Cast & Crew
Ann Lake arrives in London from America to join her brother, Steven, a journalist. She hurriedly enrolls her illegitimate, 4-year-old child, Bunny, in a nursery school and sees only the waiting room and the school cook. When Ann returns to the school to collect Bunny, the child is missing--none of the staff has seen her, and the cook has walked out on her job. Police Inspector Newhouse is called in and attempts to put some clues together. He finds that he is not quite sure that Bunny even exists. Steven seems more concerned about Ann's mind than about the child; nobody at the school has ever heard of Bunny; all of Bunny's possessions that Ann claims were in the new house are missing; and Ann once had an imaginary playmate named Bunny. Nearly in shock, Ann finds a repair stub for one of Bunny's dolls that leads her to a doll repair shop. Before she can take the evidence to the police, she is knocked unconscious by Steven, who steals the doll and burns it. Ann is taken to a hospital, but she escapes in time to see Steven take Bunny, drugged, from his car trunk. He is about to strangle her when Ann diverts his attention and suggests to him moments from their childhood when he, possessive of his sister, tried to destroy her imaginary playmate. She keeps Steven occupied with children's games until the police, at last aware of the truth, arrive to take him away.
Martin C. Schute
Bunny Lake Is Missing - Bunny Lake is Missing
Directed by Otto Preminger, Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) starts off as every parent's worst nightmare but soon detours into a psychological minefield in which illusion and reality become blurred. Like Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, which was released the following year, the event or crime that propels the narrative may, in fact, be a matter of perception and exist only in the mind of the protagonist.
Bunny Lake is Missing is a welcome return to form for Preminger after working semi-successfully on a broader canvas with epics such as Exodus (1960) and In Harm's Way (1965). Like the taut, small-scale film noirs he made during his tenure with 20th-Century-Fox (Laura (1944), Whirlpool (1949), Where the Sidewalk Ends, 1950), Bunny Lake is Missing has a streak of the perverse running through it, one which is mirrored in its sinister and eccentric cast of suspects. But Preminger was aiming for something else as well. In The Cinema of Otto Preminger by Gerald Pratley, the director said of his film, "It is a small story about a kidnapping. The mother of the little girl who has been kidnapped is unmarried and unable to prove the existence of the child. The child's father will not admit to it because he is already married to another woman and pretends he does not know the mother. There is a certain social theme here; if you do not conform to the rules of society, the law does not protect you. That is an important part of the film."
Based on a novel by Marryam Modell (under the pen name of Evelyn Piper), Bunny Lake is Missing was adapted for the screen by John and Penelope Mortimer and filmed on location in London. "I made no attempt...to create a London mood; with evocative shots of the city," Preminger commented. "The fact that the story plays there is not particularly essential. It only made it easier because these two Americans were isolated. There were no friends, there were no people they knew from the past, and that made the suspense angle better."
Preminger has always had a reputation for being difficult on sets and the mood on Bunny Lake is Missing was not exactly congenial. Laurence Olivier, who accepted the part of the police inspector merely for the money, called Preminger "a real bully who never let up...a heavy-handed egotist [whom] Noel Coward and I didn't much like." Author Anthony Holden wrote in his biography, Olivier, that "one of the younger members of the cast gratefully remembers Olivier, though plagued by gout throughout the filming, intervening on his behalf: "I say, old boy, I do wish you wouldn't scream at the children."
Certainly, Olivier's co-star Noel Coward didn't take his role too seriously. According to Philip Hoare in his biography Noel Coward, the actor "told Roddy McDowall, 'I play an elderly, drunk, queer masochist, and I am in no mood for any wisecracks about typecasting so there.' Dressed like a tramp, he also carried a Chihuahua 'crooked in my arm. It just lies there comatose but quivering. I can't stand things that quiver....It only has one piece of action...it had to wave, but it couldn't do it. I said to it, "you will never make another Lassie." When Coward wasn't pontificating, he was playing practical jokes on the cast members. One time he crept up behind the male lead and said, "Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow" - an obvious dig at the actor's questionable film career.
In spite of an intriguing premise and an ad campaign that played up the film's surprise ending, Bunny Lake is Missing failed to generate much interest among moviegoers. And most critics agreed the movie was uneven, primarily due to the overwrought performances of the two leads - Ms. Lynley and Mr. Dullea - which were unfavorably compared to the richly drawn supporting roles, most of them played by the most prestigious talents of the British stage and cinema. Olivier, naturally, was the focus of most reviews with critic Alexander Walker stating rather backhandedly, "only a great actor can make himself this small. It is a rare sight." Anna Massey, Martita Hunt, Noel Coward and Finlay Currie also stand out among the British players but what is most impressive about Bunny Lake is Missing today is the striking opening credits sequence by Saul Bass and the artful black and white cinematography of Denys N. Coop.
One interesting piece of trivia: The British pop group The Zombies receive a screen credit in Bunny Lake is Missing but their only appearance in the film is on a TV screen in a pub; they're guests on the show "Ready Steady Go." Three of their songs - "Nothing's Changed," "Remember You," and "Just Out of Reach" - are heard in the background, usually emanating from a transistor radio. But, ironically enough, the one tune which would have been perfect for this film - "She's Not There" - is missing in action.
Producer: Otto Preminger, Martin C. Schute
Director: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: John Mortimer, Penelope Mortimer
Based on the novel by Marryam Modell (as Evelyn Piper) Cinematography: Denys Coop
Film Editing: Peter Thornton
Art Direction: Don Ashton
Music: Paul Glass
Cast: Carol Lynley (Ann Lake), Keir Dullea (Stephen Lake), Laurence Olivier (Newhouse), Noel Coward (Wilson), Martita Hunt (Ada Ford), Anna Massey (Elvira).
by Jeff Stafford
Bunny Lake Is Missing - Bunny Lake is Missing
Bunny Lake is Missing on DVD
A puzzle-box identity thriller in the mold of films like The Lady Vanishes and My Name Is Julia Ross, this engrossing thriller is a welcome oasis in the 1960s filmography of director Otto Preminger (rubbing shoulders with less defensible "guilty pleasure" titles like Skidoo and Hurry Sundown). Perhaps Preminger was excited to return to the roots of his film noir days, as Bunny Lake Is Missing features a familiar emphasis on peculiar supporting characters (Noel Coward's kinky and "flamboyant" landlord, Anna Massey's snippy schoolmarm, etc.) and psychological plot twists that hearken back to Preminger's black and white period (Laura, Whirlpool) but here given a glossy widescreen sheen. The British locales are always intriguing and atmospheric, with a school playground serving as the somber backdrop for the film's finale; likewise the performers do a fine job overall, with Dullea the only actor clearly stretched beyond his capabilities. Maligned by critics at the time, Lynley fares better with a fragile, frantic performance that plays well enough opposite Olivier's calm, resolute, middle-rank man of the law.
Released square in the middle of the '60s, Bunny Lake walks a careful line between nostalgic mystery trappings (the damsel in distress, institutional settings, the quirky roster of suspects) and modern, even "daring elements" like masochism, implied incest, homosexuality, sex outside wedlock, a sadistic writer (Martita Hunt) who uses the young as psychological guinea pigs, an experimental and often striking Paul Glass score, and even an appearance (via television) of The Zombies singing a trio of songs. This dichotomy was not uncommon at the time (witness several sexed-up attempts at Agatha Christie mysteries and their brethren before Sidney Lumet came to the rescue), but Preminger manages to keep it balanced enough to create a mystery to satisfy traditionalists and a taboo-shattering cult favorite for viewers savvy enough to tune in to its twisted undercurrents. Unfortunately viewers of the former persuasion may be a bit disappointed by the film's "shock surprise ending;" after all, there's really only one possible explanation for the film's events that wouldn't render the entire enterprise meaningless. However, the implications of this ending allow the viewer to fill in some of the blanks with whatever salacious details they might deem necessary.
A long-requested title inexplicably withheld from home video for decades, Bunny Lake Is Missing was a prime title long butchered by careless TV transfers that rendered its exquisite Panavision framing meaningless. Fortunately Columbia's DVD offers a pristine 2.35:1 version, though Saul Bass' magnificent opening titles have been windowboxed so severely that owners of 16:9 displays may be grappling for their remotes to see whether the anamorphic promise of the packaging is a lie. Have no fear; after the miniature title sequence, everything else plays out normally.
Both Lynley and Dullea were tapped to participate in supplemental material, but the disc contains no special features at all. Digging from crumbs, it does contain optional English and Spanish subtitles as well as the usual roster of promotional trailers for other Columbia releases. At least in this case a bit of thought seems to be involved as the titles in question are the very similarly plotted sci-fi thriller The Forgotten and Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse.
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by Nathaniel Thompson
Bunny Lake is Missing on DVD
Filmed on location in London. Opened in London in February 1966.
Released in United States 1965
Released in United States 1965