In my opinion, The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton in 1961 and based on Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw, was the best over all. Every element of the film fit nicely together. Garnering the silver in a tie are George Cukor's 1964 My Fair Lady, based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, and William Wyler's 1949 The Heiress, based on Henry James's 1880 Washington Square.
The actors in The Innocents were amazing. Deborah Kerr--it was intriguing to watch her go from sane innocent to doubtful crazy. The children, though, were the best actors at the film, especially the young boy, Miles, acted by Martin Stephens, played their roles fantastically and scared the living daylights out of me.
The settings used were so spooky and dark. It was as though they had actually found a haunted house to play their haunted house. The set was also very beautiful and intricate, growing off a fantasy-like/dream-like atmosphere, which is a good adaptation to the book because it makes the audience wonder if it is all just a dream, and if the ghosts are just in the governess' mind.
The cinematography by Freddie Francis was brilliant. The use of black and white makes the story spookier, but the use of light to showcase the actors in the dark makes the movie. The first scene with Deborah Kerr in a dark room and the light only on her face and hands as she prays to save the children, gives off the eerie sense of a confessional or even a jail cell.
Also, the way sound was used to emphasize the characters as well as set the eerie/spooky mood was great. The way the movie started with just a black screen and the little girl singing the melodic tune, sends shivers down my spine.
For best costumes, though, I have to give the award to George Cukor's My Fair Lady. Cecil Beaton's costumes did not do the play justice, but they were beautiful to watch on-screen. The use of color and ornate decorations may not be what Shaw had in mind when writing Pygmalion in 1913, but the adaptation to musical makes the costumes acceptable to view because the story is being manipulated into a frothy musical number!
The best use of music was in William Wyler's 1949 The Heiress. The music suited the film so well! Aaron Copland is known for his use of hollow music (with high and low notes--no middle). This complemented the story so well because the love in the story was so hollow--for everyone. Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson) loved the idea of having Catherine to control, Morris (Montgomery Cliff) loved the status of Catherine (Olivia de Havilland), and Catherine just wanted to know what love was. No one actually exhibited the middle of feeling love, just viewing and manipulating.
All in all, The Innocents takes the gold for the semester. My Fair Lady and The Heiress both take the silver.