Director: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: John Mortimer, Penelope Mortimer, Ira Levin (uncredited)
Based on a Novel by: Marryam Modell
Starring: Keir Dullea, Carol Lynley, Laurence Olivier, Noël Coward, Martita Hunt
Running Time: 107 min
BBFC Certificate: 12
As a lover of classic cinema, I'm ashamed and a little surprised to say that this is the first Otto Preminger film I've ever seen. He has several classic titles to his name. Anatomy of a Murder, Laura and The Man With a Golden Arm are the three most famous, but all have somehow passed me by (although I own two of them on DVD, so I'll hopefully get to them at some point). Bunny Lake is Missing wasn't quite as successful or universally acclaimed as those, but it's a bit of a cult favourite with some and as such I've heard its name bandied around here and there, so it didn't take much to talk me into reviewing it.
The title neatly explains the setup, although there's a little more to the story than that. Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) has just moved to England from America and we see her head to collect her daughter Bunny from her first day of nursery school, but she's not there. As Ann desperately tries to find her, enlisting the help of her protective brother Steven (Keir Dullea) and police Superintendent Newhouse (Laurence Olivier), we begin to doubt whether the child ever existed in the first place. With Ann and her daughter only arriving in the country a day or two previously, along with the nursery being a chaotic madhouse with a worn out newly appointed headteacher struggling to keep on top of things, there's little evidence that Bunny isn't just a figment of Ann's imagination.
I love a good psychological thriller and this is a fine example of the subgenre. Preminger and screenwriters John Mortimer, Penelope Mortimer and Ira Levin keep the audience guessing about the existence of Bunny and her whereabouts if she is real. Numerous suggestions are made and red herrings dangled throughout the film, making for a gripping experience. In fact I was interrupted during watching the film, so paused it, and when I noticed how far into the film I was, I was shocked that I was only half an hour from the end as it whipped by so quickly.
It's largely devoid of filler, or at least when the film deviates from Ann's search it does so to introduce a new potential suspect or to offer up a new theory about Ann's sanity or Bunny's whereabouts. And the former is where the film shows another of its great attributes, its characters. Ann and Newhouse are rather straightforward on the surface as the protagonist and detective, although many suggestions point towards Ann not being so normal. The less central characters are an enjoyably and outwardly oddball bunch though, aided by some great cameo performances. Noël Coward is deliciously slimy as a perverted neighbour, Martita Hunt has fun as a shut in living above the nursery and even a tiny role from Finlay Currie as a doll maker proves memorable.
Then we come to Keir Dullea as Ann's brother. He seems rather wooden for the most part, but as the film develops you realise this is all part of the mystery. His blank performance gives his character an innate creepiness that provides yet another suspect and accentuates the unnatural relationship between Steven and Ann. Lynley can be a bit wooden too though, particularly when matched with great actors like Olivier and Coward, so the film feels a bit uneven in its quality of acting.
The film gets further unbalanced in the final act, when we eventually learn the truth about Bunny. On top of it not being all that unpredictable, the shift this puts upon its characters doesn't quite work so the finale feels a bit ridiculous. There are some effectively disturbing moments towards the end though, so it doesn't entirely fall apart, it just doesn't match the quality of what lead up to it.
There are also some awkwardly shoehorned pop songs from The Zombies, on top of a music video from them that briefly derails the film at one point. So it's not a perfect film by any means, but it remains an effective psychological thriller that moves quickly and grips despite a few stumbles here and there. It's beautifully photographed too in crisp black and white, with plenty of movement and careful blocking. I'm certainly keen to hit some more Preminger films after this.
Bunny Lake is Missing is being re-released by Powerhouse Films on Dual Format Blu-Ray & DVD on 27th February as part of their new Indicator label. I saw the Blu-Ray version and the picture and sound quality are both excellent. The picture is sharp, clean and richly toned.
Powerhouse have also included a decent selection of special features with the set. These include:
- Audio commentary with film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman
- Interview with actor Carol Lynley (2017)
- Interview with actor Clive Revill (2017)
- Isolated score: experience Paul Glass’ original soundtrack music
- Image gallery
- Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Chris Fujiwara
I haven't had chance to get through all of these features, but the commentary is rich with facts and thoughts about the film. With the three contributors it has a lot of energy and few dry spells. The booklet is excellent too, as all of the Indicator booklets have turned out to be so far.