Perfect for the Halloween season, The Criterion Collection has released a gorgeous DVD version of the classic ghost film, The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr. Based on Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents is part ghost/horror film, part psychological drama.
James’s story concerns a naive, inexperienced young governess who is hired to care for two precocious children, sister and brother Flora and Miles (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens). Their uncle (Michael Redgrave), seemingly uninterested in anything about his charges except that they are provided for, sends Miss Giddens to his country estate, Bly, with the strict instruction of not bothering him with anything – ever. He also asks her if she has an imagination, which may seem like a strange question at first, but will become more and more important as the story progresses. Both Miss Giddens and the audience must decipher if what they are seeing is truly occurring.
Director Jack Clayton never really answers some of the questions posed by the film, either: Are the ghosts real, or just imagined by Miss Giddens (Kerr)? Leaving the mystery open to interpretation helps involve the audience more deeply in the story. Are we seeing what is really happening, or what is in Miss Giddens’s mind? Deborah Kerr gives perhaps the best performance of her career as a woman who is determined to do the right thing, but whose actions, spurred on by her religious and sheltered upbringing, may bring disaster to everyone.
Miss Giddens, “But above anything else, I love the children.”
It is interesting that the two orphaned children’s parents are never mentioned. They are surrounded by surrogate parents – seen and unseen – and with an uncle who is uninvolved in their lives and a governess who is overly preoccupied with their welfare. The only other (living) adult on the scene is the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins), who at first seems to respect and agree with Miss Giddens and her assessment of the situation, but, who, gradually, like the audience, begins to wonder what exactly Miss Giddens believes she is seeing.
The new transfer, a 4K digital restoration, is immaculate, with rich blacks and grays. The film is in widescreen format, with an aspect ration of 2.35:1, and looks great on a large screen, high-definition television. The sound quality is excellent, too, with the score and dialogue sharp and clear. There are some wonderful extras on the disc, including an introduction by cultural historian Christopher Frayling (who also does the audio commentary); an interview with cinematographer John Bailey; a “making of” featurette, with interviews with director of photography Freddie Francis, editor John Clark, and script supervisor Pamela Mann Francis. The DVD also includes an attractive pull-out with cast, credits, a film still, and an essay by critic Maitland McDonagh.
The gothic horror of The Innocents is not graphic, but it is scary and creepy in the extreme. Full of shadows and dark desires, one will need to watch and decide for oneself what exactly is or isn’t happening. It’s a wonderful addition to the Criterion Collection and any horror film aficionado’s list of must-see movies.