Who Are the Innocents?

     By and large, it is never a pretty picture when books become converted to movies. In order to compensate for lack of storytelling, movies oftentimes exaggerate characters out of proportion to get a point across. A good case in point is Henry James's 1898 novel, The Turn of the Screw. This story was perfectly fine on its own; James spreads a dreamlike ambience of fear throughout this work. James is perfectly willing to give us all the clues but none of the answers. Unfortunately, in the name of Hollywood, James's story loses a great deal of its subtlety and simultaneously, its horror value.

     Part of this lies in the fact that it is oftentimes easier to frighten the audience in a book rather than in a movie. For instance, the manor in which the story takes place is much more ominous and gothic in the book version. This is so because the story takes place in the summer and most of the encounters occur during the day; which translates into movie sequences which are not very scary.

     Secondly, the children in the movie are much more disturbing and less spotless in the 1961 movie, directed by Jack Clayton. In fact, they seem like lost-long members of the Addams family. Flora (Pamela Franklin) tediously plays the same ghoulish tune constantly on the piano. Miles (Martin Stephens) seems to be outright psychotic, because he talks like some junior Boris Karloff. In one scene, he changes a simple childish game of dress-up into a satanic rite, complete with chant. Are we really supposed to assume that Miss Giddens really to protect these little monsters?

     Giddens herself (Deborah Kerr) undergoes a disappointed change, too. The main question addressed in The Turn of the Screw was the notion of whether or not the caretaker was sane. The movie muddles this all up by making all too clear the perversion of Giddens towards Miles only hinted at in the book. This causes a loss of credibility towards Giddens as a character.

     The Innocents is an interesting case of a movie that tried to generate debate and question taboos, while retaining its horror elements. (There is even a kiss scene between Mrs. Grose, played by Megs Jenkins, and Miss Giddens!) However, these script changes are too small and dubious to really stand on their own. Furthermore, they add confusion to the basic concept, the ghost story. Even The Shining, the 1980 Stanley Kubrick movie with serious plot holes, overtakes this for genuine suspenseful cinema. The Innocents attempts to be both horror and film noir and comes short on both.

Joseph M. Pence

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