Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Innocents

"The Innocents" (Jack Clayton, 1960) One of the truly great horror movies ever made, though without a drop of blood in sight. Jack Clayton's film of William Archibald's play (based on Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw"), with a polish by Truman Capote, and a final coat of lacquer by John Mortimer, is a creepily finessed horror story/psychological thriller depending on your point-of-view. Miss Giddens is given her first governessing job by "The Uncle," a cold bon-vivant, who wants her to "handle everything" and "leave me alone." Arriving at the country estate, she finds a world alive with life...and some dead stuff, too. Isolated and buttoned-up (minister's daughter) she starts to suspect that her little charges are more than they seem to be, finally convinced that they are in the thrall of the dead care-takers previously employed. Deborah Kerr treads a fine line between gentility and hysteria, and Michael Redgrave, appearing briefly, is the coldest of rakes. The stars of the film, though, are little Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin, she, vibrating like a thing possessed (well...) and he, all-stillness and eyes that are fathoms deep. There has rarely been two kids as quietly malevolent as these two. Then, too, are the presences of Peter Wyngarde (Britain's epitome of the degrading satyr) and Clytie Jessop, as the figments of Quint and Jessel, who have gone before. The image of Jessop, standing ethereally among the reeds of a lake still is one of the singularly creepy images in all of cinema for me. Freddie Francis did the outstanding cinematography, and A.G. Ambler and John Cox, who provided the outstanding sounds evocative of things both natural and not. Talk about the road to Hell paved with good intentions...

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