The Innocents, Blu-ray (1961/2014)

by | Oct 12, 2014 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

The Innocents, Blu-ray (1961/2014)

Cast: Deborah Kerr, Michael Redgrave, Peter Wyngarde, Martin Stevens, Pamela Franklin
Director: Jack Claton
Studio: 20th Century Fox/ The Criterion Collection 727 [9/23/14]
Video: 2.35:1 Cinemascope for 16:9 black & white, 1080p HD
Audio: English, uncompressed PCM mono
Music: Georges Auric
Extras: Commentary track by cultural historian Christopher Frayling, New interview with cinematographer John Bailey on dir. of photography Freddie Francis and look of the film, Archival interviews with editor James Clark, Freddie Francis and script supervisor Pamela Francis, Trailer, Illustrated booklet with photos and essary by critic Maitland McDonagh
Length: 100 minutes
Rating: ****1/2

Some critics say this is the best adaptation of several of Henry James 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, which also resulted in Benjamin Britten’s opera of the same name. In a nutshell it is basically a rather psychosexual mild ghost story with Kerr as the rather naive governess of two young children who may or may not be the victims of possession by the ghosts of two former staff in the house. Some feel it is the best ghost story film ever made, and is among the top ten on Horror/Ghost Story lists. It shows how little special effects and CGI are required when a great director knows exactly how to make a great drama. Unfortunately the studio trailer promotes the film as a typical shlock horror film, which it certainly is not. Also (while I’m knocking it) the blatant and crude use of loud voices and sounds with primitive echoes on the soundtrack near the end of the film ruins the ending and the perfect cinematography.

The film version retains Henry James’ famous ambiguity as well as the suspense. The director was told by Fox that they wouldn’t finance the movie if he didn’t make it in Cinemascope, which he didn’t like. But the photography director created some masks for the two sides of the wide Cinemascope image, and they were used on many of the indoor scenes to change the image to more of a 4:3 ratio. Probably due to the Blu-ray restoration, they are sometimes noticeable, but not distracting. The outdoor scenes in the gardens of the country home make very artistic use of the entire widescreen ratio. They also made candles with four wicks for the candelabra which Miss Giddons (Kerr) carries around the dark mansion during many scenes.

The ghosts are those of Miss Giddons’ predecessor as governess, and of the manor’s strange manservant. They had a rough relationship, and the first governess had drowned herelf in the manson’s lake. One isn’t sure if the present governess is pychotic and the house’s morbid back history has affected her, or if the hauntings of the children are for real. Only she and the children seem to see the ghosts, and at one point Miss Giddons has a dramatic exchange with the housekeeper, who steadfastly believes in the innocence of the two children. The wealthy businessman in London who has hired Miss Giddons insists she take full responsiblity in being governess to the two orphans and doesn’t want to hear of any problems that may come up. There is also more than a hint of pedophilia, except that the it seems to be initiated by the ten-year-old boy rather than the shocked Miss Giddons.

Although the overuse of the sound effects at the end spoiled it for me, it is still a magnificently-realized treatment of the supernatural and probably the finest role Deborah Kerr ever played.

—John Sunier

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