The Innocents Outdid The Screw

     From my reading and viewing, I have rarely seen a film version of literature that was better than the orginal work. However, the 1961 film The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton, was much more enjoyable and gripping than the 1898 novella it was based on, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James.

     In James's novella, the governess is written as a foolish and paranoid woman. In short, she immensely annoyed me. However, in the film, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), was beyond paranoid. But to the film's advantage, her character worked. Her crazy and obsessed behavior with the ghosts grew with each scene. By the end of the movie, the woman was at the point of a mental breakdown. One of the highlights of the film was Miss Giddens twirling around in circles in the hall, with the camera shot from above. The governess was certainly a basketcase in the book, but her mental anguish was brought to life in the film.

     The two ghosts, Miss Jessel and Peter Quint, were written in sketchy details. As I was reading, I did not know if these ghosts existed or not. I suppose that was James's motive, but I did not like the idea I was reading a ghost story that really had no ghosts in it. But in The Innocents, the Miss Jessel and Quint (Clytie Jessop and Peter Wyngarde) were real to me. Then scenes they appeared in were chilling, an effect the book did not exude. Of course, the creepiest scenes involving the spirits were the final scenes, when the boy Miles dies. The spirit of Quint was terrifying.

     The most improved aspect of the book-to-film adaptation was the children, Flora and Miles (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin). The children were much more evil in the movie. When Miles began choking Miss Giddens, the kid seemed totally psychotic. Equally horrifying was the scene in which Flora was confronted by Miss Giddens about the spirit possessing her.

     To summarize, the film The Innocents was superior to James's novella. The cinematic characters seemed more as if they were in a ghost story. What The Screw was lacking, The Innocents made up for.

Krista Kimmel

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