16-year old Laurel (Hayley Mills) likes to set fires, scream, tell lies, and generally boss around her doddering grandmother and tolerant butler (John Mills). When Miss Madrigal (Deborah Kerr) is hired as the new governess, Laurel begins her usual spying and tormenting in an effort to drive her away, but ends up discovering a terrible secret.
This movie marked Hayley Mills' effort to break away from little girl roles and expand her emotional range. Unfortunately, she isn't quite up to the material and instead does a lot of energetic shouting with no real pain or conviction behind it. Her lack of acting maturity is especially noticeable because the rest of the cast is so outstanding: Edith Evans is impressive as Laurel's stubborn grandmother and Deborah Kerr is flawless as the mysterious and rigid governess. John Mills gives a wonderful performance as the wise and understanding servant who balances all the female hysterics.
While the soundtrack of soulful violins is overly dramatic, the scenery near the white cliffs of Dover is stark and lovely. Not up to producer Ross Hunter's usual sentimental soap-opera standards, but still entertaining.
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