In one of her finest performances, Deborah Kerr stars as Miss Giddons, a devout and somewhat repressed spinster who happily accepts the position of governess for two orphaned children whose uncle (Michael Redgrave) readily admits to having no interest in being tied down by two "brats." So Miss Giddons is dispatched to Bly House, the lavish, shadowy estate where young Flora (Pamela Franklin) and her brother Miles (Martin Stephens, so memorable in 1960's Village of the Damned) live with a good-natured housekeeper (Megs Jenkins). At first, life at Bly House seems splendidly idyllic, but as Miss Giddons learns the horrible truth about the estate's now-deceased groundskeeper and previous governess, she begins to suspect that her young charges are ensnared in a devious plot from beyond the grave.
Ghostly images are revealed in only the most fleeting glimpses, and the outstanding Cinemascope photography by Freddie Francis (who used special filters to subtly darken the edges of the screen) turns Bly House into a welcoming mansion by day, a maze of mystery and terror by night. Sound effects and music are used to bone-chilling effect, and director Jack Clayton, blessed with a script by William Archibald and Truman Capote, maintains a deliberate pace to emphasize the ambiguity of James's timeless novella. The result is a masterful film--comparable to the 1963 classic The Haunting--that uses subtlety and suggestion to reach the pinnacle of fear. --Jeff Shannon
Giddens is our guide into the unknown and it is through her eyes that we begin to see this as more than just another ghost story. Rather it is the door into Victorian society and the social caste system that was readily used. Levels were to be maintained and one was never to stray from their station in life. Is Giddens a reliable storyteller, or are we living through the frustrations of her own life and how she intends to project herself onto the rest of the world around her? Would we tend to call this tale a ghost story or would we see it for what it truly is -- one of a repressed and irrational person who has created this entire story to make up for her own sense of personal and professional failure in her life?
Sex, as we are well aware, was a taboo subject in the Victorian era. Are we witnessing the sexual meltdown of the spinster governess, Miss Giddens, or, are we a party to a real ghost story? The Innocents turns the screw on the viewer and thrusts the choice into our minds. We see what we want to see and perceive it as thus.
Performances by Deborah Kerr and Martin Stephens are chilling. Her nervous, wanting to please governess and Stephens' Stepford/Village of The Damned child lob off each other as they draw us ever closer to a masterful denouement. They have equally created a sense of evil that allows us to see the horror of the situation from within the story.Read more ›
All of the ghost sightings are handled in a powerfully surreal way. The sight of Miss Jessel's ghost on a distant bank is inexplicably terrifying, maybe because her blank stillness is so incongruous with what we're used to in this genre, which usually depicts ghosts as being in various stages of raging histrionics. Somehow, the stillness of this one terrifies more. Her stillness creates an unbearable tension. You feel on the edge of your seat with the idea that she may suddenly look at you, or scream, explode somehow into violence, so that finally the very idea that she may move at all is unbearable, and it's a relief when the camera cuts away from her and she's off the screen. (Although as with any good suspense, you want it to come right back and scare you again!Read more ›