The Recurring Willow Song

         In Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961), based on Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw, the most fascinating aspect was the music. I was mesmerized, first of all, by the very beginning of the movie. The visual was that of a woman praying, and the audio was the song "O' Willow Waly," written by Georges Auric to the words by Paul Dehan. Somehow, the voice of the little girl made the tune more portentous than it already was. Pamela Franklin, who played young Flora in the movie, sang this haunting version of a song that, on its own would have been ominous enough, but she maintained the childlike innocence that only a young girl could give.

         To set a recurring theme in the movie, the song was used several times. It seemed to be used most when the movie was experiencing a lull in action. For instance, the use of the song at the beginning foreshadowed the ghoulish events to come, but it did not accompany any action itself. Conveniently, the melody was also the one that the music box played.

         This made it possible to incorporate the song yet again in the movie in a different format, so that just in case the child's voice or the subtle instrumental version of the song was not creepy enough, the plucking tone of the music box was another option of fright.

         As if the song itself did not accompany the movie well enough, the lyrics complete the unity:

         We lay my love and I beneath the weeping willow.
         But now alone I lie and weep beside the tree.

         Singing "Oh willow waly" by the tree that weeps with me.
         Singing "Oh willow waly" till my lover return to me.

         We lay my love and I beneath the weeping willow.
         A broken heart have I. Oh willow I die, oh willow I die.

         In the movie, the place where the Miss Giddens, the children's governess (Deborah Kerr), first saw the ghost of Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) was next to the pond, in a gazebo beneath a weeping willow. Added to this was the fact that the two ghosts died waiting for one another. Perhaps it could also be said that the children were waiting for their own lovers, Miss Jessel and Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde).

George Auric/Paul Dehn. "O' Willow Waly." 13 Aug 2003. 31 10 2003'WillowWaly.htm.

Tiffany Goatee

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