369 Words on The Innocents

     The Innocents, Jack Clayton's 1961 film adaptation of the 1898 Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw, does pretty well as an adaptation and very well as its own work. There are, of course, some differences, but I believe this was intentional on the part of the film makers.

     To take a book and make a film out of it without making changes requires a high level of excitement on the book's part. An exciting book left unchanged will make an exciting film. The Turn of the Screw needed a little boost to make it successful for the big screen. (Not that the book was not exciting enough; it was, but this reader's imagination provided some of the thrills.) An imagination, though, is not the top requirement for the viewing of a film, so--thus, the changes.

     The changes in particular Mr. Clayton and Messrs. William Archibald and Truman Capote (screenwriters) made involved James's little devils, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin). They were blond in the book but dyed their hair black for the film. Is that so important?--why, sure. The blond children were the picture of innocence, and their claim of ignorance on the part of seeing the ghosts made the matter of the ghosts' existence more questionable. The dark-haired movie children though--one does not assume they are so sweet. That dark hair, hmm...they know something. So the viewer decides the ghosts just might be real--which adds the 50 cc's of excitement the film needs.

     Of course, the hair difference was not the only change. Miles must have gone to wrestling school in the interval between the book and the film because the headlock he put Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) in was worthy of Hulk Hogan. Flora developed a fondness for beetles as well, becoming both a collector and bard of the genus.

     The ghosts certainly did not suffer in the transition. Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel Clytie Jessop) developed a geniune scare factor for the film. In the book they were vaguely terrible, but in the movie they were downright creepy--especially Miss Jessel.

     Were these changes necessary? I think so. Without them, the film would not have been so successful. They transformed a psychological thriller (the perfect book) into a ghostorama (near-perfect movie).

Jared R. Nelson

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