man she’s seen, Miles reciting a poem of a man rising from his grave and speaking with Mrs Grose about it, Giddens fears for the worst.
She feels these people are apparitions and ghosts of the former valet, Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and his lover, Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop). With Miss Jessel as Miss Gidden’s predecessor as the children’s governess. And Mrs Grose tells her that Quint and Jessel were in an abusive relationship, in which its suggested they made love inappropriately in front of others working in the house. It is inferred this behaviour may have be seen by the children. A drunken Quint died accidentally, with Miss Jessel drowning herself in the lake in a depressive state after his death. Giddens now fearing they are possessing the children, after their untimely deaths. And the ghostly pair resuming their relationship through the children. Her fears reach a climax, with Mrs Grose not believing her concerns. Then Miles kisses her passionately after a telling off for walking alone in the grounds…
The Innocents was based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. The plot and the screenplay adapted by William Archibald and Truman Capote. These authors changing the premise where was suggested that Miss Giddens was experiencing frightening delusions surrounding her charges, rather than the original’s paranormal reality. However on watching the film, I feel that it is quite ambiguous in nature in events throughout the film, and open to your own interpretation of events.
The Innocents was filmed deliberately in black and white which adds to this chilling ambience, which I believe would be lost in a colorised version of this film. The use of objects and people appearing and disappearing almost randomly combined with barely lit sets add to this terrifying theme. This increases as the intensity of Gidden’s unreal thoughts magnify. And these seen to terrifying proportions as if we are with Giddens in her angst and solitude in her thoughts. This reminding me of the scenes in Shutter Island (2010) – reviewed here – where Federal Marshall Teddy Daniels is convinced that he will find the escaped patient he seeks in Shutter Island hospital’s remote lighthouse.
The pioneering use of synthesiser music and the spooky musical score complement the film’s governess’ perceived terror. The use of the song, O Willow Waly, (Til My Lover Returns to Me) is heard throughout the movie. On two occasions, it is sung by wee Flora and heard in a music box. The nature of it’s lyrical content, then becomes more disturbing as it add support to Giddens apparent strange beliefs. And with wee Flora singing this, it almost incongruous with her character as a young child, as an adult themed lament. But with this music played in Flora’s music box, this alternatively showing her childlike innocence.
Like Sleuth (1972) this film has an incredibly wee cast with just a few characters with three appearing all too briefly adds to the feelings of intensity and claustrophobia. With Kerr acting opposite Meg Jenkins – remembered also fondly of the musical Oliver! (1968) – and the patriarch of the Redgrave clan, Michael Redgrave. The children in the cast came from classic horror films, with Stephens in Village of the Dammed (1960) or grew up to memorable roles, Franklin in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969).
I was shocked to learn this classically acclaimed movie inspired a colour, 1971 prequel. This film, The Nightcomers was directed by Michael Winner. Starring one of films oddest collaborations with the cast of Stephanie Beacham (as Miss Jessel), Thora Hird (as Mrs Grose) and Marlon Brando (as Quint). In contrast with this film, the casting seems quite twee and reserved. With Flora and Miles played by older children.
Off screen, The Innocents then like a description which could quite possibly describe the cast and crew making this 1961 movie, as after hearing of the almost absurd 1971 prequel and seeing its trailer. But I could be wrong in assuming it will go in my guilty pleasures page. But until I review it this year its a case of the innocents until proven guilty.
Weeper Rating: 0/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂🙂 🙂10
Hulk Rating: /10
Bonus Trailer: No
This film review was added to Movie Movie Blog Blog’s 1961 blogathon and Hollywood Genes’ Always A Bridesmaid Film Blogathon. Other posts on this site with this cast include Kerr in 5 Golden Hollywood Greats and An Affair to Remember. Kerr also appears in a The King and I post.
Meg Jenkins appears in posts of Oliver, Tiger Bay and Asylum. Reviews of film and TV which at one time featured Peter Wyngarde include Doctor Who (1984) and One Step Beyond (1961). Pamela Franklin starred in episodes of Fantasy Island, The Love Boat and Thriller.