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Monday, March 21, 2016

THE INNOCENTS (1961)

After a chilly, if successful, job interview, there’s a long scenic journey to a new, imposing place of employment. It’s certainly a beautiful estate, but so isolated, with a foreboding atmosphere as if evil spirits hovered over the few people living on the grounds. Death haunted? Ghosts seen thru window panes? Even the living seem possessed. Maybe they’re all going mad . . . maybe I am? Yes, it’s THE TURN OF THE SCREW, Henry James’ famously ambiguous ghost story. Who knew it was also template for Stephen King/Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING/’80? Right thru its fatal garden twilight finale. But where Kubrick’s odd duck of a film comes up very short between climaxes, Jack Clayton’s masterful pic finds a near perfect balance between the demands of earthly & otherworldly evil. As the new governess put in charge of two precocious, over-attached orphans, Deborah Kerr calibrates degrees of mental distress to stunning effect, while Clayton builds unsettling perfs from his two child actors. (Particularly from the unnervingly assured Master Martin Stephens.) The script is credited to William Archibald & Truman Capote, but sounds more like the work of John Mortimer who settled for an ‘additional’ dialogue credit. There’s certainly no mystery about Freddie Fields’ superb cinematography (on a b&w/CinemaScope high after his equally fine work on SONS AND LOVERS/’60 for Jack Cardiff). Everything in here gets under your skin; and never more so than when Kerr and her young charge share a far too mature intimate kiss. Shocking stuff here, hard to shake off.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Fans of Hitchcock’s fascinating, if flawed, early ‘60s films THE BIRDS/’63 and MARNIE/’64 can get a pretty good idea of how those films might have played with a real actress in the ‘Tippi’ Hedren roles watching Kerr. At 40, Kerr was nearly a decade older than Hedren, older then any Hitchcock leading lady, but what a difference she’d have made!

DOUBLE-BILL: Clayton’s career lagged after THE GREAT GATSBY/’74 disappointed. But he made a fine literary horror pic with SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES/‘83.

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