The Innocents (1961)
March 20, 2018 12:35 AM - Subscribe

A young governess for two children becomes convinced that the house and grounds are haunted.

The Innocents: Forbidden Games (Maitland McDonagh, Criterion): "What evil lurks in the souls of children? More than one might think . . . or perhaps less, which goes to the chilly heart of both Henry James’s 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw—a psychosexually fraught ghost story told at Christmas, in keeping with the venerable English tradition—and Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, the spookily beautiful 1961 film adaptation (by way of William Archibald’s 1950 play) largely written by Truman Capote, whose eerily childlike voice finds an echo in those of the film’s precocious children. It was a question that particularly vexed Victorian sensibilities, caught between the idealized notion of children as the embodiment of spiritual innocence, unsullied by the unruly taint of sexual desire, and the hard-to-deny reality that the tiniest infant is ruled by bodily wants and needs"

The Innocents and the Power of Suggestion (Geoff Andrew, BFI): "The key to The Innocents’ success as a psychological thriller is a carefully sustained and extremely haunting ambiguity which is reflected in the title itself: who, really, is innocent here? The young orphans committed by their uncaring, absent uncle to the charge of a new governess? The kindly but not especially bright housekeeper, who has kept an eye on them in recent months? Or the governess herself, who comes to suspect that the children have somehow been corrupted by her late predecessor and her lover? Deborah Kerr’s lead performance, certainly, succeeds on so many levels that we are never quite sure how innocent she may be. But then that leads on to more questions. If we are referring to ‘innocents’, we need then to ask of what, exactly, they are supposed to be innocent? Knowledge? Sin? Something else? That, I’d suggest, remains to be seen."

Spider Eats Butterfly (Thomas Puhr, Bright Lights): "In one scene, Flora (an apt name, since she is often shown wandering the estate’s grounds and examining its animals) notes the following while watching a spider web: “Oh, look! It’s a lovely spider, and it’s eating a butterfly.” This small, disquieting observation is a perfect metaphor for one of the film’s most important messages: Childhood must eventually be “eaten up” by adulthood and the maturation that accompanies it. While Flora is delighted by this sight, Giddens is visibly disturbed, and this is because the child embraces something that the adult is unwilling to accept. Yes, the butterfly is beautiful, but the spider always wins in the end."

An excerpt from the memoirs of the cinematographer Freddie Francis: "Of all the horror films I made as a director, none I think came anywhere near the fear of the supernatural or unknown as The Innocents. The horror element in the films I directed always had to be displayed graphically; that’s the way the audiences like them. But The Innocents contained no blood, gore, or graphic violence—the evil was all suggested. The kids in the film were far more horrific characters than any of the people portrayed in any of my films. Not, of course, the children themselves but the atmosphere that surrounded them. It was when I initially read the script that I saw that lurking, unseen element, and I pursued it in that way as a cinematographer."

The Horror of The Innocents and the Forgotten Career of Jack Clayton (Bilge Ebiri, Vulture).

A making of documentary.

posted by sapagan (2 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting, I'd never heard of this before. The only other movies by this director I recognize are Something Wicked This Way Comes and the Redford Gatsby.
posted by rhizome at 2:00 PM on March 21, 2018

It really is an excellent movie. The articles do a good job in laying out why it proves to be a favorite among almost anyone who is interested enough to seek it out. It builds from a general sense of vague unease at the opening to one of total hysteria by its end. There have been a number of other films that have, more or less, covered the same material, but none I've seen close to as controlled and fully realized as here, most preferring to expand the story to cover the adults more, losing the intensity built here by keeping the focus more on the relationship with the children.

I'll also second Ebiri's article saying Clayton's career is sadly overlooked as the other films he made were also quite good, meddling with Something Wicked This Way Comes and the mixed quality of the Great Gatsby somewhat aside.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:11 PM on March 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

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