The Innocents, a 1961 film adaptation of the 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, written by Henry James, proved to be a well-done film for some subtle reasons. The film is slightly ahead of its time. Let me begin by stating that I do not believe the ghosts are in this work are real. The children, having long been ignored by their uncle (Michael Redgrave), have good reason not to be manipulative and evil on their own. Having stated that, please allow me to present my case.
The director Jack Clayton along with the cinematographer, Freddie Francis, made an excellent use of light and shadow; a device used by film makers extensively at the present but which was more unusual in the early sixties. There is, of course, impressive cinematography in this picture. A filter of some sort was placed over the lens whenever a ghost was shown on camera. This method worked well with the black and white format.
Another success enjoyed by this picture is something that is often overlooked by many, casting. The casting was well done. Deborah Kerr, who played Miss Giddens, the unfortunate yet beautiful governess caught in the midst of this ghostly adventure, played her role damn convincingly. The fact that Deborah Kerr aged very well helped her get parts that called for a younger actress even during the winter of her career, which is hard to accomplish in Hollywood without the aid of plastic surgery.
Another fine casting job was that of the children's. Martin Stephens, as the young Miles, and Pamela Franklin as his sister, Flora both reasonably gifted child actors. But the idea to make them dark haired instead of blond was in my opinion a mistake. The director must have been trying to make them more threatening with this action. However, it takes away from an aspect crucial to the story. The children are to be mysterious, therefore visually none threatening. The blond-haired blue-eyed children would have portrayed that trait much more easily. Furthermore, the children in the film were much older then those of the novella. The younger ages of the book work better to show that the children could not have been involved in some form of evil plot due to their youth.
The question at the core of this story remains. Were the ghosts Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) and Quint (Peter Wyngarde) real? James used an author's device that allows the reader to conclude this for himself. The film carried this concept over in the adaptation. The viewer must conclude whether or not the spirits exist. This viewer has concluded that they do not. Mis. Giddens is the only one disturbed by these images because only she sees them, simply because they are in her mind. She sees Quint in the young Miles. This made for some slightly disturbing scenes. She is lonely at the estate, and her mind could easily play tricks on her to convince her that her ghostly hallucinations are real. That is, of course, only one man's conclusion.