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Bunny O'Hare

Bunny O'Hare(1971)

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teaser Bunny O'Hare (1971)

American International Pictures, better known as AIP, was known for throwing together quickie movies on low budgets with second tier talent. So in 1971, when they produced Bunny O'Hare, starring two Hollywood legends, Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine, it seemed like things might be looking up for AIP. After all, both Davis and Borgnine were Oscar winners, had acted together before (in A Catered Affair, 1956), and surely an elderly rendition of Bonnie and Clyde with tongue planted firmly in cheek would be a box office hit. Then they started filming.

The director, Gerd Oswald, had more experience with television than feature films and his previous effort, the lackluster Wayne Newton vehicle, 80 Steps to Jonah, fared poorly at the box office and even worse with the critics. Nonetheless, Bette Davis liked him and he was in as director. As filming began, Davis demanded changes to the script and complained that the story didn't work. The truth is, Oswald was only too happy to give in to her demands resulting in a less than clear directorial signature on the film than there could have been.

The movie begins with Bunny O'Hare (Bette Davis) losing her house to bank foreclosure and hooking up with Bill (Ernest Borgnine), the man taking the plumbing from her house, such as the sink and toilet, for resale in Mexico. Bill agrees to give her a ride (where to is never made clear) after her house is destroyed but then tries at every turn to leave her stranded, making it even more baffling that he ever offered to give her a ride in the first place. Eventually, she finds a newspaper that has a story of an escaped bank robber and the picture is Bill himself. Naturally, since she's strapped for cash, she asks him to help her rob banks. An added wrinkle is that her two grown children do nothing but call her and ask for money which she feels obliged to give them.

Bunny and Bill use a couple of hippies they see in a picket line as their inspiration and buy clothes that match what the hippies are wearing for their bank disguises. After a first successful attempt, Bunny wants to do more but Bill just wants to back out. Hot on their trail is a police detective and his new assistant. And after each robbery, her kids let her know they need more money.

Bunny O'Hare tries to work a joke that other movies, like Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) and Going in Style (1979), later did with more success: that of average citizens, fed up with their lot in life, turning to crime and we, the audience, laughing at their misadventures and cheering them on. It's easier with Davis and Borgnine in the leads for that to work but it also feels like having Davis and Borgnine in the movie was the only plan to make it work. Focus on a good script and decent direction didn't appear to happen anywhere along the way and what we're left with is the actors themselves keeping the enterprise propped up as best they can. When you consider that John Astin and Jack Cassidy are in the cast as well, it's not surprising that the actors half succeed at making it all come together. Certainly, Astin and Cassidy are a delight to watch any time they're on the screen, it's just a shame they couldn't have more to do.

Davis, for her part, wasn't happy with the film when making it and wasn't happy when watching it after it was done. In fact, she was so unhappy with it, and the changes that were made that she disagreed with, that she filed a lawsuit for damages. When the star of your movie sees the final cut and decides the best course of action is to sue you, chances are you didn't make an entirely successful movie. Davis dropped the suit but the damage was done. Bad buzz had generated around the film from day one and, once released, the critics generally dismissed it (although, oddly, Vincent Canby seemed to think it was one of Davis' better performances).

Bunny O'Hare is now more of a curiosity in Bette Davis' career than a benchmark. Its troubled production long forgotten, it is now enjoyed by many fans for its silly tone and low budget look. In a way, it's kind of charming, and rather astonishing, to see two such big stars in such a low rent production. Bunny O'Hare probably won't ever make anyone's top spot for Davis' best movie but, in some ways, it is certainly among her most memorable. And with Davis, Borgnine, Cassidy, and Astin in the cast, it's more entertaining than it probably should be.

Director: Gerd Oswald
Screenplay: Stanley Z. Cherry, Coslough Johnson
Producer: Samuel Z. Arkoff
Music: Billy Strange
Cinematographer: Loyal Griggs
Film Editor: Fred R. Feitshans, Jr.
Cast: Bette Davis (Bunny O'Hare), Ernest Borgnine (Bill Green/Gruenwald), Jack Cassidy (Lieutenant Greeley), Joan Delaney (R.J. Hart), Jay Robinson (John C. Rupert), John Astin (Ad), Reva Rose (Lulu), Robert Foulk (Commissioner Dingle)

ByGreg Ferrara

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