Come Forward, All You Who Are Innocent

     In 1950, William Archibald wrote a Broadway play based on Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw. He titled the play The Innocents. The 1961 movie adaptation of James's novella is also titled The Innocents. Truman Capote and Archibald wrote the script for the 1961 movie, so it is not surprising that the movie and the play carry the same title. But why was James's title changed for the play and movie version of The Turn of the Screw? An innocent person is free from the knowledge of evil, of guile, of cunning; he or she is incapable of harming, injuring, or corrupting. Where are the innocents in Archibald's play or in the movie adaptation?

     It is evident in the movie that Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin) are possessed by evil spirits, and they are NOT innocents. These two children deliberately "turn the screw" on Miss Giddens' (Deborah Kerr) fear of the demonic ghosts of Peter Quint (Peter Wyngrade) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop). The facial expressions and actions of Miles and Flora leave no doubt that they both see and hear) the ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel. Yet, except for (Miles's admission as he draws his last breath, both of the children deny their knowledge of the two ghosts. Flora frequently hums a song taught to her by Miss Jessel, the former governess. She tells Miss Giddens that she likes to look at things in the dark. She refers to death or asks questions about it many times. She refuses to tell Miss Giddens how she knows that Miles is coming home from school. Flora enjoys watching a spider eat a beautiful butterfly. She deliberately looks out of the window, knowing Miss Giddens will see barefooted Miles standing in the dark garden.

     Miss Giddens rides in the carriage with Miles after he is expelled from school. He kisses her in an obviously lecherous manner--the same way Peter Quint probably kissed Miss Jessel. Miss Giddens sees a "man" on the tower. She investigates and finds only Miles. He tells her that no one has been there with him. He pulls a dead pigeon from under his pillow and shows it to Miss Giddens. When Miss Giddens finds a picture of Quint, Miles pounces on her back and nearly chokes her to death. During a pretend birthday party, Miles recites a poem about a young lady yearning for the return of her dead lover.

     After Miss Giddens sends everyone away except Miles, he tells her he feels like the master of the house (just as Quint was). Miles tells her he was expelled from school because he said and heard things that frightened the other boys. He throws Flora's pet turtle through the window when Miss Giddens asks him, "Shall I tell you who taught you those things?" He screams at Miss Giddens that she is a damned hussy--dirty-minded--insane. He runs into the garden; Miss Giddens follows him. Quint's ghost appears. Miles screams his name and tells him to run. Miles falls to the ground, dead. Miss Giddens, virgin governess, kisses the dying (or dead) Miles as a woman would kiss a man. Even in death, Miles "turns the screw" on Miss Giddens's suppressed sexual desires.

     Miss Giddens is guilty of "turning the screw" on the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (Meg Jenkins). Just as the children play on Miss Giddens's fear of the malefic specters, so does Miss Giddens play on Mrs. Grose's KNOWLEDGE of the ghosts. Miss Giddens does not investigate the reason for Miles expulsion from school. Thus, she conjectures perverted thoughts about Miles: he contaminated and corrupted the boys at school; she hints at homosexuality and incest. She is guilty of egotism in thinking that she is capable of handling the terrifying truth about the children. I hesitate to pronounce her guilty of frightening Miles to death. Perhaps he dies because it is the only way to reclaim his soul from Quint.

     James begins his novella, The Turn of the Screw, with a group of visitors discussing the effect of a ghost appearing to a young, innocent child. A man named Douglas wonders if ONE child "gives the effect (of a ghost story) another turn of the screw," what would a ghostly visitation to TWO children do? Archibald's PLAY and the MOVIE adaptation both emphasize "the turn of the screw"--the pressure to accept the presence of the two ghosts--much more than they do the innocence of any of the characters.

     Could it be that the title, The Innocents, was given to both the play and movie adaptation of James's novella, The Turn of the Screw, because of the vulgar connotation of the word "screw?" Or was the title changed with tongue in cheek? If this was the case, whoever was responsible for changing the title had a lot of iron in his blood!

Barbara Locke Chorn

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