The Innocents (1961)

FEBRUARY 19, 2008


One movie I never quite understood why people liked it was The Others, the 2001 Nicole Kidman movie. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t scary/suspenseful (to me anyway), and the twist wasn’t all that surprising either. I thought about that movie a lot while watching The Innocents, because it had a similar premise/setting, that of two annoying kids in a giant house and the beautiful woman who takes care of them. And some ghosts.

I liked Innocents a lot more though, because the ending wasn’t necessarily a twist, but a downer nonetheless, and there were a few good scare scenes. Like many an old film, I’ve seen so many of the movies that have ripped it off over the years that it felt like I had already seen it, but I was able to put that aside and enjoy the movie anyway.

Adding to that enjoyment immensely was the lush black and white photography by Freddie Francis. This is easily one of the best looking B&W movies I have seen in ages. Lots of times the lack of color (and often poor transfers) results in a somewhat flat image, but this one seemed practically 3D at times, due to the deep focus and sharp detail in the transfer. Thanks, FOX! I can almost forgive you for putting the widescreen version on side B instead of A. A = better, and thus should be the widescreen side! Savages!!

One really sweet thing I dug was how the first 50 seconds of the film are black. The FOX logo THEN comes into frame, and fades out for some more black. I like that, it makes you feel uneasy (actually it made me check my HDMI cabling) right from the start. Also I liked when the little kid kissed the woman on the lips and for a split second she kisses him back. Creepy, vaguely incestuous overtones? Awesome.

However, one thing I DIDN’T like so much was how the script (by Truman Capote, of all people, working from Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw”*) was written in “Interrupto-plotting”. What this means is, rather than get all of the exposition at once, they simply have a character start to tell a story, providing SOME of the information, and then they are interrupted by someone else at the worst possible time. So if the characters weren’t rude, and instead waited to speak, lots of the movie could have been avoided. Using this device once or twice is fine, but they use it for pretty much every scene involving the backstory.

Another blemish is the rather odd fact that the house supposedly has a gardener, a cook, another maid, etc. and yet we never see any of them, resulting in a rather laughable scene where the heroine thinks she sees a man on the roof. She then asks the maid if anyone else works there besides the people she’s met, and proceeds to rattle off about a dozen house employees that WE have never met, nor were they ever previously mentioned. It kind of ruins the scare – we only think there are 4 people in the house, which is why the sight of another is unsettling. But why is she scared when there is apparently a busload of folks walking around the house at any given time?

Regardless, it’s a nice bit of uneasy horror. Patience is required, but it’s worth the effort, and far better than The Others.

What say you?

*Incidentally, I had rented this DVD a month ago and couldn’t find it, only to finally uncover it under my Lost episode guide. Lost fans will know why this is freaky.


  1. It would take more than two adults to run a household that big, but showing all the servants would diminish the suspense. The film made an interesting if odd choice to keep the others off screen and refer to them only in dialogue.

  2. After reading your review of The Innocents (a film I'd never seen) I was inspired to give it a watch. Well I've just finished it and I thought it was really good. I particularly liked the pacing of the film which ticked along nicely, I feel this was in part thanks to Deborah Kerr's performance on which the story hinged. Her portrayal of a caring, loving almost naive young governess who starts to deteriorate into a disheveled, nervous wreck could easily have backfired and seemed forced but she really carried it off. The boy who played Miles was very good as well, convincingly creepy even if he does have a face you just want to punch!

  3. The Innocents, based on the Henry James novella, The Turn of the Screw is a superbly crafter excursion into the realm of the ambiguous. Deborah Kerr's character, Miss Giddens exemplifies the neurotically charged witness to the supposed presence of evil within the household, but are the demons that she perceives embodied in both Miles and Flora real or only imagined ? The spectral presence of Peter Wyngarde's Peter Quint is experienced by her and her alone and therefore poses the question, is his ghost like apparition really at work in corrupting the souls of both children, or is he merely the outward manifestation of her own fears & specifically, those of a sexually charged nature ? It has been critiqued that her character is sexually inhibited to the point of neurosis, and that her fear of Quint is centered on her fear of the animalistic, penetrative nature of masculine sexuality as personified by his intrusive manifestation. The film also presents her asleep experiencing disturbed dreams that invite Freudian interpretation; the parade of images in her subconscious invoke the question; is she in fact incapable of living as a sexually mature woman and therefore her concerns for the children are in fact the externalization of her own sexually immature & therefore fear driven persona ?
    The film guides us through the evolving maze of possible self delusion erupting within as her escalating sense of foreboding threatens her relationship with the children. They become her mission; they must be made pure again, meaning that her own sense of sexual equilibrium must be restored at all costs. Her approach is a recipe for disaster as seen at the film's conclusion. To conclude, a reminder, that the film is called The Innocents, its title providing the one solid piece of definition at work here. Miles and Flora were the innocents, whilst the forces that surrounded them, however one interpret them, were misshapen.


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget