Innocents, The (1961)

The Innocents (1961), directed by Jack Clayton.

A new governess arrives at a huge country house to care for two children. Her predecessor and that woman's lover both died and no one wants to talk about it. She begins to detect strange happenings. We wonder if she and the dead woman aren't somehow the same person, but she suspects the children are possessed by ghosts of the dead couple. Tension builds to a shattering climax.

The story is ambiguous and dream-like and we are never quite sure of what is happening. Is the governess cracking up? Is she somehow the dead woman returned, and is this her hell? Do the children know about the ghosts, or does she imagine that? The dialogue gives all sorts of suggestive hints: the house is a "heaven for children" but someone else has "the devil's own eye."

Deborah Kerr is perfect at this type of role: an intelligent, loving, dignified woman being challenged in extreme, wrenching ways.

Striking B&W photography by Freddie Francis. The black levels on the DVD fluctuate a bit, but it is a good presentation.

Georges Auric score.

Adapted by John Mortimer and Truman Capote from The Turn of the Screw. The screenplay captures the disorienting nature of the story better than I could have imagined.

I've read a bit of Henry James and my reaction has always been: Why did I read this, why did he write it, and why is he held to be a great author? The Turn of the Screw seemed purposely incoherent. For literary critics that is a feature; the story is subject to many interpretations. The movie handles that aspect pretty well.

Later: available on Blu-ray from Criterion. My thumbnails are from the DVD.