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  Bunny Lake is Missing Gone But Not Forgotten
Year: 1965
Director: Otto Preminger
Stars: Laurence Olivier, Carol Lynley, Keir Dullea, Martita Hunt, Noel Coward, Anna Massey, Clive Revill, Lucie Mannheim, Finlay Currie, Adrienne Corri, Megs Jenkins, Richard Wattis, Kika Markham, Jill Melford, Percy Herbert, Victor Maddern, Fred Emney
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: American Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) has just moved to London with her four-year-old daughter Bunny to be nearer her magazine journalist brother Stephen (Keir Dullea). She is moving into her new flat this morning, so takes Bunny to the local nursery and leaves her in the so-called "First Day" room, but can't find any of the staff to tell until she ventures into the kitchen and talks to the cook (Lucie Mannheim). Ann then leaves, safe in the knowledge that someone will be attending to Bunny soon, but still running late to reach the flat to let the removal men in. When she gets there, the two men are waiting outside and later on the sleazy landlord, Wilson (Noel Coward), makes his presence felt, something Ann could well do without. She hasn't the slightest idea that anything is amiss until she returns to the nursery that afternoon to find that Bunny Lake is missing...

And not only that, but may not have ever existed at all. Evelyn Piper's novel (she also wrote The Nanny, made into a film around the same time) was adapted by Rumpole of the Bailey creator John Mortimer along with his then wife Penelope Mortimer and has been making an impression on many of those who saw it for ever since its initial release. Perhaps it's the mystery, perhaps it's the twist, or the disorienting atmosphere, but something about Bunny Lake stays with people. Being an Otto Preminger-directed film, there are several "daring" elements compared with the usual films of the day; for example, Ann is unmarried and therefore Bunny would be illegitimate - not such a big deal today, maybe, but not many filmmakers came up with lead characters like that in 1965. Therefore it's refreshing just how sympathetically Ann is treated, when the attitude could have been to look down on her.

This is a film of red herrings, and they start almost immediately. At first we presume the little girl is real, although we never see her ourselves as she's off camera when Ann is in the nursery and talking to the cook, and she doesn't go to bid her goodbye, being in too much of a rush. When Ann returns, the tension is tightened gradually, with subtle hints about her being an outsider in Britain adding to her isolation, until full blown paranoia is put into effect. Nobody at the nursery says she saw Bunny, the cook has left to return to her home country that day, and a search of the building proves fruitless. Stephen arrives to kick up a fuss, and eventually, much against the wishes of the head of the establishment (Anna Massey), the police are called.

The law is represented by Superintendent Newhouse, in a terrific performance of restrained warmth and understanding by Laurence Olivier. He instigates another search, and sends Stephen with his assistant, Sergeant Andrews (Clive Revill, very good in a supporting role), to find Bunny's passport for a picture of her. Yet when they get there, all trace of Bunny's belongings have vanished, if indeed they were there at all. We have to suspect that either Ann is emotionally unstable and has failed to let go of her imaginary friend from childhood, or one of the other characters has taken the little girl. Stephen is overprotective, Wilson revels in perversity (Coward is highly amusing here), and the founder of the nursery, Miss Ford (Martita Hunt) has an unhealthy interest in childhood nightmares - but could there be another individual involved? As the film progresses, amid lengthening shadows and exquisite black and white photography from Denys Coop, it grows more like a horror film, not so much in scares but in threat and grotesque psychology, yet the actors hold it together even through the overly drawn out climax. Watch for: The Zombies on TV. Music by Paul Glass.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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