- Jack Clayton’s The Innocents is Truman Capote adapting Henry James on a grand widescreen CinemaScope canvas.
- It opens with a child singing “O Willow Waly” with haunting lyrics like “tree that weeps with me” and all of this is a good thirty seconds before the 20th Century Fox logo appears—it is just a black screen- a brilliant little choice.
- Jack Clayton and director of photography Freddie Francis (The Elephant Man, Scorsese’s Cape Fear) are absolutely dedicated to the depth of field photography just like Kurosawa during this fertile period of time in the early 1960s. Early on, Deborah Kerr (in what does feel like her best work) is in the foreground while the lake and gazebo (a fabulous set piece that will come up again often later in the film) are in the background right—all of this at a high angle to capture the details. The house and grounds were filmed in Sussex and seemingly every available attempt is made to shoot with natural lighting or candles.
At the 20-minute mark Flora (young Pamela Franklin) is foreground right in profile with Kerr background left behind a butterfly.
- Clayton uses long lingering dissolve edits on day transitions—one on a statue, one on a rose.
At the 34-minute mark Miles (a young Martin Stephens) is in the foreground right at a low angle with Kerr and Flora on the furniture (above). Another at 41-minutes from the top of the stairs—Kerr is between the two children facing them on the stairs, the housekeeper is in the deep background left.
- Another at the 45-minutes—just stunning work- this is Kurosawa quality with the housekeeper and Kerr as dueling heads within the frame.
At the lake at the 51-minute mark Flora is foreground right, the column is center/center with Kerr background right. Clayton knows exactly what he has here as far as an immaculate composition is concerned, so he holds it for a long duration.
- Kerr’s character (she plays Miss Giddens) sees these horrifying figures “abominations” as she calls them with an increase frequency. The housekeeper seems to be hiding something and the children seem off. But Giddens is not exactly a reliable narrative vehicle either which all adds to the ambiguity and richness of the situation.
- Phenomenally written throughout- “she looked at him as if she wanted the weight of his hand”
In a prolonged, lyrical surrealism sequence Kerr’s Giddens lays almost at the bottom of the screen while Clayton and editor Jim Clark (The Day of the Locust – 1975- and what a marvelously edited montage that film has at its climax) pile dissolves on her.
- Kerr is rooted in goodness- she is kind, beautiful—but also, she is naïve and weak- the well-meaning nature of her character (and the way Kerr plays her) leads to a certain fragility (potentially leaning into madness). The kids are pitch perfect eerie as well. The film ends with this unnerving bird chirping audio over the credits
- A Must-See/Masterpiece border film