ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) Blu Ray & DVD (Powerhouse/Indicator)
Ann and Steven Lake (Carol Lynley and Keir Dullea) are two siblings who move across from America to a rented house in London. When the former goes to pick up her daughter from her new primary school she’s nowhere to be seen - and none of the teachers or school staff seem to even be aware of her existence. Police Superintendent Newhouse (Laurence Olivier) is brought in to investigate her disappearance.
When Ann gets home she is shocked to find that all of Bunny’s things have been meticulously removed from the house. The list of suspects piles up: a German-accented cook (Lucie Mannheim) who resigned from her post around the time of the girl’s disappearance, a mysterious elderly woman named Ada Ford (Martita Hunt) who works in an office on the top floor of the school, and a creepy old pervert landlord named Wilson (Noel Coward) who performs voiceover work for the BBC. However, when Newhouse learns that Ann used to have an imaginary friend named Bunny he begins to suspect that her elusive daughter, too, is imaginary. She and Steven set out to try to prove that Newhouse is wrong.
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This unusual and involving mystery from widely acclaimed director Otto Preminger wasn’t well-received at the time but has gone onto cult classic status. While not flawless it does have enough distinctive qualities to lift it above most films of its type. It’s one of those films where it’s best to go in not knowing too much about what happens; a lot of the drama hinges on whether or not Bunny actually exists. It’s quite possible that Ann Lake could be outright crazy. However, Carol Lynley, who goes through the film in a convincingly distressed state, does manage to gain enough of our sympathies that it’s easy to hope that things turn out well for her.
The best performance here comes from (who else but) Laurence Olivier as Newhouse. Mixing dapper eloquence with cynical resignation and a succession of amusingly world-weary anecdotes, he’s almost the 1960s equivalent of Sherlock Holmes. Noel Coward is also hilariously slimy as an aging pervert whom Newhouse’s lieutenant Andrews (Clive Revill) suspects may have kidnapped Bunny for less-than-salubrious purposes. Newhouse responds to him with the line: “Please, Andrews, he works for the BBC.” It’s a line that takes on some uncomfortable new resonance in the light of recent allegations as to the conduct of BBC presenters Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and others. Keir Dullea is the slightly weak link early on as he comes across as being somewhat stiff as Ann’s journalist brother, but his performance and character do become more interesting as the film progresses.
As well as the acting, the film works thanks to the flair and unusual touches brought by Preminger’s directorial approach. He makes use of numerous long, elaborate takes as the camera, in the very same shot, often follows characters from room to room and then peers in on others in the background going about their business behind window panes. There are a number of eerie locations (such as a so-called “doll hospital” where broken children’s dollies get repaired) which are quite atmospherically shot and take the film into borderline horror territory. The soundtrack by Paul Glass is oddly playful - rather than the melodramatic style you might expect from the scenario. However, after watching the film through to its extremely odd finale (which I won’t spoil here) the musical choice makes sense. Adding to the film’s musical accompaniment are a couple of appearances by British rock band The Zombies, which do admittedly prove a little too blatant and distracting.
Still, it’s easy to see why Bunny Lake is Missing has gone onto cult classic status. It’s somewhat implausible but it is hugely entertaining and has an imaginatively worked-in undercurrent of perversion and delirium.
Runtime: 107 mins
Dir: Otto Preminger
Script: John Mortimer, Penelope Mortimer from a novel by Marryam Modell
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Carol Lynley, Keir Dullea, Martita Hunt, Anna Massey, Clive Revill, Noel Coward, The Zombies, Lucie Mannheim
The 4k restored black and white cinematography is incredibly clear and blemish-free with a “just-filmed” look. Contrast levels are superb and really bring out the depth and mood of the lighting.
Sonically it’s very pristine, with no complaints either in terms of music or dialogue.
We get a booklet containing the essay “A Creature of Love: Bunny Lake is Missing” by Chris Fujiwara, which looks at the film’s themes and how it stands in Preminger’s filmography. He works in a revealing historical context too for that sudden, seemingly gratuitous appearance by The Zombies on the pub TV during the film. We also get a pair of archive reviews collated and annotated by Jeff Billington. The articles by J.H. Fenwick of Sight & Sound and Andrew Sarris of Village Voice are rather mixed, as was apparently typical of contemporary critical opinions related to the film. Finally we get a selection of interview quotes from Otto Preminger, again collated and annotated by Jeff Billington. Unfortunately there is too little of this interview material for much of substance to emerge, though we do learn that Ira Levin and Dalton Trumbo wrote two previous versions of the adaptation before Preminger settled on John and Penelope Mortimer’s draft.
On the disc itself we get the following:
Audio Commentary with film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman
An enjoyable roundtable commentary from this trio who go on about the endless procession of British character actors making appearances. They also talk at length about director Preminger. He was reportedly a mean man who seemed to take pleasure in putting younger and less experienced actors through all sorts of hell - amongst them Carol Lynley. He also had a predilection for courting vulnerable young women, a factor which clearly informed his casting of the latter actress. The trio also discuss his directorial style and his tendency to give work to Hollywood friends blacklisted during the McCarthy era.
The appearance by The Zombies was apparently the first ever example of a movie/music promotional tie in. Julie comments that it’s ironic that their greatest hit “She’s Not There” wasn’t part of the film’s soundtrack, given that its title would make it a perfect fit for the story.
Carol Lynley Remembers
The actress talks about working with Preminger. She recalls that he tended to shout at those who had trouble just “getting on with it” - but (contrary to what is mentioned in the commentary) she maintains that she never had any real issues with him. Nonetheless, she admits that when the director told her she was a bit “stiff” acting around Laurence Olivier and she confessed to being in awe of him, he retorted she had the hour’s lunch break to get over it - or be replaced. We also learn that he locked her in the animal testing lab seen in the film as a practical joke. Nonetheless, he did also pay for her enrolment in some French lessons as a gift after filming, so it’s clear he wasn’t all bad. She also reveals that she was ill with a suspected seeping appendix on set, meaning that her bag-eyed appearance during the film was very real. Carol has a great personality and makes for a wonderful interviewee.
Clive Revill Remembers
The New Zealand-born actor talks about his early career in theatre and his first big break in cinema… which was, of course, Bunny Lake is Missing. Unfortunately, Revill as an interviewee seems less assured than Lynley and doesn’t give much that hasn’t already been covered in greater detail by the latter.
Some trailers, stills and an isolated score round out the extras.
The film is a definite cult gem, and once again is bestowed with an impressive package by Powerhouse/Indicator.