Skip to main content

Film Friday: «The Innocents» (1961)

Since Halloween is a few days away, I thought it would only be appropriate if this week on «Film Friday» I brought you a horror picture. Although I'm not a fan of the genre, I loved this particular film. As the poster claims, «You'll get the shock of your life!»
  
Directed by Jack Clayton, The Innocents (1961) begins when Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), a minister's daughter, is engaged by the wealthy master of Bly House (Michael Redgrave) as governess for his niece Flora (Pamela Franklin) and his nephew Miles (Martin Stephens). Upon arriving at Bly, Miss Giddens is warmly greeted by Flora and Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins), the housekeeper. Soon after, she receives a letter from Miles's boarding school explaining that he is being expelled for attempting to corrupt his fellow students. Mrs. Grose assures her that Miles is not a bad child, but Miss Giddens is apprehensive about meeting the boy. When Miles returns to Bly, he appears to be an angelic, well-mannered child, and Miss Giddens' anxiety disappears.
 
Deborah Kerr, Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin in The Innocents.

Although the children are friendly and polite, Miss Giddens is disturbed by their occasional odd behaviour, in particular Miles's flirtation towards her. Miss Giddens is further upset by several visions of a woman and a man, whom Mrs. Grose identifies — from their descriptions — as Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), the former governess, and Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde), the uncle's valet until his death. Mrs. Grose also reveals that Quint and Miss Jessel had licentious relations with each other and, performed sexual acts in plain sight of the other servants and even, perhaps, the children. After Quint's death, Miss Jessel fell into a deep depression and committed suicide. With this information, Miss Giddens concludes that the deceased couple have returned to take possession of the children's souls and determines to rescue them.
 
In trying to make the children admit that they also see the ghosts, Miss Giddens causes Flora to have an hysterical outburst, after which she orders Mrs. Grose to take the girl away from Bly. Believing that she has saved Flora's soul, Miss Giddens embarks upon rescuing Miles. When she sees Quint's face in the garden, she demands that Miles say the name of the man she is confident they both can see. Miles finally shouts Quint's name and then falls lifeless to the ground. Horrified by the realization that Miles is dead, Miss Giddens takes him in her arms and kisses him on the lips while sobbing over his lifeless body.
 
Miss Giddens: All I want to do is save the children, not destroy them. More than anything, I love the children. More than anything.

After the international critical and commercial triumph of his directorial debut, Room at the Top (1959), Jack Clayton was offered several prestigious projects as follow-ups, including Sons and Lovers (1960) and The L-Shaped Room (1962). However, he rejected them all in favor of an adaptation of a famous late-Victorian ghost novella by American author Henry James, The Turn of the Screw, which Clayton had read and been enthralled by as a 10-year-old boy. 
 
Originally serialized in the illustrated magazine Collier's Weekly in early 1898, The Turn of the Screw appeared in book format later that year as part of a volume entitled The Two Magics. In the preface to the 1908 edition, James wrote that the story was inspired by a half-remembered anecdote told to him by Edward White Benson, the archbishop of Canterbury, about small children haunted by the ghosts of a pair of servants who wished to do them harm. James described the novella as «a piece of ingenuity pure and simple, of cold artistic calculation, an amusette to catch those not easily caught (the 'fun' of the capture of the merely witless being ever but small), the jaded, the disillusioned, the fastidious

LEFT: Portrait of Henry James by John Singer Sargent (1913). by RIGHT: First page of the 12-part serialisation of The Turn of the Screw in Collier's Weekly.
 
The screen rights to The Turn of the Screw were owned by 20th Century Fox, which had acquired the story after a successful stage adaptation of it by William Archibald entitled The Innocents. Directed by Peter Glenville, the play opened at the Playhouse Theatre in New York City on February 1, 1950 and featured Beatrice Straight as Miss Giddens, Iris Mann as Flora and David Cole (in his Broadway debut) as Miles.
 
When Clayton was hired to direct The Innocents, Fox cast Deborah Kerr as Miss Giddens, even though she was nearly 40 years old at the time (in James's story, the governess is only 20). Perhaps the casting of Kerr derived from the fact that a 44-year-old Ingrid Bergman had played the part on American television only a year before. Clayton later recalled how the casting of Kerr 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 [1957], which showed her at her best without makeup, and The Sundowners [1960], in which her freckles were so attractively in evidence
 
Deborah Kerr as the governess Miss Giddens in The Innocents.

Archibald wrote a first draft script for the film, but Clayton was dissatisfied with the result, feeling that it followed the play too closely when he wanted to remain faithful to the novella. After Archibald was disengaged from the script, Clayton turned to John Mortimer, having been impressed by the «ghostly feeling» the writer had got into his play The Dock Brief. However, Mortimer was committed to something else at the time and was only able to work on the film for three weeks, eventually receiving a credit for additional scenes and dialogue. The first scene between Miss Giddens and the uncle, for instance, was written by Mortimer.

The screenplay for The Innocents was finally taken in hand by Clayton's friend Truman Capote, with whom he had worked on Beat the Devil (1954). Despite the credit decreed by the Screen Writers' Guild suggesting co-authorship with Archibald, Clayton insisted that the script was 90 percent Capote. «The result on the screen is Truman's version, totally, with a few changes, which I always do on the set,» he explained. «The reason why Archibald is coupled with Truman Capote on the credits is because the Writers' Guild in America have a silly rule that the first writer automatically shares the credit if it is based on a book. Very unfair, I think
 
LEFT: Pamela Franklin, Megs Jenkins and Deborah Kerr. MIDDLE: Peter Wyngarde as Peter Quint. LEFT: Martin Stephens and Deborah Kerr.

In his script notes for Flora, Clayton wrote of «simple, beautiful charm, underplayed simplicity» and he saw that in Pamela Franklin, who made her screen debut in The Innocents. «Pamela stood right out,» said Clayton about the tests for the part. As for Miles, «he must look beautiful and angelic and behave with dignity without being priggish.» Clayton found his ideal Miles in the 11-year-old Martin Stephens, who was already an experienced child actor, having appeared in The Divided Heart (1954), Count Your Blessings (1959), The Hellfire Club (1960) and, more famously, in Village of the Damned (1960), in which he played a blonde alien child leader. Clayton originally asked Cary Grant to play the uncle and the actor was interested, except that he wanted the uncle to return for the end of the film and the director felt that to be impossible. The role was then assigned to Michael Redgrave, who appears only in a brief opening cameo.
 
Deborah Kerr with Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin in The Innocents.

Filmed on location in East Sussex, England, including the Gothic mansion of Sheffield Park, and at 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.» Kerr also had to do a scene where she had to carry Stephens in her arms, which required numerous retakes. 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. 
 
The cast and crew of The Innocents during filming.

The Innocents premiered in London on November 24, 1961 and on Christmas Day of that same year in New York. Despite highly favorable critical reviews, the film failed at the box-office. It did not receive any Academy Award nominations, but 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.
 
In his obituary notice in The Guardian dated March 25, 1995, Clayton's fellow director and close friend Karel Reisz wrote, «The Innocents is in black and white, beautiful and unexpectedly lyrical. And it chills you to the bone.» He also recalled that twenty years after the film was made, a waiter in a restaurant brought a message to Clayton's table from an unknown guest. The note was addressed to him and read: «The Innocents is the best English film after Hitchcock goes to America.» It was signed François Truffaut.


_______________________________________
SOURCES:
Classic Horror Films and the Literature that Inspired Them by Ron Backer (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2015)
Fifty Key British Films edited by Sarah Barrow and John White (Routledge, 2008)
Jack Clayton by Neil Sinyard (Manchester University Press, 2000)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Golden Couples: Gary Cooper & Patricia Neal

It was April 1948 when director King Vidor spotted 22-year-old Patricia Neal on the Warner Bros. studio lot. A drama graduate from Northwestern University, she had just arrived in Hollywood following a Tony Award-winning performance in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest . Impressed by Patricia's looks, Vidor approached the young actress and asked if she would be interested in doing a screen test for the female lead in his newest film, The Fountainhead (1949). Gary Cooper had already signed as the male protagonist, and the studio was then considering Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck to play his love interest.          Neal liked the script and about two months later, she met with the director for sound and photographic tests. Vidor was enthusiastic about Patricia, but her first audition was a complete disaster. Cooper was apparently watching her from off the set and he was so unimpressed by her performance that he commented, « What's that!? » He tried to con

Golden Couples: Henry Fonda & Barbara Stanwyck

In the mid- and late 1930s, screwball comedy was in vogue and practically every actress in Hollywood tried her hand at it. Barbara Stanwyck never considered herself a naturally funny person or a comedienne per se , but after delivering a heart-wrenching performance in King Vidor's Stella Dallas (1937), she decided she needed a « vacation » from emotional dramas. In her search for a role, she stumbled upon a « champagne comedy » called The Mad Miss Manton (1938), originally intended as a Katharine Hepburn vehicle. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda as Melsa and Peter in The Mad Miss Manton .   Directed by Leigh Jason from a script by Philip G. Epstein, The Mad Miss Manton begins when vivacious Park Avenue socialite Melsa Manton finds a corpse while walking her dogs in the early hours of the morning. She calls the police, but they dismiss the incident — not only because Melsa is a notorious prankster, but also because the body disappears in the meantime. Sarcastic newspaper editor

Films I Saw in 2020

For the past four years, I have shared with you a list of all the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 and 2019 , so I thought I would continue the «tradition» and do it again in 2020. This list includes both classic and «modern» films, which make up a total of 161 titles. About three or four of these were re-watches, but I decided to include them anyway. Let me know how many from these you have seen. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favorites. Sherlock Jr. (1924) | Starring Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire and Joe Keaton The Crowd (1928) | Starring James Murray, Eleanor Boardman and Bert Roach Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) | Starring Henry Fonda, Alice Brady and Marjorie Weaver Brief Encounter (1945) | Starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard and Stanley Holloway The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) | Starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman The Girl He Left Behind (1956) | Starring Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood Gidget (1959) | Starring Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson an

Wings of Change: The Story of the First Ever Best Picture Winner

Wings was the first ever film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since then, it has become one of the most influential war dramas, noted for its technical realism and spectacular air-combat sequences. This is the story of how it came to be made.   A man and his story The concept for Wings originated from a writer trying to sell one of his stories. In September 1924, Byron Morgan approached Jesse L. Lasky, vice-president of Famous Players-Lasky, a component of Paramount Pictures, proposing that the studio do an aviation film. Morgan suggested an «incident and plot» focused on the failure of the American aerial effort in World War I and the effect that the country's «aviation unpreparedness» would have in upcoming conflicts. Lasky liked the idea, and approved the project under the working title «The Menace.»   LEFT: Byron Morgan (1889-1963). RIGHT: Jesse L. Lasky (1880-1958).   During his development of the scenario with William Shepherd, a former war correspondent, Morga

80 Reasons Why I Love Classic Films (Part II)

I started this blog six years ago as a way to share my passion for classic films and Old Hollywood. I used to watch dozens of classic films every month, and every time I discovered a new star I liked I would go and watch their entire filmography. But somewhere along the way, that passion dimmed down. For instance, I watched 73 classic films in 2016, and only 10 in 2020. The other day, I found this film with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. that I had never heard of — the film is Mimi (1935), by the way — and for some reason it made me really excited about Old Hollywood again. It made me really miss the magic of that era and all the wonderful actors and actresses. And it also made me think of all the reasons why I fell in love with classic films in the first place. I came with 80 reasons, which I thought would be fun to share with you. Most of them are just random little scenes or quirky little quotes, but put them together and they spell Old Hollywood to me. Yesterday I posted part one ; here i

Top 10 Favourite Christmas Films

Christmas has always been a source of inspiration to many artists and writers. Over the years, filmmakers have adapted various Christmas stories into both movies and TV specials, which have become staples during the holiday season all around the world. Even though Christmas is my favourite holiday, I haven't watched a lot of Christmas films. Still, I thought it would be fun to rank my top 10 favourites, based on the ones that I have indeed seen. Here they are.  10. Holiday Affair (1949) Directed by Don Hartman, Holiday Affair tells the story of a young widow (Janet Leigh) torn between a boring attorney (Wendell Corey) and a romantic drifter (Robert Mitchum). She's engaged to marry the boring attorney, but her son (Gordon Gebert) likes the romantic drifter better. Who will she choose? Well, we all know who she will choose.   Holiday Affair is not by any means the greatest Christmas film of all time, but it's still a very enjoyable Yule-tide comedy to watch over the holi

The Gotta Dance! Blogathon: Gene Kelly & Judy Garland

In 1940, up-and-coming Broadway star Gene Kelly was offered the lead role in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's new musical Pal Joey , based on the eponymous novel by John O'Hara about an ambitious and manipulative small-time nightclub performer. Opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Christmas Day of that year, the show brought Gene his best reviews up to that date. For instance, John Martin of The New York Times wrote of him: «A tap-dancer who can characterize his routines and turn them into an integral element of an imaginative theatrical whole would seem to be pretty close, indeed, to unique .»   One of Gene's performances in Pal Joey was attended by established Hollywood star Judy Garland , who requested to meet him after the show. Gene agreed and then accompanied Judy and her entourage, which included her mother Ethel and several press agents, to dinner at the newly-opened Copacabana nightclub, at 10 East 60th Street. They sang and danced until 3 a.m., after whi

Films I Saw in July & August

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in July and August, which make up a total of 18 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Resistance (2011) | Starring Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wlaschiha and Michael Sheen Siberian Education [Educazione siberiana] (2013) | Starring Arnas Fedaravi čius The Last of Robin Hood (2013) | Starring Kevin Kline and Dakota Fanning The Water Diviner (2014) | Starring Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko and Yılmaz Erdoğan Holding the Man (2015) | Starring Ryan Corr, Craig Stott and Anthony LaPaglia The Last King [Birkebeinerne] (2016) | Starring Jakob Oftebro and Kristofer Hivju The Pass (2016) | Starring Russell Tovey and Arinzé Kene Access All Areas (2017) | Starring Ella Purnell, Edward Bluemel and Georgie Henle

The Sinatra Centennial Blogathon: Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly

  In January 1944, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer happened to see a young crooner by the name of Frank Sinatra perform at a benefit concert for The Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles. According to Nancy Sinatra, Frank's eldest daughter, Mayer was so moved by her father's soulful rendition of « Ol' Man River » that he made the decision right then and there to sign Frank to his studio. Sinatra had been on the MGM payroll once before, singing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the Eleanor Powell vehicle Ship Ahoy (1942), although it is very likely that Mayer never bothered to see that film. Now that Frank was «hot,» however, Metro made arrangements to buy half of his contract from RKO, with the final deal being signed in February of that year. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in  Anchors Aweigh Being a contract player at the studio that boasted «more stars than there are in the heavens» gave Frank a sudden perspective regarding his own talents as a film performer. The «g

Films I Saw in May & June

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in May and June, which make up a total of 16 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Pelle the Conqueror [Pelle Erobreren] (1987) | Starring Pelle Hvenegaard The Elementary School [ Obecná škola] (1991) | Starring Václav Jakoubek Female Agents [Les Femmes de l'ombre] (2008) | Starring Sophie Marceau Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe [Vor der Morgenröte] (2016) | Starring Josef Hader ❤ Cold War [Zimna wojna] (2018) | Starring Tomasz Kot, Joanna Kulig and Borys Szyc Dreamland (2019) | Starring Finn Cole, Margot Robbie, Travis Fimmel and Garrett Hedlund Mr Jones (2019) | Starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard Official Secrets (2019) | Starring Keira Knightley, Matt Smith an