Hayley Mills was 16 when this film was made and fairly glowed with good health, perhaps inappropriately so for this grim melodrama. Mills plays Laurel, a privileged but troubled youth who feels unloved--her mother (Sellars) has remarried and abandoned the girl to the care of her
grandmother (Dame Edith Evans). The old woman spends most of her time tending a garden, while the girl is delevoping a penchant for pyromania. Enter Madrigal (Deborah Kerr), a compassionate, mysterious governess whose secrets Laurel is compelled to discover. Madrigal sees in Laurel a potential for
violence that recalls her own past, so she takes the youngster in tow to set about changing the scenario. Enid Bagnold's long-running play contained elements that have been excised from the screen version. The original seemed to convey more tension and suspense. In the film everything is painfully
predictable. John Mills plays the house butler with a grand touch of dignity, possibly a bit too much. Kerr is radiant as the governess who takes great pains to unite the child with her mother over the objections of the haughty grandmother.
When this film was released, it broke records at Radio City Music Hall, and the studio thought they had a huge hit. What the moguls made no allowance for was its having opened during a holiday season, when all the children were out of school. One of the authors, working at Universal at the time,
vividly remembers sitting in a screening room, watching this film with the only other person present, producer Hunter. When the lights came up, Hunter was crying, although he'd read the script and had seen the film countless times through shooting and editing. Perhaps that kind of passionate
involvement is what makes a producer successful. The movie is old-fashioned in almost every way, but therein lies a great deal of its charm. Evans was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Hayley Mills was 16 when this film was made and fairly glowed with good health, perhaps inappropriately so for this grim melodrama. Mills plays Laurel, a privileged but troubled youth who feels unloved--her mother (Sellars) has remarried and abandoned the… (more)