Based on a 1957 novel by American author Merriam Modell (under the nom de plume Evelyn Piper), also the literary source for Hammer’s THE NANNY, BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING is widely considered to be one of celebrated director Otto Preminger’s last worthwhile efforts, now on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time.
Young American single mother Ann Lake (Carol Lynley, THE SHUTTERED ROOM) has come to stay from New York to stay in with her journalist brother Steve (Keir Dullea, DE SADE). Arriving midday at the Little People’s Garden School on her four-year-old’s daughter Bunny’s first day to take her home, she discovers her missing and none of the nursery school staff seem to remember the little girl or can shed any light on her whereabouts. Mike also arrives at the school to give the third degree to the school employees, but as the mystery remains unsolved, it’s decided to call in the police. Inspector Newhouse (Laurence Olivier, SLEUTH) comes to the scene, and although he’s sincerely concerned and sympathetic, he begins to question the existence of the missing child. As no one other than Ann and Mike have seen the child (not to mention that Mike brings up the fact that Ann had an imaginary childhood friend named “Bunny”), Bunny’s personal possessions have mysteriously been removed from the house that the sister and brother are renting. Still, Newhouse puts out an alert to the television news and Ann later remembers the claim tag on Bunny’s doll which she took to a toy repair shop which should help assure her daughter’s existence. Rushing to get to the store before it closes, she subsequently ends up knocked out and taken to a hospital for evaluation. Has Ann conjured up Bunny in her head, or is she really still out there kidnapped somewhere?
In a career which included a number of ups and downs (and well regarded films such as LAURA, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM and EXODUS), BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING came at a time when Preminger was wanting to direct stories which were distinct and unconventional. Although the book (which was turned into a screenplay by the husband-and-wife writing team of John and Penelope Mortimer) was set in New York, Preminger (who was also the producer) wisely chose to set it in London (mainly since he liked it there), painting a rather gloomy picture of it, with plenty of eccentric and unfriendly characters for the visiting protagonists to encounter in their time of need and desperation. The film more or less begins as a mystery and then takes a sharp turn into a psychological thriller with Preminger basically doing what peers Alfred Hitchcock and especially William Castle (he was as much a “celebrity” director as they were at the time) were doing in the immediate years following PSYCHO (an advertising gimmick was even utilized in the film’s trailer), with the film’s title being more nondescript than other thrillers of its ilk. Preminger’s familiar directorial style (using more than a few extended long shots) is exhibited here, and the film’s striking, noirish cinematography is by Denys Coop (later to photograph Roy Ward Baker’s Amicus films ASYLUM, AND NOT THE SCREAMING STARTS and VAULT OF HORROR). Lynley is really good as the young mother motivated by paternal instincts who becomes increasingly hysterical as the film progresses, and Olivier (who apparently took the job for a paycheck) could have sleptwalked though it all, but he actually turns in a subtle, concentrated performance.
Although BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING features a pop act in it and was made in the mid 1960s, it’s actually the antithesis of “Swinging London”. It was a common trend to insert rock performers into feature films during this period, with virtually every British Invasion band being seen in such a cinematic fashion. Here, Preminger cast The Zombies, one of the best and most underrated British rock bands of the 1960s (a version of the band still performs with original members Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent), and they are seen briefly on a television set (on a “Ready, Steady, Go!” type program) in a London pub and are heard performing three great songs (not any of their big hits): "Remember You", "Just Out of Reach" and "Nothing's Changed" (“Just Out of Reach” is later heard again on a janitor’s radio in the hospital scene). The band received prominent billing and was even featured on radio spots and one of the theatrical trailers (see below). Theater luminary, the quotable Noël Coward (THE ITALIAN JOB) appears as a nosy landlord who sleazily comes on to Ann and Martita Hunt (unforgettable as the Baroness Meinster in Hammer’s THE BRIDES OF DRACULA) plays a strange woman who lives upstairs in the school and is compiling a book on children’s dark fantasies, based on collected recordings. Anyone who watches British horror films will recognize the supporting cast (some of them in walk-on bit parts) including Clive Revill (THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE) as Newhouse’s assistant, Anna Massey (FRENZY), Adrienne Corri (VAMPIRE CIRCUS), Finlay Currie (CORRIDORS OF BLOOD), Norman Mitchell (FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL), Madge Jenkins (ASYLUM), Percy Herbert (ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.), Victor Maddern (BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE) and John-Forbes Robertson (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS).
A Columbia Pictures property, Twilight Time has licensed BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING for this Limited Edition (3000 copies) Blu-ray release. The picture has been presented in 1080p HD in the film’s original 2.35:1 Panavision aspect ratio, and looks splendid. The transfer for this black and white film is extremely sharp, with nary a blemish to be found. The Blu-ray's image provides excellent reproduction of blacks, whites and shades of gray and detail and contrast are also strong throughout the widescreen presentation. Audio is offered in an English 1.0 DTS-HD Master audio track, with dialog being crisp and very clear and without any detectable distortions and Paul Glass’ haunting score comes through nicely (and it’s also available solely on an isolated track). Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided.
An audio commentary is provided with film historians Lem Dobbs, Jule Kirgo and Nick Redman. The track is scholarly and has a lot of information about the film, but the participants are not opposed to having fun with it. Some of the topics of discussion include Preminger’s style of filmmaking and the dreamlike quality of this film (which fans seem to be on the fence about), the reports of Preminger bullying the young Lynley on the set (he’s described as being known as a cruel man when making films: “he reduced actors to jelly”) and other gossip is dished about the filmmaker. Also touched upon are the performances (they are not too kind to Dullea’s acting here) and its supporting cast, as well as the film’s strength and weaknesses and the differences from the book to the movie. At one point, BUNNY is even compared to the Hammer’s psychological thrillers of the period. Other extras include three different trailers. The first is narrated by Preminger (with “Just out of Reach” playing though most of it) who shows up on screen and warns that “no one may be admitted into the theater once the picture has started” in a bit of Hitchcock/Castle type ballyhoo. Another trailer has The Zombies onstage singing a bulk of the narration to the melody of “Just Out of Reach” (“The Zombies are there, that’s us!”) and have more screen time here then they do in the actual movie. The third trailer has a different announcer doing the narration. The Blu-ray also includes a Twilight Time Catalogue, which visually lists all of the company’s current and immediate future titles (available and out-of-print) year by year. (George R. Reis)
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