Tag Archives: British Movies

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A bi-sexual love affair.

Bob (Murray Head) is having a relationship with middle-aged divorcee Alex (Glenda Jackson) as well as a family doctor named Daniel (Peter Finch). He jumps between the two of them whenever the mood hits. Both Alex and Daniel are aware of the other and are not happy about it, but feel if they push the issue Bob will simply leave them. The film focuses on the frustrations and loneliness that Alex and Daniel feel in dealing with Bob and their less than ideal situation.

This film is engrossing from beginning to end. Director John Schlesinger was still in top form as the camera work, cinematography, and editing is first rate. Everything is meticulously orchestrated to the point that every shot seems to tell its own little story. The narrative is done in a fragmented style going back and forth between the present day to scenes from when both Alex and Daniel were younger. Much of it comes off like thoughts going on inside someone’s head and the film’s style is masterful and flawless.

What I really liked about this movie is the fact that it focuses not so much on each person’s time with Bob, but actually more on their time away from him. The points this film makes about the difficulties of communication that people have when they are in a relationship as well the glass wall that sometimes gets created is completely on-target. The film’s subtitles and nuances are perfectly balanced and if you are a viewer with more sophisticated tastes then this will be time well spent.

Things are revealed about the characters through visual and subtle means, which I loved. When Alex drops an ashtray and then proceeds to clean it up simply by rubbing the ashes into her rug, or the precarious way she makes herself on cup of coffee in the morning while rushing off to work nicely reflects her out-of-control life and the topsy-turvy way she approaches it. The scenes where Daniel attends a Bar mitzvah is excellent and for me some of the strongest moments in the movie.

The portrayal of the children here is above average as well. They are not cute and well-behaved, but instead realistically rambunctious and mischievous. I liked the wild, endless energy that they display and how easily chaotic they turn their household into, or how the parents had become immune and deaf to all of it. Having the 4-year-old smoke pot while Alex and Bob, who are babysitting, decide to overlook it may be pushing things a bit far, but I still liked the mod approach the film takes, which reflects nicely the unconventional lives of the characters.

The film’s biggest flaw is Head himself. The man is mainly known for his singing career and his acting ability is clearly limited in comparison to Finch and Jackson who are both excellent. The character is dull and the film does not make much of an attempt to analyze him like it does with the other two. In a way Head’s one-dimensional performance works because the character seems to be used as a ‘pretty boy’ who the other two are attracted to because of his looks and youth and therefore revealing the insecurities that they have about themselves as well as giving a pertinent warning that when one pursues someone solely based on their sex appeal the relationship is doomed.

I liked how at the very end Daniel and Alex do meet and have a brief conversation though I wished it had been just a little more extended. Having Finch talk directly to the camera at the closing is a bit disconcerting though what he says is interesting.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: September 8, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video

The Jokers (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rob to avoid work.

Brothers Michael (Michael Crawford) and David (Oliver Reed) decide that working life is not for them and come up with an elaborate robbery that will afford them enough money to drop out of society for good. Their plan is a clever one as they stage random bomb threats across parts of London, which creates a panic in the city. Then they threaten to blow up the tower of London, disguise themselves as military experts who can go in to diffuse the bomb and then run off with the crown jewels in the process, which they conveniently hide underneath the floor boards of their home.

The film has a great irreverent flair that was common amongst the new wave British films of the late 60’s. The quick edits, fragmented narrative, and quirky humor is similar to Richard Lester’s The Knack…and How to Get It, which also starred Crawford. The comedy, especially its potshots at the establishment, is right on target and engaging. I was surprised that it was directed by Michael Winner as so many of his later films, especially the ones he did with Charles Bronson, seemed so formulaic that I could never imagine he could show so much spunk and flair.

The crime is imaginative and plays out nicely. There is also a neat and completely unexpected twist near the middle that keeps things intriguing to almost the very end.

Crawford shows charm and his boyish looks help strengthen is character. He somehow manages to upstage Reed, which I never thought would be possible and his charisma carries the film. He does though look too scrawny and almost anorexic in parts and having him gain some weight and ‘putting some meat on his bones’ before filming began would have been advisable.

British character actor Harry Andrews is amusing as the exasperated Inspector Maryatt. However, I found James Donald as the completely clueless Colonel Gurney-Simms to be the funniest.

If the film fails anywhere it is in the fact that it loses its satirical edge and focus. It starts out making fun of the upper-crust English society, but then becomes too preoccupied with the crime itself. David and Michael’s interactions with their stuffy, conservative parents (Peter Graves, Rachel Kempson) are cute and I would have liked to see more of it as well as more jabs at ‘respectable’ society. The film’s conclusion is extremely weak. For such a clever movie I was hoping for something a little better. It is almost like they ran out of ideas and threw in some bland denouncement simply as a way to end it because they didn’t know how else to do it. Nothing is more of a letdown then seeing a writer write themselves into a hole that they can’t get out, which is what you get here and it almost ruins the entire film in the process. However, the majority of it is so slick I was willing to forgive it and almost wished there could be more movies like these coming out today.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Universal

Available: None

The Nanny (1965)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid doesn’t like nanny.

            Bette Davis plays a nanny to an upper-class British family whose oldest son Joey (William Dix) is accused of accidently killing his younger sister. Joey, who is only 10, is sent away to a home for disturbed children. When he returns he accuses the nanny as the one who did the killing and a psychological game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

Davis is sensational. She plays a type of character that she has never done before and the results are fascinating. She is much more subdued and evasive than usual and she falls into the role of the unassuming nanny in a seamless fashion. The different setting works well for her and I commend her tenacity for taking on a project that was not glamorous. She even puts on some thick eyebrows for her part and at times, especially at the beginning, she starts to resemble her most hated rival Joan Crawford.

Dix is amazingly good as the kid and it is a shame that he did only one other picture after this one. I liked the independent nature of the character and he plays off Davis quite well and showed no signs of being intimated by her. Making the adversaries have such extreme age difference and personalities gives the story an interesting edge that helps carry the picture.

The evocative black and white photography helps accentuate the dark-tone. The British setting along with the expected formalities of that culture, particularly that from the father character Bill (James Villers) give the film some distinction.

The first act though goes on way too long. We are given the general premise right up front and then have to spend the whole first hour going through the scenario that Joey doesn’t like his nanny and is suspicious of her again and again until it becomes derivative. When the second act does finally come about it seems too late. The revelation isn’t all that clever or creative and the climactic sequence desperately needed more action and punch. The final result is unsatisfying. The viewer is given an intriguing premise that it can’t sustain to the end ultimately making this a misfire despite the outstanding presence of Davis and some high production values.

There is also the issue of the three-year-old girl who is adorable and an absolute scene stealer and yet right up front you are made aware that she is killed, which makes the proceedings rather depressing. Having to then watch her actual death is disturbing and, for its time period, rather vivid and startling.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 27, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated: NR (Not Rated)

Director: Seth Holt

Studio: Hammer Productions

Available: DVD

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

seance on a wet afternoon

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psychic is a phoney.

Myra Savage (Kim Stanley) is an emotionally unbalanced woman and failed psychic who comes up with an idea that she hopes will revive her career. The plan is for her husband Billy (Richard Attenborough) to kidnap Amanda Clayton (Judith Donner) who is the young daughter of a rich businessman. They will then place her at a strategic location and hold a public séance at which time Myra will ‘miraculously’ predict her whereabouts. This will then, they hope, make her famous and world renowned, but of course things don’t work out as expected.

This is indeed a unique and unusual film that taps into some rare qualities. First and foremost is the black and white cinematography. Every camera shot and angle has a certain evocative flair that is well captured and vivid. The on-location shots pick up just the right amount of ambiance and lighting with each setting. The music score is great and helps create excellent tension. You also will love the little girl that they kidnap. She is adorable without it being forced. Her matter-of-fact sensibilities are a great contrast to Attenborough and Stanley whose characters are child-like and pathetic.

Yet the film doesn’t completely work. The story is handled in a plodding and methodical way without any twists or surprises. There is very little action, some definite slow spots and the conclusion is limp.

If you watch it for the performances then you will be more intrigued. Stage actress Stanley gives a rare film appearance here. It is easy to see why she took the role even though she was known to dislike doing films. The takes are long and give almost unlimited possibilities in creating a character, which is what all stage actors enjoy. She does well and at times may remind one of another legendary actress Geraldine Page who would have also been perfect for the part. Attenborough proves almost her equal. His expressions of shock and worry are memorable. The interplay between the two is fun especially towards the end when this otherwise passive man stands up to the domineering woman.

Overall there are some unique moments, but it is just not suspenseful enough and results in being only slightly above average.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 5, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Director: Bryan Forbes

Studio: Artixo Productions

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 & 2)

The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lover in the attic.

This wacky film nicely exudes the mod, experimental wave of filmmaking that permeated the era of the late 60’s. The story takes place in London and is about a clothing manufacturer’s wife named Harriet Blossom (Shirley MacLaine) who one day calls her husband Robert (Richard Attenborough) while he is at work to tell him that her sewing machine has broken down. Robert sends his lowly assistant Ambrose Tuttle (James Booth) over to their house to help her fix it. Harriet is a bit bored with life and feels neglected by her husband, so she not so subtly seduces Ambrose and then hides him in the attic where he soon takes up residence.  He comes out only when Robert is away, but the unexplained strange noises that Robert hears and the many close calls make him think he is going insane and leads him to a nervous breakdown.

Director Joseph McGrath’s highly visual style is the real star. The lighting, editing, camera angles, set design, and costumes are creative and imaginative.  The home that was chosen for the setting has a nice architectural flair especially the attic and billiards room, which seems to be draped by a large stain glass window. Certain film professors show this movie to their classes as an example of how stylish direction can help accentuate a story as well as deftly define its era. I was disappointed to see that although McGrath is still alive he hasn’t done a film since 1984, which is a shame as it is obvious from this that he is quite gifted and I would have liked to see him doing more.

This is generally considered a vehicle for MacLaine, but to me her performance isn’t interesting. I think she is a first rate actress, but her character here is the only normal one in the film and she acts more like an anchor trying to corral the craziness around her. Booth, as her lover, goes to the other extreme, but doesn’t fare any better. He is too clownish and is always wearing various disguises and going through different personas, which makes the character unrealistic and cartoonish. If anything, out of the three main leads, it is actually Attenborough who does the best. His nervous and confused facial expressions are priceless. The scenes were he comes home from work and to ‘unwind’ pretends to be a conductor of a large orchestra while listening to a loud record, is amusing.

The colorful supporting cast though, full of legendary British Pros, is what steals the film. Some of them appear just briefly, but they still make a memorable and funny impression. Barry Humphries, playing a male character and not Dame Edna, is good as an art dealer. John Cleese, in one of his very first roles, is engaging as an argumentative postal clerk.  The best however is far and away Freddie Jones as the snippy, suspicious, relentless detective that will leave no stone unturned in his pursuit of Ambrose, who once he moves into Harriet’s attic proceeds to completely drop of society and disappear.

Although generally entertaining the plot doesn’t go anywhere and is simply a set-up for a lot of absurdity. What is worse is the fact that this based on a true story that in its own right was very intriguing.  In the real-life incident that took place in 1913 a 33 year old woman by the name of Dolly Oesterreich met a 17 year old named Otto Sanhuber. She, like the character in the movie, was a bored wife of a wealthy textile manufacturer, and took in the young man as her ‘sex slave’, which he readily accepted. To avoid possible suspicion she had him move into their attic, where he remained for five years and despite some close calls was never caught.  When the Oesterreich’s moved to Los Angeles in 1918 Dolly made sure that their new home had an attic as well and Otto then took up residence there and the deception continued until 1920 when Otto finally ended up killing the husband.

Of course none of that happens here. In fact Ambrose is fond of the husband and considers the three to be one big happy ‘family’, which is offbeat for sure, but not particularly satisfying. Again, this film does have some funny moments. I thought the scene where Robert invents the world’s first inflatable bra only to have the system go awry during an exhibition, which forces the model’s breasts to grow to unbelievable proportions before they go floating in the air, to be hilarious.  Still the end result of this production can best be described as cinematic soufflé.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 11, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Director: Joseph McGrath

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS

Venom (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kidnappers versus deadly snake.

            Phillip Hopkins (Lance Holcomb) is an 8-year old boy and son of a wealthy couple. When his parents leave for a trip the family’s maid and chauffeur (Susan George, Oliver Reed) conspire to kidnap the boy and hold him for a ransom with the help of a ruthless gunman (Klaus Kinski).  Unbeknownst to any of them the boy has mistakenly acquired a black mamba snake that escapes from his cage. As the culprits try to pull off their crime they become trapped in the house by the deadly reptile that starts to attack them one-by-one.

For starters the cast is one of a kind. Besides the performers listed above the film also has Sarah Miles as a Dr. with a serum to help fight the snake’s poisonous venom. Nicol Williamson appears as the police negotiator and Sterling Hayden, in his last film role, plays the boy’s grandfather.  How anyone could manage to direct a cast with such legendarily huge egos and eccentric personalities seems hard to fathom and probably explains why original director Tobe Hooper left the production after only ten days of shooting and was replaced by Piers Haggard. Supposedly Reed and Kinski were at odds with each other during the entire production and their animosity clearly shows on screen. For the most part the talents of the cast is wasted with a script that is limited and filled with characterizations that allow for no range.

I did like Hayden in the scene where he is forced to go searching for the snake in a darkened room and armed with nothing more than a lamp and a makeshift weapon. George is also fun playing a duplicitous character for a change and I was disappointed that she gets killed off so soon. However, she does make the most of it with a very theatrical death scene. Probably the best performance in the whole film is that of the boy. He has a very sweet, young looking face and the widest most innocent pair of blue eyes you’ll ever see and the kind that most casting directors would kill for. The kid plays the frightened part well and does an effective asthma attack. He hasn’t done much since, but I am sure that if he wrote a book dealing with his experiences on the set and his interactions with that cast that if would most assuredly be a best-seller.

The set-up is good and I found myself riveted to it for the first half-hour. I liked the idea that an actual mamba snake was used. There is a part where the snake is slithering towards the camera and opens its wide, black mouth and hisses straight at the camera, which could be enough to get most viewers to jump out of their seat. Director Haggard uses the novel idea of shooting scenes from the snake’s point-of-view and he does it through a fuzzy and slightly distorted lens to help replicate the snake’s vision. The only problem I had in this area is that the snake is seen slithering throughout the picture inside the home’s venting system, which is shown to be very clean and spotless, which didn’t make sense to me since the home was old making me think that the metal piping would be more corroded and rusted.

Despite the excellent concept the film’s second hour is quite boring. The characters don’t have enough to do and spend most of the time standing around. The interplay between Kinski and Williamson brings no tension. There is one cringe inducing scene where the snake crawls up Reed’s pant leg, but overall the scares are quite sparse. The climatic sequence is too convenient and becomes more of a disappointment then a shock. It is hard to say if the film would have been better if Hooper had stayed on or not. Reportedly none of the footage that he shot is in the final cut. The film is based on a novel by Alan Scholefield, which I suspect is probably more intriguing and after watching this makes me interested in reading it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 29, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R (Mature Theme, Violence, Language) 

Studio: Paramount

Director: Piers Haggard

Available: DVD

Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The first gay marriage.

Based on the Joe Orton play of the same name, this film deals with a handsome young stranger named Sloane (Peter McEnery) who becomes a lodger at an isolated household in the English countryside. He is on the run from a murder he committed and feels this will be a safe haven due to the only other inhabitants being a quirky old lady name Katherine (Beryl Reid) and her equally quirky father Kemp (Alan Webb).  Katherine, or Kath, takes a sexual interest in Sloane despite their wide age difference, which Sloane doesn’t mind as he uses this to manipulate her. When Kath’s brother Ed (Harry Andrews) arrives and takes an amorous interest in Sloane as well, he does the same thing to him. Then Kemp recognizes Sloane as the killer and Sloane is forced to kill him, which culminates with ironic results.

Playwright Orton was years ahead of his time. His plays always had a dark, sexual, even explicit nature to them and his characters were always perverse and amoral in a darkly hilarious way. It is unfortunate that he was bludgeoned to death in 1967 by his jealous gay lover and his career was cut short. However, this adaptation done by screenwriter Clive Exton seems to miss the mark. The dialogue is endless with very little action. The other adaptation of Orton’s work that was made into a film, Loot, was much more lively and full of a lot of campy, zany humor as well as quick edits and imaginative camerawork. This film is visually dull and all the action is jammed into a cramped, dark house with bland decorations. It never really gets going until the final 15 minutes when you get to see the world’s very first gay marriage performed, but by then it is much too late.

For 1970 this film does seem edgy and even controversial in certain parts. The gay erotic subtext is quite strong especially the way the camera scans Sloane’s tan, half naked body. There is also Ed’s pink Cadillac that he drives around, which I got a real kick out of. I liked the way it squeaked as he drove it and was constantly bouncing up and down.  There is also his very provocative hood ornament of a naked man that the camera hones in on. The best part comes when Ed washes his car and is more focused on the ornament, which he lovingly caresses with his towel, than the rest of the vehicle.

However, 40 years later this stuff seems pretty tame and there are too many segments where nothing happens and is handled too conventionally.  It seemed like director Douglas Hickox really didn’t get, or appreciate the material enough, or interpret it in some interesting way because the final result is nothing more than a filmed stage play. The music that is used is terrible and almost enough to get you to turn off the film. It also gets overused and played over scenes when it isn’t needed and hurts the film’s mood in the process.

The biggest problem with the film may actually be with actress Reid herself. Don’t get me wrong this is a wonderfully unique actress who has done some memorable work. I especially liked her in The Killing of Sister George, and she is quite good here as well. However, I do have two issues. The first is a small one. It involves the fact that the character wears dentures. In one scene Sloane supposedly knocks them out and breaks them, but then Reid turns around and screams and you can see that she still has teeth in her mouth.  The other, much more serious issue is the fact that near the beginning of the film she is seen walking through a cemetery in broad daylight wearing a see through blouse. Now with some woman this can be quite sexy and I certainly wouldn’t complain, but when they are 60 and looking more like 70 this is a bad idea, even for perversely comical purposes as it is here it is still a bad idea. What is even worse is when she turns around and a gust of wind blows up her skirt and you can see her entire bare backside, which might be enough to make some viewers sick.

Now, before anyone accuses me of ageism let me relate an interesting experience that happened to me. Back in 2003 I was home from work and decided to take in a movie. I was living in Chicago at the time and I went to the neighborhood theater to see the interesting French mystery Swimming Pool starring Ludivine Sagnier and Charlotte Rampling.  It was a Tuesday and little did I know that it was senior discount day and the place was packed, literally, with people all looking well over the age of 70. The lady that sat beside me looked to be at least 80 and came in using a walker. The film featured an abundance of nudity from the young and attractive Sagnier, which I thought might shock and offend the seniors, but no one reacted to it and everyone went on enjoying the film. Then, towards the end of the movie, 58 year-old actress Rampling starts to take off her clothes and this indeed elicited a nervous response from the crowd. The lady next to me even said ‘oh dear’. In all fairness Rampling didn’t look all that bad naked, but it still hits home the point that even old people don’t want to see other old people naked.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 27, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Douglas Hickox

Studio: Continental Distributing

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)

Privilege (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen idol is pawn.

A British pop singer by the name of Steven Shorter (Paul Jones) becomes a major hit with the young teen audience of the day and his managers realize they have a powerful and influential weapon on their hands.  They assign him to do an ad for apples and soon everyone is eating apples. They then use him as an example to support God and Country by making him sing a rock rendition of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.  With the help of some high-ranking church leaders they get him to introduce a Nazi type salute to everyone in order for them to show their allegiance.  Steven is aware of how he is being manipulated and is unhappy with it, but can’t seem to find a way out it.

This reminded me a lot of the Fonzi character on the old ‘Happy Days’ TV-show from the 70’s, a character with a rebel image who eventually became benign and unrealistic when the producers tried to turn him into a role model for his young audience. The film’s message is certainly a good one and as pertinent today as ever.   Unfortunately it is done in an extremely heavy-handed way that made this viewer feel like he was being hit over-the-head.

I became a fan of director Peter Watkins after seeing the pseudo-documentary Punishment Park where a group of hippies are thrown into the dessert and forced by the military to play a brutal game of survival.  That film featured some emotionally charged scenes that were amazing and the execution was so flawless that it seemed almost authentic.  This film takes the same documentary approach, but it is not as consistent with it nor as effective.  The result is a weird mishmash between the surreal and allegorical to the dramatic and satirical and it never comes together as a whole. It does contain a few moments of funny humor, but there needed to be more of it and most of it comes in film’s first half. The drama is awkward and at times clumsy. It ended up leaving me alienated with it.

I had equally mixed feelings with the lead character.  He was played by Paul Jones better known as the lead singer to the 60’s group Manfred Mann who did such hits as ‘Do-Wah Diddy’ and ‘Mighty Quinn’.  He certainly had the chiseled, boyish good looks that one would expect from a teen idol and resembled Jim Morrison from The Doors.  However, he seems passive to extreme with no ability to ever stand up for himself.  Although looks are certainly one element, a rock star also needs to have some charisma and this guy had none and I would think the public would quickly see that.  He allows his managers to almost completely dominate him and the constant shots of his pained and unhappy facial expressions become, like everything else in the film, way over-done.  I could never understand why a singer with millions of adoring fans would feel so powerless. I would think he would have a healthy ego and sense of empowerment and if was unhappy with his managers then he would simply fire them, which happens all the time in the music world.

I did think that the camera work and cinematography were excellent and probably has a lot to do with director Watkins background.  The scene at the assembly where there is a giant picture of Steven and then the actual Steven stands in front of it making it look like he is being devoured by his own image was effective symbolism.

The points that the film makes in regards to conformity, those in position of power, and the superficiality of pop idols are all right on target.  I just wished that the narrative and storyline were done in a little more sophisticated way and that the characters were more fleshed out. The works of British director Lindsay Anderson came to mind as I watched this film. A lot of his films had the same types of themes like If, Britannia Hospital, and O Lucky Man. However, those films were more cerebral and layered and the wit was more consistent and biting.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 28, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Peter Watkins

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD

The Innocents (1961)

innocents 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Children frighten their governess.

Legendary British actress Deborah Kerr plays Miss Giddens, the governess hired to care for two children at a sprawling English estate. However, the children are not exactly as they seem. Strange occurrences and behaviors begin to manifest as well as several ghostly sightings, which leads Miss Giddens into believing that the children may actually be possessed.

The film is based on the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw. I have not read the book, but those that have feel this is a pretty satisfying adaptation. I did like the slow, methodical pacing. It helps to build the tension as well as enhance the mystery. Things are revealed in deliberate layers, which kept me intrigued throughout.

Director Jack Clayton shows a marvelous handle on the material.  The estate that they chose for the setting is perfect and captured well in glorious black and white by famed cinematographer Freddie Francis.  There is a lot of spooky imagery throughout including a creepy nightmare sequence in the middle.  The garden with its hulking, strange statues is used quite effectively especially in the haunting finale.  The music also grabs your attention right from the start with a very eerie song that is played before you see a single image on the screen. The song is similar to the one used in Rosemary’s Baby.  In fact there are several things here that reminded me of that film as well as The Shining.

Kerr was a good choice for the increasingly frightened governess.  I loved that scared expression on her face, which becomes progressively more frequent. Yet she is also effective when the character decides to become proactive by taking matters into her own hands and singlehandedly trying to ‘cure’ the children herself.  This also helps make both the character and the story a more multifaceted because you are never sure if this stuff is really happening or all just inside her head.

What really impressed me the most though was the performances of the two children especially Martin Stephens who plays Miles the young boy. His character shifts through many different moods, playing an innocuous child one minute and then a menacing, volatile one the next. He does each one flawlessly and becomes practically mesmerizing in the process.  Pamela Franklin is also fine in the role of Flora. This was her film debut. Eight years later her career would peak playing her signature role as Maggie Smith’s nemesis in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Another thing that I liked about the children is that they are initially portrayed as being normal and even engaging.  This is unlike other films with a similar theme like Children of the Damned or Children of the Corn where the kids are given creepy features right from the start. Here it works better and is more chilling to the viewer because the children’s dark side is unsuspected.

Unfortunately, despite the film’s impeccable technical quality, I still went away feeling unsatisfied. Part of the problem is that nothing really happens.  The ghosts appear but then do nothing but just stand there, which quickly becomes tiresome. One scene in particular has the camera constantly cutting back to the lady ghost standing across the lake until she starts to look like a mannequin, which I suspect she was.  The buildup is good, but I would have liked more of a payoff.  The ending is much too vague and gives no explanation as to why this was happening, if it was happening, or whatever became of the main character.

I couldn’t help but feel that this story would have worked better as an episode from one of the old horror anthology series like The Alfred Hitchcock Hour or even The Twilight Zone where it could have all been compacted into an hour. A hundred minutes seems like much too long for such little to happen. It is also interesting to note that in 1972 a film came out entitled The Nightcomers starring Marlon Brando that attempts to speculate what happened to the children before the main character of the governess arrives and before James’s original story begins.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1961

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Jack Clayton

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD