“Don’t worry… We’ll manage. We managed all the time mother was ill, and we’ll manage now. We’ve got to have faith!”
The story (based on a novel by Julian Gloag) is a compelling mixture of horror, humor, and intrigue. The film is basically split into two distinct parts: in the first half, we see the children coping in the best way they can with the death of their mother; they truly believe that she’s “still here”, and hold spooky seances to try to converse with her. The scene in which Diana (Franklin) acts as a medium and is “told” that Gerty (Nicholls) must be punished for accepting a ride on a scooter is truly scary, and reminds one immediately of Lord of the Flies. Yet Clayton also shows us the ways in which these self-sufficient children are able to have fun with their newfound freedom — such as the glee they experience when they’re successfully able to convince the bank to cash their mother’s monthly check.
The tone and direction of the film suddenly shift about midway through, once Bogarde’s character appears at the door of “mother’s house”. Charlie is a genuinely mysterious wildcard, and we’re kept in constant suspense about both his true identity and his ultimate motivations. Yet he also introduces the story’s one major flaw, which is that it’s impossible to believe that none of these children would recognize Charlie, given that he claims to be their mother’s husband (and, by extension, their father). If you can get beyond this gap in logic, however, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself intrigued and delighted by this unusual ensemble tale, which dares to posit children as intelligent beings who may be better off on their own than under the “guidance” of self-serving adults.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: