The Innocents (1961)
By: David Michael Brown on April 11, 2009  | 
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 96 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jack Clayton
Starring: Deborah Kerr, Megs Jenkins, Michael Redgrave
Screenplay: Henry James, William Archibald, Truman Capote
Country: USA
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In these days of in-your face gore, CGI monsters and sickening torture, the modern horror film often seems to have forgotten its main function in life….or death: to chill its viewers to the bone; to scare the living daylights out of cinema audiences. Some readers may wonder why on earth a film about a nanny starring Deborah Kerr, an actress best known for her performance in The King & I, would ever grace the hallowed pixels of this site but The Innocents is one of those beautifully unnerving gothic ghost stories that uses gentle chills to tell its story.

Harking back to the halcyon days of Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton, the film relies on excellent performances, ominous lighting and the power of suggestion to cast its spell, all under the steady hand of director Jack Clayton, the director of the 1975 version of The Great Gatsby - a director not known for his horror output, although he did return to the genre, later in life, directing the 1983 adaptation of Ray Bradury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. The Innocents is co-written by Henry James, based on his own novella The Turning of the Shrew and Truman Capote, the legendary author behind In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffanys.

Clayton handles matters with a sure hand. As the film picks up pace towards the big reveal The Innocents could have easily lost its way to swooning melodrama but the director manages to maintain a level of malevolence throughout. The ghostly storyline, telling the tale of a newly recruited nanny who realizes that there may be more to her wards than initially meets her eye may now appear formulaic, but the subtle twists still work wonders. Kerr is excellent; her prim and proper demeanor slowly unravels as the ghostly realization grips her. It's of no surprise that Umbrella Entertainment are pitching their new DVD release as the film that inspired The Others. Nicole Kidman most definitely channeled Kerr in her performance.

The cinematography by Freddie Francis is breathtaking. Readers will know his name from his directorial days with Hammer and Amicus and films like The Deadly Bees, Dr Terror's House of Horrors and Legend of the Werewolf. Others will know him for his beautiful camerawork in David Lynch's The Elephant Man. The visual aesthetic of The Innocents is another character in the film. Francis makes the house a dark and foreboding place full of ominous shadows; the shimmering lights of candles and the moonlight take on an otherworldly aura. It may be a cliché but you really could take any image of The Innocents and frame it. Francis was a genius behind the lens.

The films languid pacing may have the 'I-Generation' twitching in their seats. In fact the film could easily form the structure of a play rather than a cinematic endeavor. Despite this though, The Innocents delivers its spine tingles with aplomb, with barely a spectral apparition in sight. It just shows you that in any form of horror, the best way to affect any audience is with a great story that pulls them in and never lets go.
The image is crystal clear and sharp. The contrast in the black and white is excellent and the many shadowy sequences are free of grain and full of detail. The film has been given an excellent transfer by Umbrella that belies the age of the film.
The sound, whilst not as impressive as the visuals, is easy to listen to and get the point across without blowing your eardrums.
Extra Features
In a nice touch Umbrella have included Claytons 1956 Oscar winning short ghost story The Bespoke Overcoat based on a 1953 play of the same name by Wolf Mankowitz. The story is an adaptation of Gogol's short story The Overcoat with the action relocated from Russia to the East End of London. The film tells the tale of Fender, a lowly clerk in the warehouse of clothing manufacturers Ranting and Co. His dream is have an overcoat of his own. Refused one by the cold hearted Ranting he asks a tailor friend, Morry, to make him one instead, but dies of cold before he can take delivery of it. Unwilling to give up his only desire even in death, he returns as a ghost to persuade Morry to steal him the overcoat he so coveted in life.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
An unheralded classic of the genre that is ripe for rediscovery. Francis' stunning compositions demand to be seen at the cinema but Umbrellas DVD is the next best thing. The film is a beautifully crafted ghost story full of understated chills, the talent behind the film make this a must see for any fan of vintage horror. It's a pleasure to reveal that there is much more to The Innocents than initially meets the eye.

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