Yesterday, September 29th was the 94th Birthday of Deborah Kerr, the famed Scottish actress who became one of Hollywood’s greatest assets. During the annals of her career, Kerr pioneered her way through an array of triumphant films which garnered her critical acclaim.
In 1961, a time when most actresses of her caliber were being cast in low budget campy horror films, Deborah Kerr was offered the role as governess in The Innocents, a ghostly supernatural production of high importance that would pave the way for several other psychological Gothic horror inspired motion pictures.
The Innocents is different in comparison to the Hammer Horror films that were largely popular in the sixties. Unlike the Hammer productions, the film inhabits a unique mysterious ambiance that can only be achieved by employing innumerable eerie sound affects and moody stylized lighting which is created by a number of cinematic devices.
There are several contradicting stories regarding the films background. Many believe that it was based on the notable novella by Henry James, titled The Turn Of The Screw. In truth most of the screenplay is derived from William Archibald’s play of the same name. With the shows successful run on Broadway in 1950, audiences were left with a lasting impression by certain scenes, which is why some of the plays elements are strongly depicted in the film.
The film was directed and produced by Jack Clayton, who had first read the story when he was ten. Several years later, Clayton was about to commence preparation as director for his second feature film and decided to follow a different path that would set a pattern for the rest of his short lived career. For Clayton, things were propitious from the start. He had long admired Deborah Kerr, who was also contracted to make another film through 20th Century Fox, so with that in mind he was able to cast Deborah Kerr in the lead role as Miss Giddens.
The script was superbly crafted and written for the screen by Truman Capote and William Archibald, with many of the credits going to Capote for his sterling contribution in abounding the film with a Southern Gothic feel.
The Innocents is a masterful creation of frightening thrills, chills and spooks as Miss Giddens ( Deborah Kerr ) enters the isolated remote mansion situated in the country of England, and serves as governess to Flora and Miles, two orphaned children who immediately develop a warm rapport with Miss Giddens.
As time progresses, Miss Giddens finds herself haunted by the ghostly happenings in the house and grounds, and comes to realize that Flora and Miles are possessed by the evil spirits that are lurking around the large estate.
The Innocents is the quintessential horror production. It’s filmed in glorious black and white and takes place on a large spooky remote estate in England. Once you enter, the chills proliferate as a myriad of mysterious happenings occur.
Unlike the majority of films from the genre, The Innocents is exquisitely made, and takes the viewer on a magical experience of psychological effects of the human soul and alchemistic characters in a dark and atmospheric production filled with breathtaking visuals and cinematography.
Everything about The Innocents is appealing. In addition to the chills, thrills and the remarkable cinematography by Freddie Francis, we have the cast. Deborah Kerr is in fine form as the governess who suspects that her two young charges are possessed by the ghosts of the grandiose mansion. The role of Miss Giddens is very complex and heavy, but Deborah Kerr executed her performance perfectly by displaying all elements of fear, inquisitiveness and emotion in a dramatic production that would disseminate her acting ability.
Apart from Deborah Kerr, the rest of the cast offer solid support. Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin who play the two young children are both exceptional in their roles. I’ve never been a fan of child stars, but I feel that Stephens and Franklin are more than just children playing a particular character in a movie. They had to portray children with a amiable nature while at the same time appear sinister and mischievous. Not many children would be able to carry out such a complex role, but they done it to surprisingly effective results.
The British certainly knew how to make movies, and The Innocents is the true definition of quality entertainment at it’s zenith. From the dark and atmospheric production to the haunting musical score, this is a film that is not to be missed.
Deborah Kerr always considered this to be her greatest performance.
Jack Clayton didn’t want the children to be exposed to the darker themes of the story, so they never saw the screenplay in its entirety. The children were given their pages the day before they were to be filmed.
The cinematography is so admired, aspects of it were imitated decades later in Nine Inch Nails’ video for The Perfect Drug, most notably the man on the tower scene.
Miss Giddens: “But above anything else, I love the children.”
Miles: “It was only the wind, my dear.”
Deborah Kerr: Born Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer on September 30th, 1921 in Helensburgh, Scotland. Died: October 16th, 2007 in Botesdales, Suffolk, England.