#208 The Innocents

Watched: November 7 2018

Director: Jack Clayton

Starring: Deborah Kerr, Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Michael Redgrave, Megs Jenkins, Peter Wyngarde

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 40min

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When Sister the Oldest was young, she watched a lot of movies which were somewhat age-inappropriate. Child’s Play (1988) abruptly ended her doll playing career around 1990. Early exposure to Predator (1987) and Blue Velvet (1986) brought on a fear of invisible monsters leaving cut-off ears lying around willy nilly (the two movies may have been a bit muddled up in her young brain), though she found Terminator 2 (1991) more sad than scary. And then there was The Innocents

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Deborah Kerr looking for Miles in a flowing nightgown with a candelabra will forever haunt her dreams

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Like many of the others, this was partially watched on a friend’s TV one night  – our own parents were quite strict about what was appropriate viewing for kids – and it messed Sister the Oldest up quite a bit. However, November of this year was the first time she’d seen it since, and it still holds up as a creepy Gothic tale of ghosts and/or madness.

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It helps that the 1961 winner of Britain’s Creepiest Kid Award stars in it

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Based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (which we’ve actually read, being the cultured, sophisticated people that we are), the film tells the story of Miss Giddens (Kerr), who is sent to the British countryside as a governess to two young orphans, Miles (Stephens) and Flora (Franklin).

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As well as being a charming little doll, Flora possesses the strange ability to keep both the background and the foreground in focus. An unusual gift for so small a child.

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Giddens initially finds her two young wards utterly charming, and the estate beautiful. But as she starts to investigate what happened to the last governess and her dangerous lover, the children’s behaviour begins to worry her, and the rot underneath the beauty of the place starts to come up to the surface. Are the kids being haunted? Possessed? Are they playing games with her? Or is she slowly going insane in the isolated estate?

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It’s hard to decide what the truth is, but the crazy-eyes of Giddens might be a hint

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As stated, The Innocents has held up incredibly well. It’s a very faithful adaptation of James’ novella and the disturbing atmosphere of the original is very much present in the film version. The kids are perfectly cast, as is Deborah Kerr, and the estate is lovely and Gothic.

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Well done for finding not just one but two ghosty, floaty see-through children! They’re hard to come by.

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We loved the wholly impractical costumes (how were people supposed to do anything wearing something like that?) and the way everything in the shot was in focus at once (deep focus..? We’re not really down with the terminology of cinematography..), which made it feel unsettling and “wrong.” There’s very little score in the movie and it’s rather quiet most of the time, which works well to emphasise the atmosphere. Also, we loved the ambiguity of the ending…

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Ghosts or not, we’ve learned that cute children are inherently terrifying

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What we learned: One need not be a chamber to be haunted. Or mad. One need not be a chamber to be mad either.

Next time: Victim (1961)

#79 Black Narcissus

Watched: January 28 2017

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, David Farrar, Flora Robson, Judith Furse, Jenny Laird, Sabu, Jean Simmons

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 40min

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Sister Clodagh (Kerr) is tasked with starting a convent high up in the Himalayas. To aid in her quest, she is offered four companions; Briony the Strong (Furse), Philippa the Gardener (Robson), Blanche (aka Honey) the Sweet (Laird), and Ruth the Difficult (Byron). Together, they travel to the great unknown to start a school and a hospital for the locals.

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Luckily for them, nothing ever goes wrong when a group of people are stranded in a remote, albeit beautiful, location

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They quickly establish a school where they teach children about guns, and a hospital where they treat people who are sick, but not too sick. With the help of government agent Mr Dean (Farrar) and the local General (which is apparently a code name for royalty), who pays locals to visit the convent, the nuns flourish, at least for a while. They also take in a young local girl, Kanchi (Simmons), who has been hitting hard on Mr Dean with no luck.

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It’s hard to be the only eligible bachelor in the area. He needs help controlling the urges of the women crossing his path.

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When the Young General (Sabu – an actual Indian) comes to learn, the sisters are sceptical about admitting a man into their midst, but they eventually let him join their lessons, which Kanchi is thrilled about.

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She quite literally throws herself at his feet

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As the film progresses, all the nuns experience changes. Sister Philippa has a crisis of faith and ends up planting flowers instead of the vegetables she’s supposed to be growing for the convent. Sister Clodagh keeps having flashbacks to her life prior to life as a nun, reliving her past relationship back in Ireland with a man she thought she would marry. Sisters Blanche and Briony have to make some tough choices in regards to a sick infant, one which has consequences for all the nuns. However, sister Ruth’s break from reality is the most intense and sinister, which makes the last 20 minutes of the film play more like a horror film than the melodrama of the first hour.

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This is what happens when you question your choice of celibacy

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Ruth falls in love (or lust) with Mr Dean, and she becomes insanely jealous of Clodagh as she suspects (rightly or not) that the Sister Superior feels the same way. While the nuns blame the clear air and the water of their new home for their new emotions, it is quite possible that the convent itself might be partly to blame. We learn early on that the palace used to be a House of Women – a house for concubines and wives of the royals, and it seems the women go mad with lust and desire, in some form or another, in this building.

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Some go madder than others

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We enjoyed this film a lot. We have to admit that for the first 50 minutes we were not entirely sure what the point was – why was this film made? Beautiful as it was, it didn’t seem to be going clearly in any one direction. However, everything comes together in the last half. It is a strange and bizarre film, but we loved it nonetheless. Ruth’s transformation is wonderfully creepy and the endless drumming towards the end of the film are very reminiscent of I Walked with a Zombie, which adds to the feeling of horror of the last half hour. If you’re up for something weird and unusual, you should check out Black Narcissus. It’s quite the experience.

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What we learned: Europeans eat sausages wherever they go. Interpret that as you wish.

Next time: Brighton Rock (1947)

#64 The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Watched: December 13 2016

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook

Year: 1943

Runtime: 2h 43min

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An epic masterpiece in glorious technicolo(u)r, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp follows soldier Clive Candy (Liveley) through three wars and the untimely deaths of many African animals.

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So many dead African animals…

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During World War 2, Major-General Clive Wynne-Candy, commander in the Home Guard, is “captured” in a Turkish bath by overzealous soldiers who cannot wait for the actual exercise to begin. A scuffle ensues, Wynne-Candy is assaulted and insulted by the young leader, and we are then treated to a two-and-a-half hour long flashback of the aging soldier’s life.

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Meanwhile, the poor man has to sit around like this

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It begins during the Boer War, when young Candy is on leave and hears of some anti-British propaganda being spread in Germany. After being told clearly by his superiors to leave it alone, he goes off to Berlin to see Edith Hunter (Kerr), the British governess who brought the offence to his attention. Because why listen to your superiors?

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After some (hilarious) musical bullying in a restaurant, it all escalates into a proper duel. As is tradition.

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For offending the entire German army, Clive must fight a duel with Theo Kretschmar- Schuldorff (Walbrook) which leads to injuries for both fencers. They end up in the same hospital for convalescence, where they strike up a lifelong friendship together with Edith. As Clive recovers and prepares to return to England, he finds that his two friends have fallen in love and celebrates their engagement with them. It is only after he leaves he realises that he too is in love with the governess.

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Who wouldn’t fall in love with a woman who uses an entire bird as a fashion accessory?

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The two men go their separate ways, but keep in touch. World War 1 begins, and both soldiers are fighting, though obviously on different sides. On the last night of the war, Clive sees nurse Barbara Wynne (also Kerr) who is the spit of Edith (naturally) and once home, he tracks her down and marries her. Probably healthy.

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“Of course I love you for you, my dear! Your money and your striking resemblance to my sort-of almost ex-girlfriend are completely irrelevant!”

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After 1918, Theo is a prisoner of war in England for a year before he’s allowed to return home, defeated and defiant as many Germans at the time. However, his attitude changes during Hitler’s regime, and he eventually seeks refuge in England.

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Old, disillusioned and broken, Theo once again teams up with his old friend.

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The second World War is a difficult time for the now aged Clive, and his attitudes to war and how it should be fought give him a dismissal from the military where he has lived his life. The friendships of Theo and Clive’s driver (and confidant) Johnny Cannon (Kerr again) help him find new new purpose and brings us right up to the start of the film.

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It gives Clive a chance to get up from the bath and restores his dignity as well

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This was a wonderful film and despite its long run time it flies by. All major actors give great performances, and the glorious technicolor really does justice to the soldiers’ uniforms as well as Deborah Kerr’s amazing hair. We loved the clips showing the passage of time between wars, and the handling of Barbara’s death through newspaper clippings was oddly emotionally effective. There are some very good comments on a then ongoing war which are still good observations 70 years on.

The friendship between Clive and Theo is beautiful and the characters are wonderful as well. They’re both flawed, yes, but they are likable and human, which made us very invested in the outcome. We loved it, and it’s well worth the three hour run time.

What we learned: Oh, so many things! Old people have lived long, full lives. Never go off at half cock. Avoid politicians like the plague. Political ideas are best discussed by drinking beer and fighting duels. You so rarely see a good fencing duel nowadays. Only part of the title is true.

Next time: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)