Setting the Tone

     Praying hands, a thriller score, and the lettering of the credits form the beginning of The Innocents. The 1961 film, directed by Jack Clayton and based on the 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, had a "Hitchcockish" theme throughout. It was established early and never diminished.

     With the opening scene, we could feel the tension as we sat at the edge of our seats! The screen was totally black with an eerie opening score. We are then led to a set of the praying hands of a young lady, Deborah Kerr, who plays the governess--Miss Giddens.

     The fascination of Flora (Pamela Franklin) with a spider eating a butterfly later in the movie is another prime example of the "Hitchcock touch." Her appearance as an angelic, talkative, bright girl gives a foreshadowing of a girl who is desperate for attention and going down a road of possible future mental problems.

     The return of Miles (Martin Stephens) gives a sense of impending doom. The letter received by Miss Giddens never tells what Miles did to be expelled. His angelic appearance and charming ways foreshadow other problems to come.

     The characters are not the only things setting the tone of the film. When Miles is found on the top of the tower, he is holding a dead pigeon, which seem to have suffered a broken neck at the hands of Miles. The birds in the garden that swarm Miss Giddens look to be on the verge of attacking her. The camera work in the hallway when Miss Giddens starts to lose her mind, made us feel as though we were also losing ours. All of the statues in the garden seem to be enveloped by the night sky surrounding them in the background. The storm that is occurring when the female ghost (Clytie Jessop) appears for the last time also shows the sorrow for the children that is starting to overcome Miss Giddens in fear that she would not be able to save them. Miles recites a poem that has Quint (Peter Wyngarde) as its subject. He asks him to come back from the dead to stay. The fact that he calls him his Lord is also eerie.

     The ghosts of the former valet, Peter Quint, and the governess, Miss Jessel, are the main influence for the theme of the movie throughout. Their random appearances on the tower and throughout the house sent chills down my spine. The female ghost seems to be more important with the theme. Her first appearance is unprovoked when she walks down the hallway. The second is even worse when she sits at the desk, crying then disappearing into thin air.

     The tone is vital. It is set early, and it is constant throughout. It never let us off of the edge of our seats unless we fell off of them.

Steven Dick

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