Friday, December 6, 2013

From the vault: Bunny Lake is Missing


Yesterday Russell suggested we watch Otto Preminger's 1965 psychological thriller Bunny Lake is Missing on TCM; he and I both had the time, and it never takes much convincing to get me to watch a film with my son anyway, always one of my great pleasures. Confession; I'd heard of the movie but never seen it. I always thought Bunny was a stripper! Doesn't Bunny Lake sound like a stripper's name? Nope. Bunny is the name of Ann Lake's four year old daughter who goes missing from nursery school. Funny name for a little girl, I think. 

                              
Based on Marryam Modall's novel (written under the pseudonym Evelyn Piper) screenwriters John and Penelope Mortimer made a few changes. Blanche, the young mother frantically searching for her daughter becomes Ann and more notably, the ending of the film. No spoiler. No comment.

Originally set in NYC, Preminger moved the location to London. His director of photography Denys Coop shot the film in a richly textured black and white and while we don't see much, I loved seeing the bits of London we do see, in shades of charcoal grey. Not a lot different from London in technicolor you say? Maybe but Preminger didn't set it there for our visual appreciation.                    
"I made no attempt...to create a London mood; with evocative shots of the city," Preminger commented. "The fact that the story plays there is not particularly essential. It only made it easier because these two Americans were isolated. There were no friends, there were no people they knew from the past, and that made the suspense angle better."

True! Ann(Carol Lynley) and her brother Steve(Keir Dullea) had only each other to lean on. Good thing they were so close!


Ann brings her brother a cigarette in the bathtub. What could be more natural?

WARNING: the cigarettes are constantly dangling. Quitters, get your gum on!

The legendary Laurence Olivier is the police inspector in charge of the investigation. According to TCM he did this one for the money. I can see there wasn't a whole lot of challenge for the brilliant Olivier but I bought every moment of his understated performance as Newhouse, the police officer who isn't quite sure the daughter exists at all. After all, no one has seen the child, not even us.



At one point the inspector takes Ann to a pub and assures her the whole city is looking for her little girl. As if in response the program on the television set above the bar is interrupted to broadcast the girl's missing status ... until the bored barman turns the channel delivering The Zombies to our ears. 




Olivier wasn't a big fan of Preminger, claiming both he and Noel Coward thought him a bully. You can see the distaste on Olivier's face in the behind-the-scenes still below, with Preminger on the right.



Then there was the very, very creepy Noel Coward. As Ann and Steven's landlord, he walks around in a mothhole-ridden sweater and brags about the seductive power of his BBC voice. In the image below you can see Lynley cringe, actually shrinking into herself as he starts to stroke her shoulder. 

                          
According to Philip Hoare's biography on the actor, Noel Coward told Roddy McDowall, 
'I play an elderly, drunk, queer masochist, and I am in no mood for any wisecracks about typecasting so there.'
And don't forget the Chihuahua! Coward said he held the dog ...




'crooked in my arm. It just lies there comatose but quivering. I can't stand things that quiver....It only has one piece of action...it had to wave, but it couldn't do it. I said to it, "you will never make another Lassie."

More to love: 
The film's poster (top of page) which warned "No one will be seated while the clock is ticking!", a promotional idea which I remember "Whose Afraid of the Dark" would mimic a couple of years later.

The Zombies recorded 3 songs for the movie, Remember You, Nothing's Changed and Just Out of Reach as well as a 2 minute version of Just Out of Reach which encouraged the audience to 'come on time.'


The title sequences by the master of all title sequences, Saul Bass. Check them out instead of a trailer because I can't find one anywhere!





Was it a good use of one hour and 47 minutes of our time? Most definitely! We both love a good thriller and he's taught me to love black and white films more than I ever would have thought possible. Shadow and light and all that cinematic jazz; a vivid pen and ink painting come to life. The story was a real who dunnit - if there even was an 'it', riveting, and filled with as many tricky turns and creepy possibilities as the many doorways, stairways, hallways the characters go in and out of in the course of the movie. A 60's cult classic ... still creepy after all these years.


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