Cast & Crew
Miss Giddens, a minister's daughter, is engaged in London by the master of Bly House as governess for his niece, Flora, and his nephew, Miles. She is greeted by Flora, a seemingly adorable child, and Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper. The first ominous indication that all is not as it seems is a letter from Miles' school explaining that he is being expelled for attempting to corrupt his fellow students. But when Miss Giddens meets the apparently angelic, well-mannered little boy, her anxiety disappears. As the days pass, Miss Giddens discovers that "others" are prowling about the estate--first a man, then a woman. When she describes the two people to the housekeeper, Miss Giddens is horrified to hear that she has identified a former manager, Quint, and a governess, Miss Jessel, both now deceased. Furthermore, she learns that the two "intangibles" not only had licentious relations with each other but in some horrible way perverted the children. She then realizes, or thinks she realizes, that they have returned to take possession of the children's souls. Convinced that Flora and Miles also see the haunting visions, Miss Giddens attempts to make them admit it. The employment of shock treatment for Flora only results in an hysterical outburst, and Mrs. Grose takes the child away from Bly House. Consoling herself with the thought that she has saved little Flora's soul, Miss Giddens embarks upon saving Miles. When she sees the face of Quint in the garden, Miss Giddens demands that Miles say the name of the man she is confident they both can see. The child finally screams "Quint," and then falls lifeless to the ground. Shattered, she takes the dead child in her arms and kisses him.
A. G. Ambler
The screenplay by Truman Capote was actually based on the 1950 stage adaptation by William Archibald and may be one reason Henry James purists find fault with the 1961 film version. The story of a governess, Miss Giddens, who is entrusted with the care of two small children, Flora and Miles, by their uncle at a remote country estate, James' novella creates a mood of dread and menace through the increasing anxiety of Miss Giddens who suspects that the children may be influenced and corrupted by the malevolent spirits of the deceased former governess, Miss Jessel, and caretaker Peter Quint of Bly House. The beauty of The Turn of the Screw is that you are never sure whether Miss Giddens is imaging the supernatural occurrences or whether they are actually happening. In The Innocents, there is never any doubt that Bly House is haunted - you see the ghosts. Yet a sense of mystery and ambivalence still exists regarding the children. Are they conduits for the evil spirits or truly innocent? Miss Giddens' obsession with discovering the truth brings a feverish intensity to the proceedings which is almost as chilling as the phantoms she seeks to exorcise.
In Conversations with Capote, conducted by Lawrence Grobel, the author recalled his involvement on The Innocents: "When it was offered to me to do it as a film, I said yes instantly, without rereading it...Then I let several weeks go by before I reread it and then I got the shock of my life. Because Henry James had pulled a fantastic trick in this book: it doesn't stand up anywhere. It has no plot! He's just pretending this and this and that. It was like the little Dutch boy with his fingers trying to keep the water from flooding out - I kept building up more plot, more characters, more scenes. In the entire book there were only two scenes performable."
Regardless of Capote's comments about Henry James' novella, he based the screenplay structure on the Archibald stage adaptation and added the Freudian subtext of Miss Giddens' repressed sexuality which surfaces in scenes of a disturbing erotic nature such as an uncomfortably long goodnight kiss between Miles and his governess. Playwright and screenwriter John Mortimer (Rumpole of the Bailey) is also credited with adding additional scenes and dialogue for The Innocents.
In the biography Deborah Kerr by Eric Braun, director Jack Clayton recalled how The Innocents and the casting of Deborah Kerr as Miss Giddens came about. "Deborah had one film to do for Twentieth Century [Fox], and so did I: that was the one we both wanted to do and which we had discussed when we met the previous year. I had admired her work in two films with that very underrated actor, Robert Mitchum - Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison , which showed her at her best without makeup, and The Sundowners , in which her freckles were so attractively in evidence."
Kerr remarked in the same biography on her performance: "I played it as if she were perfectly sane - whatever Jack wanted was fine; in my own mind, and following Henry James' writing in the original story, she was completely sane, but, because in my case the woman was younger and physically attractive - Flora Robson had played her wonderfully on the stage - it was quite possible that she was deeply frustrated, and it added another dimension that the whole thing could have been nurtured in her own imagination."
Filmed on locations in East Sussex, England and Shepperton Studios in Surrey, The Innocents proved to be a physically challenging role for Kerr. Clayton said, "To achieve what we wanted in the monochrome photography the arcs had to be of considerable intensity, and the atmosphere on the set, with fifteen "brutes" burning away, often stifling. During a long schedule, imprisoned in those voluminous Victorian dresses, she never complained, never showed a trace of the discomfort she had been feeling." She also had to do a scene that required numerous retakes where she had to carry Martin Stephens (who was cast as Miles) in her arms. She later revealed to the director that she had felt quite ill and feverish during that day of filming but never acknowledged it at the time.
Clayton discovered prior to production on The Innocents that the film needed to be shot in Cinemascope, a screen format he did not want to use. Luckily, he had one of the best cinematographers in the business working for him - Freddie Francis; they had previously collaborated on Room at the Top (1959). In The Horror People by John Brosnan, the cameraman recalled that, "...I had quite a lot of freedom, and I was able to influence the style of The Innocents. We worked out all sorts of things before the picture started, including special filters. I still think it was the best photography I've ever done - as much as I like Sons and Lovers  I think The Innocents was better, but you rarely get an Academy Award for a film that isn't successful no matter how good your work on it."
As strange as it seems now, The Innocents didn't receive any Oscar® nominations. It did garner international awards such as a Best British Film nod from the BAFTA and a Palme d'Or nomination at the Cannes Film Festival. Still, the film was not a box office success in the U.S. Francis said, "I'm sure Jack [Clayton] was terribly disappointed with the reaction that The Innocents received. He, unfortunately, gets terribly tied up in his films. Everybody, I'm sure, involved with it thought it was a great picture and I'm not completely sure what went wrong but I think it was because it was based on Henry James. When you read James you've got to think about it and make up your own mind...The film lacked this ambiguity and I think, basically, that was the reason it wasn't a success...in the film all the suspicion fell on the children - whereas having read The Turn of the Screw one doesn't know whether it is the governess who is a bit strange or the children."
Deborah Kerr has her own theory about why The Innocents wasn't a success at the time. In the Braun biography, she noted "The subtlety with which he [Clayton] and his team established the atmosphere of the two worlds - the everyday and the spirit world - was so evocative of decadence, in the most delicate manner, that it completely escaped the majority of the critics. Today, a new generation of young movie "buffs" realize how extraordinary were the effects he achieved. One instance is the way the edges of the screen were just slightly out of focus, as though seen through a glass, perhaps. Now it is acclaimed as a great work of art; then they didn't push it because they didn't know how to respond to something so genuinely spooky - so interwoven with reality that it could be real - and that's something people didn't like."
Not all of the critics unfavorably compared The Innocents to Henry James's original novella. Pauline Kael of The New Yorker called the film "one of the most elegantly beautiful ghost movies ever made...The filmmakers concentrate on the virtuoso possibilities in the material, and the beauty of the images raises our terror to a higher plane than the simple fears of most ghost stories. There are great sequences (like one in a schoolroom) that work on the viewer's imagination and remain teasingly ambiguous."
Besides Clayton's superb direction, Francis's stunning cinematography and Kerr's masterful performance (possibly the best of her entire career), The Innocents is distinguished by an unforgettable supporting cast including Michael Redgrave in a brief opening cameo, Megs Jenkins as the fretful Mrs. Grose, Peter Wyngarde in a chilling, non-speaking role as Quint, Clytie Jessop, equally silent but haunting as Miss Jessel and two of the finest child actors of their generation - Martin Stephens as Miles and Pamela Franklin as Flora. Stephens had already made a strong impression as the blonde alien child leader in Village of the Damned (1960) but he would retire from acting in 1966 and pursue an education in architecture. Franklin would go on to star in other similar genre efforts such as The Nanny (1965), And Soon the Darkness (1970), Necromancy (1972), The Legend of Hell House (1973) and The Food of the Gods (1976).
Among the other notable adaptations of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw are numerous television productions including a 1959 version with Ingrid Bergman (directed by John Frankenheimer), one in 1974 with Lynn Redgrave (directed by Dan Curtis), one in 1995 entitled The Haunting of Helen Walker with Valerie Bertinelli, Michael Gough and Diana Rigg, and one in 1999 with Jodhi May and Colin Firth. Film versions of the novella include the 1985 Spanish film Otra vuelta de tuerca, directed by Eloy de la Iglesia (Cannibal Man, 1973), The Turn of the Screw (1992) with Patsy Kensit, Stephane Audran, and Julian Sands, Presence of Mind (1999) with Sadie Frost, In a Dark Place (2006) with Leelee Sobieski, and even a prequel to the events in the James story entitled The Nightcomers (1971), a kinky S&M portrayal of Quint and Miss Jessel played by Marlon Brando and Stephanie Beacham. None of them appear to have the fervent cult following of The Innocents which looks better and better with each passing year.
Producer: Jack Clayton
Director: Jack Clayton
Screenplay: William Archibald, Truman Capote (screenplay); John Mortimer (additional scenes & dialogue); Henry James (novel)
Cinematography: Freddie Francis
Art Direction: Wilfrid Shingleton
Music: Georges Auric
Film Editing: James Clark
Cast: Deborah Kerr (Miss Giddens), Peter Wyngarde (Peter Quint), Megs Jenkins (Mrs. Grose), Michael Redgrave (The Uncle), Martin Stephens (Miles), Pamela Franklin (Flora), Clytie Jessop (Miss Jessel), Isla Cameron (Anna).
by Jeff Stafford
Deborah Kerr by Eric Braun
Conversations With Capote by Lawrence Grobel (Nal Books)
The Innocents on DVD
Based on the story, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, Deborah Kerr stars as a woman hired to look after two children at a vast estate. Loving children, she jumps right into the job and warms herself up to the two, seemingly angelic, well-spoken and "perfect" children. Things start to turn dark when Kerr notices some odd behavior amongst the two "innocents" and begins to learn of the dark history of the estate, particularly regarding the previous nanny and her relationship with the equally mysterious caretaker.
The film was shot in lush and atmospheric black & white by the legendary Freddie Francis, who would later go on to photograph several of David Lynch's films, most notably The Elephant Man, Dune and The Straight Story. Francis was also a director himself, one whose work is highlighted primarily by scores of interesting British horror titles, such as several anthology horror films like Tales from the Crypt, Torture Garden and Tales That Witness Madness as well as helming Joan Crawford's infamous last film, Trog! (...but please don't hold that against him!)
The Innocents is a virtual tapestry of images, sounds, moods and emotions that grabs the viewer immediately and holds on tight...from the quiet, opening title sequence to the chilling final scenes. The sound in the film is quite remarkable and is certainly the reason why the film remains so extremely creepy- from the rush of pigeon wings, insects, whisperings and creaking floorboards topped off with the tinny strains from a ghostly music box.
Deborah Kerr's performance is absolutely fascinating. Her character of Miss Giddons is a virtual bundle of nerves. Congenial and obviously enamored with the children, Kerr's wide set and expressive eyes are used to maximum advantage here, particularly in scenes where one moment, she is kind, loving and patient?in the next, her haunted eyes register suspicion and shock as if a veil was lifted. A very subtle, effective and truly chilling performance.
The film also contains some of the most truly eerie and bone-chilling images I have ever seen...particularly the vision of a female "ghost" standing quietly amongst a reed-strewn lake and the sequence highlighting one of Kerr's late night, candlelit walks around the huge, empty mansion as well as many others that I don't want to spoil.
The children themselves are perfectly cast, the ultimate combination of sweet and creepy at the same time. Little Martin Stephens, who would go on to become a much more recognizable horror icon in the original Village of the Damned, is the "Ideal Creepy Kid"- Perfectly well spoken, polite, funny and cute...he will send shivers down your spine.
Finally, the reason that the film remains so intriguing and still holds up many years later, is that it works on two separate, yet equal levels. It can be viewed as almost two different stories: 1) a horror, supernatural ghost story or 2) a psychological drama in that we never really find out if Kerr is simply IMAGINING these visions, sounds and apparitions or if she is a hysterical, sexually repressed nutcase. No other character sees or hears the things she does, but they believe her and accept it. The story makes a few references to her background but I believe that the story is supposed to remain ambiguous and open-ended, allowing us, the viewer, to come up with our own ideas of what is and what isn't happening.
Though the film is quite obscure to the average moviegoer...The Innocents' influence can be seen in several subsequent films throughout the years, most notably The Others with Nicole Kidman. Both films share a similarly dark vision and often-ambiguous creepy storyline, with the obvious comparison being the roles of the two "creepy" kids.
James' tale of The Turn of the Screw has also been one that has been filmed many times, including a 1959 television version starring Ingrid Bergman and, most recently, the Spanish-lensed Presence of Mind from 1999 with Lauren Bacall. According to Fangoria.com, there have been some recent grumblings regarding Universal's attempt to revisit and update the story. Hopefully, if it happens, this new version will bring people's attention and interest to the original film that truly does deserve the attention.
For more information about The Innocents, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order The Innocents, go to TCM Shopping.
by Eric Weber
The Innocents on DVD
It was only the wind, my dear.- Miles
Many other works have been based on Henry James's' short story "The Turn of the Screw." Among them are the 1972 The Nightcomers (see below); the Benjamin Britten opera presented in Venice Italy, September 14, 1954; a 1959 October 20, 1959 NBC television production directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Ingrid Bergman and Isobel Elsom; and a 2003 Desperado Films production directed by Nick Millard and starring Elaine Corral Kendall and Priscilla Alden.
Voted Best Director and One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1961 National Board of Review.
Released in United States 2000
Released in United States April 1981
Released in United States on Video September 6, 2005
Released in United States on Video September 9, 2005
Released in United States 2000 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "The British New Wave: From Angry Young Men to Swinging London" October 27 - November 16, 2000.)
Released in United States April 1981 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition ("Scared to Death": Horror Movie Marathon) April 2-23, 1981.)
Released in United States on Video September 6, 2005
Released in United States on Video September 9, 2005