Archive for the ‘The Innocents (1961)’ Category

(Spine # 727)The Innocents - The Criterion Collection # 727

Distributor: The Criterion Collection

Release Date: September 23, 2014

Region: Region A

Length: 100 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 1.0 LPCM English Mono (1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit)

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps

Notes: This title is also available as a DVD release.

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“This Jack Clayton adaptation of The Turn of the Screw is one of the rare pictures that does justice to Henry James. It’s beautifully crafted and acted, immaculately shot (by Freddie Francis), and [is] very scary.” -Martin Scorsese (The Daily Beast)

Jack Clayton’s classic film is a rather faithful adaptation of “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James. While James was always attracted to the ‘ghost story,’ he did not particularly admire the stereotypical schlock style that most of these tales employed. His story blurred the line between the physical (or spiritual) reality of the ghosts, and the psychological condition of the heroine.

Thankfully, Jack Clayton (together with writers William Archibald and Truman Capote) decided to maintain the novella’s essential ambiguity. As a matter of fact, it might be said that Clayton’s film is even more ambiguous than James’ original text. One’s enjoyment of the film depends upon the viewer’s ability to appreciate such subtleties. Perhaps this is the reason that the film was met with a mixed critical reception upon its original release.

Variety published a positive (if poorly written) review that seemed to interpret the film’s plot at face value.

“Based on Henry James’ story, ‘[The] Turn of the Screw’ this catches an eerie, spine-chilling mood right at the start and never lets up on its grim, evil theme. Director Jack Clayton makes full use of camera angles, sharp cutting, shadows, ghost effects and a sinister soundtrack.

Deborah Kerr has a long, arduous role as a governess in charge of two apparently angelic little children in a huge country house. Gradually she finds that they are not all that they seem on the surface. Her determination to save the two moppets’ corrupted souls leads up to a tragic, powerful climax.

Clayton’s small but expert cast [does] full justice to their tasks. Kerr runs a wide gamut of emotions in a difficult role in which she has to start with an uncomplicated portrayal and gradually find herself involved in strange, unnatural goings-on, during which she sometimes doubts her own sanity. Clayton has also coaxed a couple of remarkable pieces of playing from the two youngsters, Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin, extraordinary blends of innocence and sophistry.” –Variety (December 31, 1961)

Time magazine’s critic enjoyed the film (and the novella), but felt that Clayton was too aggressive with some of the film’s more horror-filled moments. The review claimed that “some of [the novella’s] profundity is sacrificed to saleability in this film.” This might be the case, but The Innocents is one of the most subtle (and tasteful) genre films that this reviewer has ever seen.

Bosley Crowther’s review for The New York Times acknowledged the film’s ambiguous nature, but feared that the mainstream public would find the film boring. He also erroneously felt that Clayton’s direction and Kerr’s performance did not clearly suggest enough motivation for these apparitions to be psychological in nature.

“Folks who have never seen a movie set in a scary old house, where the doors creak, the wind howls around corners, ghosts pace the long, dark halls and hideous, spectral faces appear in the windows at night, should find themselves beautifully frightened and even intellectually aroused by Jack Clayton’s new picture, The Innocents

…For Mr. Clayton, the British director who first clicked with Room at the Top, has done a fine job of infusing this drama with spooky atmosphere and a certain sense of the weird and supernatural that should clobber the gullible. He has used his camera so expertly that even shots of apparitions (or ‘ghosts’) in the open air and broad daylight have a startling and chilling quality.

But we fear that old hands long familiar with the traffic and tricks of horror films will feel a bit bored by this screen version of Henry James’ famous tale, ‘The Turn of the Screw,’ so mild and ingenuous it is alongside others of the genre. And especially do we fear they will be let down by the lucent performance of Deborah Kerr as the supposedly morbid young woman who is the focal figure in the tale…

…A strong implication that she is a psychotic character seeps through the lines and situations of William Archibald’s and Truman Capote’s script.

But, curiously, in her performance Miss Kerr neither acts nor looks a repressed or inhibited woman. She seems excessively normal and alive when she takes the governess job from Michael Redgrave, who plays the dour and distant guardian of the kids. And even when she is beginning to get strange and horrendous ideas about ghostly inhabitants of the old mansion and their possession of the children’s minds, she still seems a thoroughly healthy woman mysteriously given to seeing ghosts. From her performance there comes no exudation of mental unwholesomeness.

Thus, the sophisticated viewer—and certainly one who is used to seeing conventional horror movies — is likely to feel this one not only bland but inadequately motivated along psychological lines. If we’re supposed to accept the creeping terror and disintegration of the governess as inspired by purely mystical factors, it isn’t fearful enough. And if we’re supposed to accept them as mental disorder, it is not sufficiently explained…

…Mr. Clayton and Miss Kerr have neglected to interpret the tale and character with sufficient incisiveness and candor to give us a first-rate horror or psychological film. But they’ve given us one that still has interest and sends some formidable chills down the spine.” -Bosley Crowther (New York Times, December 26, 1961)

Frankly, had Clayton showed any further suggestion that these apparitions were born in the mind of the governess; the film would have lost all ambiguity. Sometimes, it is more interesting to question a character’s inner-life than it is to be told every little detail.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is housed in a clear Criterion case with film related artwork. The artwork features a spectacular image of Debra Kerr (taken from the film’s opening credits). A leaflet is also included and features an essay by Maitland McDonagh that is entitled “Forbidden Games.”

Menu 1Menu 2Menu 3Menu 4

The static menus are attractive and are in the same style as other Criterion titles. Sound textures from the film can also be heard during the menus. It is a very nice presentation.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The leaflet that comes enclosed with this disc explains that a great deal of work went into providing consumers with the best possible Blu-ray image.

“This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on an Oxbery wet-gate film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Revival, Cinnafilm’s Dark Energy, and Pixel Farm’s PFClean. Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, and noise management.

The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 3.”

Criterion’s tireless work seems to have paid off, because the disc’s black and white image transfer is simply amazing. The image is immaculate and vividly detailed. There are no scratches, dirt particles, hairs, stains, or digital anomalies to mar one’s enjoyment of the film. There is a nice even layer of film grain that seems to accurately represent the film’s celluloid source (without becoming distractingly noticeable). The image is rendered with accurate contrast, showcasing an enormous range of blacks, grays, and whites. Criterion has once again given cinemaphiles a perfect viewing experience.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The 1.0 LPCM Mono transfer is also excellent. The sound design comes through beautifully on Criterions’s loss-less track. Dialogue is consistently clean and understandable, while music is given room to breathe. The track is free from dropouts, distracting hiss, or any of the other anomalies one expects from transfers of vintage films.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Audio Commentary with Christopher Frayling

This 2006 commentary by Christopher Frayling discusses the history of the novel, and the film. He provides an easy mixture of production information and analysis that is consistently enjoyable throughout the length of the film.

Introduction by Christopher Frayling – (23:19) – (1080I)

This introduction to the film by Christopher Frayling was shot at Sheffield Park (East Sussex) in 2006. (This is where some of the scenes in the film were shot). Frayling relays a variety of information to the audience, which is often illustrated with stills and footage from the film. Some of the information is also discussed in the commentary track, but there is enough interesting information here to make it an enjoyable supplement.

Between Horror, Fear, and Beauty: The Making of “The Innocents” – (13:48) – (1080P)

This “making of” featurette contains 2006 interviews with Freddie Francis (Director of Photography), Jim Clark (editor), and Pamela Mann Francis (script supervisor). Their interviews are illustrated with various stills and footage from the film. This is an extremely interesting featurette, and is essential viewing for fans of the film.

Interview with John Bailey – (18:54) – (1080P)

John Bailey (cinematographer) discusses Freddie Francis’ work as ‘director of photography’ on The Innocents. He discusses the technical challenges involved in shooting in the Cinemascope format, and explains how Clayton and Francis decided to get around the limitations of the process.

Theatrical Trailer – (2:50) – (1080P)

The film’s theatrical trailer is quite interesting, if somewhat obnoxious. If this is an example of Fox’s marketing for the film, it was improperly handled. It is nice to have the trailer included here.

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Final Words:

Criterion has again provided consumers with an amazing home video release. This disc is essential for fans of the film, and required viewing for Cinemaphiles everywhere.

Review by: Devon Powell