Peter’s Retro Movie Review: The Innocents (1961)

May 29, 2012

The Innocents (1961) movie posterby Peter Nielsen

The movie opens with a blank black screen. A child is singing a slightly eerie song and this goes on for about 35-40 seconds before the 20th Century Fox logo fades in. When it fades out again the singing stops and is instead replaced by the sound of a woman sobbing. As the opening credits roll we see a very anguished woman praying and wringing her hands on the left side of the screen. The cause of this isn’t explained until the very end of the movie.

The woman is Miss Giddens who is hired as a governess, to two orphaned children, by their uncle. They live at his huge country estate, but he neither has the time nor will to take care of them, so he needs someone to do it for him. At first she’s a little hesitant to take the job as it means she’ll have total authority, but also sole responsibility for the children. As soon as she arrives at the estate, those feelings quickly disappear because it’s a very beautiful place with magnificent surroundings.

She opts to walk the last stretch of road up to the house, so she can really take in the beauty of the place. It’s on this walk she meets Flora, one of the children. She’s played by a girl named Pamela Franklin in her first movie-role. She would later go on to appear in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Legend of Hell House for instance.

In the role of Miss Giddens we see the lovely Deborah Kerr from Quo Vadis, The King and I and one of my personal favorites… From Here to Eternity. The uncle is played by Michael Redgrave (The Heroes of Telemark, The Lady Vanishes) but he’s only in the first scene where he hires her. Peter Wyngarde, who’s done a lot of TV work and also played Klytus in the 1980 sci-fi classic Flash Gordon, has a small part as the former caretaker.

Miss Giddens with Flora and Miles.

Miss Giddens with Flora and Miles.

Flora takes Miss Giddens up to the house where she’s introduced to Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, played by Megs Jenkins (Oliver!, Stranger in the House). The boy, Miles, is introduced a little later since he’s away at school. He will, however, be coming homer sooner than expected, as he’s been expelled from the school, for reasons we’ll learn further on.

Martin Stephens was a very popular child-actor at the time and could be seen in Village of the Damned or The Witches for instance. He later retired from the movie business to pursue a career as an architect and as a teacher. He’s very good in The Innocents and I can see WHY he was so popular.

Both of the children are very sweet and likeable and soon win Miss Giddens over, as Mrs. Grose merrily tells her. But there’s something else luring underneath the surface, something more sinister which rears its hideous face from time to time.

Sometimes it’s just the looks on the kids’ faces that give it away. Nothing much, just a subtle glance and that’s all that’s needed. Very effective and very creepy! The sense of unease seeps in very early on in the movie and slowly builds up to the nerve-wrecking climax.

Walking slowly down dark corridors...

Walking slowly down dark corridors...

The Innocents is set in Victorian England so it’s all about candlelight, dark rooms and dark corridors and the director makes full use of it. His name is Jack Clayton and is also responsible for such classics as The Great Gatsby and Something Wicked This Way Comes. The Innocents is also a movie that visually LOOKS fantastic. For many of the scenes, large bright lights were used to create very sharp contrasts and clear picture.

This is most noticeable during the interior night shots where Deborah Kerr’s character is walking through the dark house with nothing else than a candelabra to light the way. When it’s dark… it’s DARK and you get the feeling that the darkness hides something very scary, even though nothing is there. Or is there? Because the further we get into this movie, both Miss Giddens and we, as an audience, get more and more convinced that there really IS something walking the grounds, affecting the children in some terrible way.

A dark secret just waiting to be unraveled, and when it finally does… well, we won’t go into that here, will we, because that would spoil the whole experience of watching it.

What could scare Miss Giddens this much?

What could scare Miss Giddens this much?

I went into this movie with a blind eye and only the barest of knowledge about it. What I DID know, was that it was supposed to be scary and that Deborah Kerr was supposedly very good in it. And she was! Let’s face it, it’s one of her finest performances and since the camera is on her more or less the whole time, it really shows her abilities as an actress. There are some scenes where she sees something, and we don’t, and the expression on her face is just… terrifying!

The Innocents didn’t disappoint in any way. It’s got a good solid story, a great cast and a beautiful, but creepy, setting. It’s a slow-paced movie, but never boring and let me tell you, the unease and tension NEVER loosens its grip or goes away. There are shadows, ghostly apparitions and disembodied voices from the get-go, so please watch this and make sure the room is dark because this IS a scary movie!

Until next time my friends… Please tell me! Have you seen this and, if so, what are your thoughts on it? The comment section below is all yours!

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