Monday, 13 January 2020

Bunny Lake is Missing - 1965 film review

Bunny Lake is Missing is a film directed by Otto Preminger (whose masterpiece was Laura) in 1965. The screenplay is written by John and Penelope Mortimer, who were married at that time, and is set in London. The story is based on a novel by Evelyn Piper, published in 1957 and set in New York. What is more, although I haven't read the book, it seems clear from reviews that there are massive differences between film and book, not least the omission of one crucial character in the book from the screenplay...

Anyway, it's the film I'm talking about today and the first thing to mention is the high calibre of the cast. Laurence Olivier, no less, stars as Superintendent Newhouse, called in when an unmarried mother, Ann Lake (Carol Lynley), panics because of the disappearance of her young daughter Bunny. Keir Dullea plays Ann's brother, while Anna Massey runs the garden school from which Bunny vanishes on her first day. The snag is that nobody seems to have seen Bunny and doubts begin to surface as to whether she actually exists....

Noel Coward, of all people, plays Ann's sleazy landlord, while Finlay Currie is an aged doll-repairer. There are parts for Clive Revill, Fred Emney, Victor Maddern, Megs Jenkins, Richard Wattis, and Adrienne Corri among others. Even the pop group The Zombies make an appearance in order to remind us that we are in the Swinging Sixties.

Paranoia and madness play a major part in this film, and in many ways (not only because it was filmed in black and white) it has a noir flavour, reminiscent of Cornell Woolrich up to a point, yet distinctive. The screenplay is, to my mind, too long and drawn out and the finale is melodramatic to say the least. But it's a film of genuine quality, even so. I gather that critical reaction was at first so-so, but Preminger's achievement is now more widely recognised. A remake is said to be in the works.

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