Wednesday, 12 February 2020

The Nanny - 1965 film review

Having enjoyed one film version of an Evelyn Piper novel, Bunny Lake is Missing, I thought I'd try another. The Nanny is a black and white suspense movie released in 1965 and the title role is played by the legendary Bette Davis. The supporting cast is impressive: Wendy Craig, Jill Bennett, Jack Watling, James Villiers, Maurice Denham and the eternally under-rated but consistently impressive Alfred Burke, who makes a powerful impact in one scene towards the end.

This was a Hammer movie, with a screenplay by Jimmy Sangster, a capable writer with a talent for entertainment who had a tendency to go over the top. Here, however, the story is told subtly and information about the characters is withheld cleverly rather than irritatingly. I haven't read the book by Piper, but I gather that quite a few changes were made in the film version. The result is a film that I found gripping, and at times harrowing.

Villiers and Craig are a rich couple, but he's something of a bully and she suffers from low self-esteem. Their young daughter died a couple of years ago and they have a ten year old son, Joey, who is due home. It turns out that he's been in a hospital, because he was responsible, apparently unintentionally, for his sister's death. When we're introduced to him, it becomes clear that he has a macabre streak and also that he hates Nanny.

Nanny has looked after his mother (and her sister Pen, played by Bennett) since they were children. She knows her place, but she is trusted implicitly. When Joey is rude to her, she turns the other cheek quite selflessly. We only start to get a fresh slant on things when Joey makes friends with a 15 year old girl who lives in the same building. She is played by Pamela Franklin, whose performance is absolutely excellent; so much so that I'm surprised she didn't become a huge star. William Dix, who plays Joey, is also very good, and it's a shame that his career apparently didn't survive into adulthood. Jill Bennett, whom I have long admired, makes the most of a tricky part; she was a terrific actor and again it's sad to think of her unfortunate later life. Wendy Craig, later to become noted for light comedy, is very good as the vulnerable Mrs Fane. And Bette Davis is first class.

I was impressed by this film and can thoroughly recommend it. Thanks to the rather under-stated approach to essentially melodramatic material, it's genuinely chilling and it stands the test of time very well.

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