Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
United Kingdom, 1971. Elliott Kastner-Jay Kanter-Alan Ladd Jnr Productions, Scimitar Productions. Screenplay by Michael Hastings, based on characters created by Henry James. Cinematography by Robert Paynter. Produced by Michael Winner. Music by Jerry Fielding. Production Design by Herbert Westbrook. Costume Design by Ray Beck. Film Editing by Michael Winner.
The events leading up to Henry James’s classic tale of ghostly horror, The Turn Of The Screw, are conjured up by director Michael Winner for this enjoyable if not unforgettable film. After Flora and Miles are orphaned by their parents dying in a car accident, their cousin takes over as guardian and has no desire to raise them personally. Installing them in their large country manor, he leaves the housekeeper (Thora Hird) in charge while the children’s governess (Stephanie Beacham) sees to their education and the groundskeeper (Marlon Brando) takes care of the house and property. The children have a shockingly open relationship with both the latter two adults, fully aware that Brando and Beacham are engaging in kinky sex late at night which Miles sometimes even witnesses, seeing him tie her up to the bed and work her into all sorts of crazy positions (no butter, though, as this is England and not France). Beacham inappropriately engages the children by telling them frankly about her hopeless passion for him, while Brando, in giving them his unconventional ideas about passion and fatalism, corrupts them thanks to their youthful inability to process all the adult feelings and activities they are helping to facilitate. Hird tries to keep things in good-mannered Victorian order but she goes first unheeded, then viciously thwarted as the kids are manipulated to do the lovers’ bidding and take Brando’s musings on the purity of everlasting togetherness to a very extreme conclusion. If you’re looking for the juicy moodiness of The Innocents you’ll be disappointed, this one has little to offer in the way of shadowy, atmospheric sequences or any kind of deep contemplation of the veil between what is real and what is not. It’s not quite a thriller but its investigation of childhood maturity going awry because of irresponsible adults does take it to some quite thrilling places, but while it has moments that shock and amaze and leads to a terrific ending, it doesn’t quite have a psychological terror that gets into your head. Brando, at this point fully committed to being the guy who doesn’t come in out of the rain so that you’ll ask him why, isn’t painfully miscast but he’s obviously Marlon Brando, indulgently enjoying his Irish accent (more than we are) and, as the one American movie star in a cast of British actors, has no choice but to stick out sorely. Beacham has a better time the next year in Dracula A.D. 1972, here she’s a bit distracted by her unpredictable co-star, but she also does her best to turn a flimsy, somewhat exploitative role into something compelling and nuanced.