In my experience, I have found it to be pretty unusual that a movie be even better than the book it is based upon. However, in Jack Clayton's 1961 film, The Innocents, based on Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, this is definitely the case. The film is able to use color, music, lighting, and other visual elements that help create the eerie feeling that the viewer should experience. The camera is also used as a tool that contributes to the film. It is used to create distance and mystery. Items such as bugs and flowers are employed as symbolism to warn of evil. These are elements that cannot be utilized in the book. The Innocents is the best film adaptation of a book that I have ever seen.
Although the film is in black and white, color plays a large role in crating the mysterious atmosphere. For instance, the ghosts are usually seen wearing black. Black can be attributed to darkness and evil. Also, in the novella, the children have blond hair; but, in the film, they are dark haired. This simple change is used to show that the children are not completely "innocent" and angelic. Another color that is used to do this is the color white. White is usually associated with purity and innocence. However, in The Innocents, we are aware that underneath the sweet, innocent exteriors of the children lie something dark and inhuman. Some of the white images that appear include Flora's (Pamela Franklin) dresses, rose petals that fall onto the prayer book, as well on Miles' (Martin Stephens) white doves and his white pony. Behind each of these images lies something strange and frightening.
The camera, as directed by cinematographer Freddie Francis, does a wonderful job of playing tricks on the eye and creating illusion. It is very effective in capturing the ghosts. The camera uses distance, angles, and shots of the ghosts through mists and fog to make the ghosts seem more mysterious. For example, the camera is used to create distance when it shows Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) atop a tower with the sunlight shining directed behind him and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) across a pond being viewed through a mist. The camera is also slightly out of focus at times to make the viewer wonder what he or she is really seeing. The camera likwise captures the ghosts' profiles and backs to trick the viewer once more. In addition, the camera shows Quint's evil, inhuman face through a window. This scene is extremely suspenseful. The use of the camera to create mystery and wonder is quite effective.
Other visual elements employed in the film to warn of evil include insects, flowers, and statues. Flora has an obsession with playing with bugs and reptiles. This tells the viewer that she is not a normal little girl. Also, butterflies flitter about during the film. Although they seem sweet and lovely on the outside, we know that they once were not so beautiful. Like the butterflies, the children have an ugly core hidden by beauty and innocence. Flowers, also know for their beauty and elegance, are used to warn of danger. For instance, when the governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), first goes to Bly, she touches a bouquet of roses; and they wither and die. Flora (whose name is Latin for "flower") drops her flowers in the path as she runs to greet Miles. Miles offers flowers to Miss Giddens. As well, petals fall on the prayer book. All of these occurrences with flowers are used to warn the viewer that evil is on the way.
Music, Flora's sweet hymn, and Miles' creepy poem also create feelings of foreboding. The strange, grotesque statues in the garden are another frightening elements. One statue is of a young boy with no hands. A disgusting bug pops out of its mouth. This is used to show that, although some things seem attractive on the outside, they may hide ugly things inside. Moreover, the circles of statues seem cold and menacing as they peer at Miss Giddens and the children in the end. Miss Giddens battles with Quint in the midst of the statues. Other elements used to frighten the viewer are creaky staircases, cobwebs, dusty hallways, candles that go out, and doors that creak. All of these elements combined add to the chilling mood that the film creates so well.
The film The Innocents is able to capture the total mood of the story. From the colors to the camera work to the bugs and reptiles, the director of this film, along with the other film makers, has created a masterpiece. This is one film adaptation that truly deserves an Oscar!