I stumbled across this film the other day, I had never heard of it before and I have to say I was thrilled with it.
I’ve since done some reading and discovered it’s based on a book by Merriam Modell (which I now really want to read) I also discovered how underrated the film is. I had expected to find thousands of people championing it but no, mostly I found reviews that picked it apart and blasted it for not conforming to a modern sensibility. It seemed to occur to no one that the film was made in the 60’s a time when things like incest, violence towards children, how children are raised, how single mothers were treated etc were taboo.
The story, concerns that of Bunny Lake, the four year old daughter of Ann Lake, an American who has only arrived in London a few days before. She takes her daughter to her first day at her new school and when she returns later to collect her, she finds her daughter missing. Not only that but no one can recall ever seeing the child.
We the audience never see Bunny, we join the story when Ann is searching for a teacher that she can pass her little girl onto so that she can get back to her new apartment to let the movers in. The school’s cook is the only adult Ann can find and after some discussion the cook says she’ll look after Bunny until the teacher returns. When Ann returns to collect Bunny later that day she discovers she is missing,after searching the school she calls her brother Steven (Keir Dullea).
Ann is a somewhat timid woman, she is of course scared for the safety of her child but it’s Steven who takes control of the situation. Together they search the school, finding Ada a woman who lives in the attic of the school who listens to recordings of children’s nightmares as research for her book. She’s a wonderfully eccentric character brought to life by Martita Hunt. Ada has a nose for trouble and she spots in with Anna and Steven.
Laurence Olivier plays inspector Newhouse who, after a thorough search and after a few questions starts to doubt that the child ever existed. It’s easier to believe a woman is crazy than to actually do some police work it would seem. Having said that Inspector Newhouse is actually quite a likeable character, we the audience can see that he doesn’t believe her but perhaps part of him wants to. After it’s discovered that Bunny’s clothes and toys have gone missing from Ann’s new flat, the police are now totally convinced Ann is mad so it’s up to Ann and Steven to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.
Adding to this cast is the loquacious Noel Coward, brought in to play the lecherous landlord (and sometime TV personality) Wilson who comes onto Ann, telling her about how he inspires “whole hurricanes of passion in the breasts of the females who watch me on the BBC.” It’s a wonderfully funny moment.
Directed by Otto Preminger (Laura, Anatomy of a Murder) Bunny Lake is Missing is a hidden gem. While many have picked apart the storyline and have questioned the casting I think the film stands up rather well. There was a scene in the film that literally had me glued to the screen, being made in the 60’s means that while things were drastically different back then the 60’s was also a time for filmmakers to push the boundaries, to explore themes that challenged people’s sensibilities and Bunny Lake does that.
Keir Dullea, not yet the universally famous face of 2001: A Space Odyssey, is an easy choice for Steven. He is able to shift and balance his emotions with ease and really helps set the tone of the film. Carol Lynley has a real fragility that slowly builds to a more confident woman who is able to tackle the shady business concerning her daughter.
Definitely a film to keep an eye out for and you get the added bonus of the opening titles, created by Saul Bass, the music as well as the unusual visuals are a treat.
You can buy Bunny Lake is Missing on Amazon.