« Sunday Funnies | Main | No Direction Home »

September 27, 2005

Two Turns of the Screw

A Whisper in the Dark
Un Sussurro nel Buio
Marcello Aliprandi - 1976
NoShame Region 1 DVD

The Innocents
Jack Clayton - 1961
Umbrella Entertainment PAL Region 0 DVD

"We say, of course," somebody exclaimed, " that two children give two turns! Also that we want to hear about them."
from Turn of the Screw by Henry James

According to the Internet Movie Data Base, there are currently twelve movies with the title, Turn of the Screw. This doesn't include films like The Innocents which are based on James' story, but are re-titled. None of the many films inspired by James are counted either, which could conceivably include
Alejandro Amenabar's The Others. It should be no surprise that there is even an acknowledged television version of Turn of the Screw titled The Others. What James created was the prototype for virtually every movie about children and ghosts and to a certain extent, demonic possession, in such variations as Robert Mulligan and Tom Tryon's The Other and The Sixth Sense.

One such variation of James is A Whisper in the Dark. In this case, the film centers on a young moon faced boy, Marco, and his imaginary friend, Luca. While no entity is seen, Luca's presence is suggested by various accidents, noises, and even a stray red balloon. While the film takes place in present day Italy, the setting in a very large villa strongly suggests an earlier time. A Whisper in the Dark is better in atmosphere than in being scary or suspenseful. Pino Donaggio's music aids in setting the mood. While not indulging in the gore of the giallo film makers of this time, the film does not achieve the sense of unease of the best psychological horror films such as Robert Wise's version of The Haunting.

This is the first Marcello Aliprandi film to get a major DVD release. According to IMDB, Aliprandi worked as an assistant to Luchino Visconti on his stage productions. Of the eleven films listed in his directorial credits, I could only recognize Fraulein Doktor, with directorial credit shared with Alberto Lattuada. What makes A Whisper in the Dark interesting was the use of color with most characters primarily wearing shades of black, brown and white, and this color palette broken with large and small shades of red. The high point in this film was the scene of a masked ball. It took several moments to realize that I was viewing children in costume, viewed from overhead. This is one of several scenes to include Joseph Cotten in what is essentially a cameo appearance. His voice falters a bit, and he does little more more than a couple of magic tricks and couple of scenes in a bath tub. Cotten's brief turn seems to have brought out the virtuosity of the rest of the cast and crew.

As with other DVD releases from NoShame, this has an interview. In this case it is with cinematagrapher Claudio Cirillo. Associated with such better known films as Scola's We All Loved Each Other So Much and Dino Risi's original Scent of a Woman, Cirillo discusses some of his challenges not only in shooting A Whisper in the Dark, but a bit about his own life and career. Cirillo takes the time to discuss other filmmakers he admires, and shows off a very old movie camera that may have been used by pioneer documentarian Robert Flaherty on Man of Aran.

I figured that as long as I was to review A Whisper in the Dark, it was time to re-see The Innocents. While probably not the definitive film version of Turn of the Screw, this is standard to which the other films are compared. Andrew Sarris is accurate in describing Jack Clayton's directorial style as academic. Maybe it wasn't that way at the time of its release, but The Innocents seems like a horror movie for people who consider themselves too intellectual for horror movies. Clayton does some interesting things with the use of sound distortion, but there is a sense of distance that minimizes involvement with the characters.

As Miles, Martin Stephens has the condescending air of Dirk Bogarde in knee pants. Pamela Franklin, the film's Flora, made a career of being a young girl in peril and worked again with Jack Clayton in Our Mother's House, which starred Bogarde. As much as I usually like Deborah Kerr, at 40, she was was too mature to be playing the part of a new governess. As for Clayton, he did horror better with the under-rated and under-appreciated Something Wicked this Way Comes, produced and disowned by Disney. Although he does little more than stand around and look threatening, lean Peter Wyngarde looks more like James' character of Peter Quint than does chubby Marlon Brando. Brando portrayed Quint in the James inspired film, The Nightcomers. While The Innocents is remembered for the less than innocent kisses between Deborah Kerr and Martin Stephens, The Nightcomers most memorable moment is of Marlon Brando smooching a horse.

Posted by peter at September 27, 2005 11:20 AM