The Innocents (1961)
It was a stroke of genius to cast Deborah Kerr as the neurotic governess in this dark, eerie adaptation of Henry James' Victorian psychological thriller The Turn of the Screw. Kerr--whose serene, singularly British bearing frequently won her roles as stern but loving authority figures (teachers in The King and I and Tea and Sympathy, nuns in Black Narcissus and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison)--uses her regal guilelessness to further confound the disturbing uncertainty surrounding a governess on her first assignment, looking after the niece and nephew of a wealthy, irresponsible charmer (an extended cameo by Michael Redgrave). Delighted by her charges, angelic Flora (Pamela Franklin) and playful Miles (Martin Stephens, a wicked little devil in the previous year's Village of the Damned), Kerr's Miss Giddens nevertheless begins to suspect that they are being haunted by the ghosts of their former governess, the long-suffering Miss Jessel, and the brash and sinister valet Peter Quint. But are the ghosts real, or merely a figment of Miss Giddens' overactive imagination, given fuel by frustrated passions? Director Jack Clayton (working from a script co-written by Truman Capote) expertly whips equal measures of sympathy for and misgivings about Kerr's increasingly frenzied protagonist while gradually turning the children into more than just innocent victims. The Innocents will assuredly leave you creeped out--but you'll just have to watch it again.