OUR MOTHER’S HOUSE (Jack Clayton, 1967)

“Please, Hugh. The little ones mustn’t see we’ve been crying.” — Elsa

Written by Jeremy Brooks and Israeli actress Haya Harareet from Julian Gloag’s novel, Our Mother’s House begins with the self-sufficiency of the seven Hook children whose mother, bedridden, is dying. This bible-thumping fanatic is shielding herself and her children from her promiscuous past and “the wages of sin.” When she dies, her children bury her in the garden of their suburban London home, build her a tabernacle, and commit themselves to hiding the fact of her death from the outside adult world. They go on as though nothing has happened, worshipping now their mother’s memory as if this has replaced God in their esteem and reverence. Eventually one of the children breaks rank by writing their “mother’s husband,” Charlie Hook, who one day shows up and takes over the house and his wife’s small financial legacy.
     Jack Clayton’s film, a mildly engaging, mildly suspenseful companion-piece to his The Innocents (1961), palely reflects elements of two then-recent films: Joseph Losey’s The Servant (1963) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964). Dirk Bogarde’s participation, and even a measure of the previous role, along with mirror imagery, remind one of the former film; the figure of the mother reminds of the latter. Clayton, like Hitchcock, has made a film about damaged offspring. But it is a diffuse effort—one monumentally inferior, say, to Roberto Rossellini’s Germany, Year Zero (1947) in demonstrating the cost to children of assuming burdens beyond their psychological capacity to shoulder. Nor is Clayton’s film searching in showing the ruin that fundamentalist faith visits on the young.
     Bogarde plays Charlie marvelously. The best of the young actors is Pamela Franklin, whose Diana feigns channeling the departed mother’s spirit, and who played Flora in The Innocents.

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