• Classic Horrors Club

Movie of the Week: Bunny Lake is Missing (1965)



It’s been on my watch-list forever and I can’t count the number of times I’ve recorded it on TCM, but then never watched it. Why did Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) prove so elusive to me for so long? Now that I’ve seen it, prompted by the recent death of Carol Lynley on September 3, I’m surprised it’s not a movie that’s talked about more than it is. It’s not technically horror, but it is a top-notch thriller.

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It’s also what I’d call a “prestige picture,” directed by Otto Preminger and starring Laurence Olivier. The story is manipulated carefully, escalating from a simple mystery with the disappearance of Ann Lake’s (Lynley) daughter, Bunny, to a more complex psychological drama that questions the very existence of Bunny, to a surprising turn of events that concludes with pure melodrama.

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The odd thing about it is that until the climax, it’s not very suspenseful. That’s not a complaint, just an observation. This works in favor of the movie’s dramatic elements, mirroring Ann’s feelings that the police are making no effort to locate Bunny. The story also takes place within a single day (and night), which, as with “real time” movies, can contradictorily seem to slow down the action.

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Although Ann and police superintendent Newhouse (Olivier), take the spotlight much of the time, Ann’s brother, Steven (Keir Dullea), is the one to watch. His relationship with Ann is creepy, with no particular explanation, but one that allows our imaginations to create all kinds of distasteful thoughts. It’s natural to assume all is not what it seems with him, but exactly what that means surprised me.

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My favorite element of Bunny Lake is Missing is the relationship between Ann and Superintendent Newhouse. Most of the time, he holds his suspicions close to the chest, but whenever Ann accuses him of not believing her, he responds in a simultaneously blunt, yet compassionate way. For example, when she tells him that it sounds like he’s questioning her, he replies, “I’m just trying to get to know you.”

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My least favorite element of Bunny Lake is Missing is the score by Paul Glass. When it’s good, it’s fantastic. However, from about the midway point forward, it feels inappropriately used. Right before all hell breaks loose and Ann searches for evidence that Bunny exists in a “doll hospital,” the music is light and airy, distracting from the suspense.

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This might be purposeful, though. It’s from this point that the movie itself changes tone, picks up speed, and enters the melodrama stage. Perhaps it’s a signal to the audience that things are not what they seem and it’s time for them to fasten their seatbelts. (Speaking of music, the English band, The Zombies, makes appearances both on a television in the pub and on a radio station at the hospital.)

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While Bunny Lake is Missing is a quality motion picture, it’s for some reason a near miss for me. There are many justifications for comparing it to Psycho, yet it’s also a less effective product. The only thing I can pinpoint that would have increased the impact would be a less sudden shift in tone. Slow burns are fine. Over the top endings are OK. A bridge between the two, though, would make the transition smoother..

Written by John Mortimer & Penelope Mortimer

Based on the novel by Marryam Modell (as Evelyn Piper)

Directed by Otto Preminger

Starring Lawrence Olivier, Carol Lynley, Keir Dullea, Martita Hunt, Noel Coward Released October 3, 1965 (New York City) RT 107 min.

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