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INNOCENTS, THE

Director: JACK CLAYTON

U.K. • 1961 • BLACK AND WHITE • ANAMORPHIC • 100 MIN • NEW 35MM PRINT.


DINING ONE EVENING IN A RESTAURANT IN FRANCE, DIRECTOR JACK CLAYTON WAS HANDED A MESSAGE BY A WAITER FROM A CUSTOMER AT ANOTHER TABLE. IT READ: ‘THE INNOCENTS—THE BEST ENGLISH FILM AFTER HITCHCOCK GOES TO AMERICA.’ THE MESSAGE WAS SIGNED BY FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT.

First released in 1961 and now reissued in a wonderfully restored print, ‘The Innocents’ is based on Henry James’s classic ‘The Turn of the Screw’ and is in the horror-by-implication tradition of such British films as ‘Dead of Night’ and ‘The Queen of Spades’, where the terror is less physical than psychological. A Victorian governess (superlatively played by Deborah Kerr) suspects that the children in her charge are possessed by evil spirits. But are the ghosts she sees real, or symptoms of her sexual neurosis? Do the children have more to fear from her?

With an incomparable team of collaborators in peak form (including writer Truman Capote, composer Georges Auric and cameraman Freddie Francis), Clayton has risen to every single challenge posed by the adaptation. Ghosts, even in daylight, have never looked more sinister; every incident—indeed innocence itself—is visualised with stylish ambiguity; even a simple image of a teardrop on a schoolroom blotter becomes, in its context, sad, suggestive and spine-chilling. Clayton felt childhood as a frightening world of secrets and whispers, and was fascinated with the theme of souls in peril: these twin obsessions are rendered here in a tour-de-force of lyrical, suspenseful cinema. Truffaut could be controversial about British film but he was not wrong about ‘The Innocents’: it’s a masterpiece.—Neil Sinyard.

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