The definitive screen adaptation of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw
, the 1961 production of The Innocents
remains one of the most effective ghost stories ever filmed. Originally promoted as the first truly "adult" chiller of the big screen (a marginally valid claim considering the release of Psycho
a year earlier), the film arrived at a time when the thematic depth of James's story could finally be addressed without the compromise of reductive discretion. And while the Freudian anxiety that fuels the story may seem tame by today's standards, the psychological horrors that comprise the story's "dark secret" are given full expression in a film that brilliantly clouds the boundary between tragic reality and frightful imagination.
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
New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Audio commentary featuring cultural historian Christopher Frayling. New interview with cinematographer John Bailey on director of photography Freddie Francis and the look of the film. Archival interviews with editor James Clark, Francis, and script supervisor Pamela Francis. Trailer. PLUS: An essay by critic Maitland McDonagh