The Innocents (1961)

the innocents poster 1961 movie deborah kerr
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Smart story with great actors and visuals

Creeping horror might not be for everyone

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Innocents

Studio:  20th Century Fox

Genre(s):  Horror

Release Date(s):  November 1961 (UK)/December 25, 1961 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

the innocents opening shot deborah kerr hd

We must save the children!

Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) is taking her first job.  She is being sent to a large country estate where she is to tend to a girl named Flora (Pamela Franklin).  Flora is joined by her brother Miles (Martin Stephens) who has been dismissed from his school, and both children seem polite and well behaved.  When Miss Giddens begins to notice that the children seem to be keeping secrets and she finds herself haunted by the images of a man (Peter Wyngarde) and a woman (Clytie Jessop).  She realizes that they are the spirits of the former valet Peter Quint and nanny Miss Jessel who had a sinister relationship, and they seem to using Flora and Miles continue their horror in the afterlife.  The children are in danger, and only she can save them.

Directed by Jack Clayton, The Innocents adapts the stage play from 1950 but both the play and the film can claim Henry James’ 1989 novella The Turn of the Screw.  The adaptation was by William Archibald, but many credit Truman Capote’s work on the script for most of the dialogue.  The movie initially wasn’t much of a success, but now is listed as one of the best horror films and tops many critics “best of” lists for its suspense and gothic horror style.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered edition of the film (Criterion #727)

the innocents ms jessel lake clytie jessop

Seriously…you see her right? She’s right there? Let me through you in the lake so you can get a closer look

I really enjoy Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, but it is a really tough novel for adaptation.  The story is presented in a weird format and much of the story is implied rather than shown.  This adaptation does a great job capturing that tone and horror of the story in a way that is true to the original source material.

The film has a great style of writing that James’ brought to his story.  *****Spoiler Alert***** It is hard to talk about The Innocents as a film without incorporating what happens at the end of the film, so I have to forewarn that this will probably be loaded with spoilers.  Through the course of the story, you meet Miss Giddens who appears to be a little quiet and a bit superstitious.  She begins to see things and since you seeing it from her perspective you believe her version of the story that the children are being possessed…as it turns out, the film pulls a switch that implies that Miss Giddens is the crazy one and as a result ends up scaring Miles to death with fear…it is very twisted.

the innocents miles kisses giddens martin stephens deborah kerr hd

Ok…what’s implied by this is creepier than the ghosts

The reason behind this craziness also is quite unusual.  The relationship between Quint and Jessel is implied to be sexual and there is good indication that Quint was molesting Miles, and it is even possible that Jessel was molesting Flora.  This leads to their strange evasion of the subject by the children which in turn leads to Giddens suspicion and ultimately to her madness…or it could all be true which is unlikely.  This is all assumed since the script skirts around it, but along with the implied abuse there is an uncomfortable on-the-lips kiss between Miles and Miss Giddens which raised some red flags with censors from the implications.

Deborah Kerr allegedly sited this as her best film and she does a great job holding the film.  You identify with Kerr and see the story through her eyes, so she can’t seem too nutty too early or you lose the audience.  It is good that she is backed up by two creepy children in Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin who do a nice job holding their own against some skilled actors.

the innocents martin stephens peter wyngard ghost hd

Just ignore the ghost behind me…he’s probably not even there…or is he?!?!

Visually, the film is great.  Clayton allegedly wanted his film to appear different from the horror films of Hammer which were popular at the time.  He chose to take a Southern Gothic style to the story telling which does give it a different feel.  Scenes like Giddens watching Jessel across the lake in the rain look fantastic and the lighting and scenery really build creeping terror.

The Innocents definitely should be checked out if you want a spirit filled horror.  The movies influence on films like The Others becomes obvious through viewing.  The Innocents is a strong horror filled film and definitely worth seeking out…and hopefully encourages people to pick up The Turn of the Screw as well.

Related Links:

The Turning (2020)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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